Chia Basinger, co-owner of Denver's landmark ice cream parlor Sweet Action Ice Cream, which serves up unique, oddball and downright heavenly ice cream treats, shares his favorite sorbet, impulsive inspiration and love of his craft.
PRiMO: Why ice cream?
CB: Because ice cream is the best! There are few things that make people as happy as ice cream does, and we like being in the business of making people happy. Well, also because our neighborhood didn't have an ice cream shop, but it really needed one - so we decided to build it ourselves. We had been making ice cream at home for ourselves, so we thought we knew what we were doing.
PRiMO: What/who was your inspiration?
CB: My girlfriend and business partner Sam. She was the one who really pushed for us to open our own ice cream shop. She grew up outside Boston, where there is a long history of independent, homemade ice cream places - so it was a natural choice for us to choose to do the same thing.
PRiMO: I must say, I love your parlor's name 'Sweet Action Ice cream.' How did you come up with it?.
CB: Thank you! We love it, too -- it really describes what we do here. There's no one answer as to where it came from... Sweet Action is just a phrase that's bounced around for a while, and it always means good things. To us, it relates to how we like to do things here -- energetic and ambitious, always pushing the envelope, and doing it with a smile.
PRiMO: Describe your ice cream in ten words or less.
CB: Fun. Creative. Independent. Fresh. Best.
PRiMO: How many different flavors have you made so far?
CB: We've lost track on exactly how many different flavors, but we guess it's close to 500 by now. The most popular ones, by far, are the Salted Butterscotch and the Stranahan's Whiskey Brickle. Some other fan favorites are Baklava, Thai Iced Tea, Peanut Butter Pretzel, White Russian, Cookie Butter Chip, Vietnamese Coffee, Laws Old Fashioned, and Mascarpone Chile Blackberry (with Primo!). We also love to use local produce in the summer, and we always make our Colorado Peach, Colorado Sour Cherry, Colorado Cantaloupe, Colorado Margarita, Colorado Sweet Corn, and Roasted Green Chile ice creams around that time.
PRiMO: Wow, that sounds like a lot...
CB: Oh man - yes, it is a lot. We're always trying to put together new ideas, too. It is a standing personal challenge that we have -- never stop, never be content, never get complacent. The fun part is to keep trying new things and get better.
PRiMO: What are some of the most interesting ingredients you had to work with?
CB: We're very well known for our vegan ice creams - we think that they're the best you can get. We use coconut and soy milk, and that was actually a pretty tricky recipe to put together -- it's hard to replicate the texture of ice cream without using dairy. We are also notorious for making ice creams with beer, whiskey, and other alcohols, but we've learned that the trick is that you can't use very much of those, or they will mess up the texture and scoopability. So we like to use beers and liqueurs that have big flavor, where you can get the most punch out of a smaller amount. As for ingredients, the most interesting are probably the spicy and savory things that we love. Over the years, we've used everything from rose water, frankincense, and lavender flowers to balsamic vinegar, chicory root, yellow mustard, dill pickles, chocolate mole sauce, Chinese kung pao sauce, and roasted green chiles. A couple summers ago, we took pineapple spears, marinated them in Jamaican jerk seasoning, grilled them, and turned those into Jerk Pineapple ice cream. That one wasn't the best seller, but it sure blew some people's minds.
PRiMO: How do you decide on what flavors to make and how do people find out about them?
CB: Honestly, it's mostly based on impulse. There are certain categories of ice cream flavors that we always try to have available, you know. It's good to have a mint flavor every day, for example, but we like to mix it up between all of our different mint flavors. The summer is the time for all of our local produce and fresh herb flavors, of course. Otherwise, we'll make whatever we feel like making, based on the fun ingredients we have, or whatever we are in the mood for. We also like to make special flavors for certain times of the year -- things like King Cake for Mardi Gras, Champagne & Strawberries, Cadbury Creme Egg, Sweet Potato Casserole for Thanksgiving, Hot Buttered Rum, Guinness Milk Chocolate, Trick or Treat, and all of our Chinese New Year's flavors!
PRiMO: Speaking of Chinese New Year's flavors, tell us about the "Year of the Sheep" flavor you've been working on?
CB: Every year, we do a special flavor for the Chinese New Year, and we try to incorporate that year's animal sign in a fun and tasty way. This year, it's the Year of the Sheep - so we found some sheep's milk yogurt to use as the ice cream's base. The yogurt brings a tanginess to the ice cream, but not a whole lot of flavor, so we wanted to add a swirl of something that would add some spice and counter the richness of the extra dairy. We were already big fans of PRiMO preserves, of course, and the Spiced Cherry Preserves were perfect. All of the fruit and ginger and spice give that ice cream a lot of complexity, and with all the tanginess, the end result really pops. We love it - it's already been popular this year, and we will be making it again soon, for sure.
PRiMO: I know you close every January, how do you spend your time off?
CB: That's true, we close the doors in January. That's always be the slowest month for ice cream, and we use the time to do some necessary cleaning and maintenance in the shop -- things that are hard to get done when we're open and busy. Plus, it's our chance to take a vacation -- she and I love to get outside and go snowboarding, so we try to spend a lot of that time going into the mountains to enjoy the Colorado snow!
PRiMO: What flavor is always in your fridge?
CB: Salted Butterscotch. Oreo - or some version of Oreo. And usually a sorbet -- I love those, especially the Grapefruit.
PRiMO: What fun fact to share about ice cream?
CB: Secret ingredient in every batch? Fresh air. Without a little bit of air worked into the ice cream, you just have a frozen brick of ice milk. Also - it's proven fact that ice cream will always make you happier.
PRiMO: What's on your ice cream-making bucket list?
CB: There's no one specific thing, I suppose. We just want to keep growing and keep getting better. And keep having fun.