The table is covered in ice cream. There are open containers, clear bowls cupping fresh scoops inspired by s’mores and lemon meringue pie, a scattering of spoons, a few requisite napkins. If you asked me when I was a child what heaven looked like, this would be it.
I’m getting a taste of the latest flavors from Ice Cream Shoppe-Up, a sweet initiative from pastry chef Rochelle Cooper. A RAMMY nominee for Pastry Chef of the Year, she oversees the Capitol Hill triptych from restaurateur Hollis Wells Silverman: fresh-faced New American restaurant The Duck & The Peach, swanky gin bar The Wells and coolly casual Italian eatery La Collina, where these ice creams are available for takeout and delivery.
Earlier in her career, Cooper spent nearly two years on ThinkFoodGroup’s research and development team focusing on creating pastries for concepts across their portfolio. That position was a sort of homecoming; she previously worked as a cook at Minibar.
Cooper’s Ice Cream Shoppe-Up is a textbook pandemic pivot. As Omicron surged at the beginning of the year, The Duck & The Peach powered down, becoming a to-go operation with reduced hours. They ordered a bunch of soup containers, anticipating everyone would want to order oodles of chicken noodle for some much-needed comfort. Unfortunately, the cardboard containers didn’t hold hot liquid well, so they were at risk of being a wasted purchase. That didn’t sit well with Cooper.
As she wondered how she could use them, she started an inventory of everything else on hand. The walk-in was full of milk, intended for the morning café now on hold. And there were all sorts of sweet leftovers from Christmas and New Year’s Eve desserts: lemon curd, graham cracker crumbs, crunchy cookie bits, mint puree, chocolate pudding.
Containers plus milk plus mix-ins clearly equaled ice cream, so she began churning out batches. In some ways, it was a completely new adventure. Though she made ice cream many times before, it was always as a complement to a starring dessert or part of a selection of simple scoops.
She did have strong feelings about the perfect pint.
“I’m a Ben & Jerry’s girl,” she says. “Give me all the junk food in one pint. I feel strongly there should be a lot of toppings in it. You shouldn’t have to dig for them; they’re everywhere.”
Some of her first flavors included Seriously Dough, dotted with bits of cookie dough and cookie chunks; Gimme S’more, graham cracker ice cream laced with fudge swirls and marshmallow ribbons; and Lemon Meringue Pie, featuring lemon ice cream with pockets of graham cracker crumbles and marshmallow-y meringue. She packed them into the repurposed soup containers and dubbed them “pints plus,” since they held 26 ounces, nearly double the 14 ounces in the average pint of Häagen-Dazs.
Though she and the staff loved what she was making, Cooper wasn’t sure how well ice cream would sell in the middle of winter.
“All I could think was, ‘I hope people buy it,’” she says.
Her stress and self-doubt were unnecessary. A week or two after debuting the Ice Cream Shoppe-Up, her oversized pints often accounted for half their takeout business.
Everyone got hooked. Customers began messaging Cooper on Instagram, pleading for her to save them the last container of a beloved flavor. Friends started coming by the restaurant, at first to support her new venture, but then just to get their fix. Even staff members started buying her out of some flavors before they got listed online.
“It was really heartwarming,” says Cooper. “Especially at a time when things felt really helpless.”
As her fanbase expanded, Cooper dived deeper into perfecting her plus-sized pints.
“A lot of the ice cream recipes in the beginning weren’t recipes, they were just me winging it, savory chef style,” she admits. “But I’m kind of nerdy, so I got into the science of it all.”
She created a soy- and gelatin-free ice cream base and stabilizer made with milk, potato starch, sugar and another sweetener, guar gum, xanthan gum and carrageenan, a seaweed extract. She is also working on recipes with cow milk alternatives, including goat milk. Everything is hot processed, so all the milk in her ice creams has been cooked, since cold-processed ice creams can be challenging for some peoples’ stomachs.
“It’s all about doing little things to be more mindful, while still creating a lovely texture and not weighing you down so much,” she says. “Most people are happy to down a pint, but that can be a lot for your body to take.”
Now her recipe arsenal includes more than 30 flavors, such as Caramel Coconut “Mousse” Tracks (if you haven’t figured this out already, Cooper is a big fan of puns), Apple of My Pie, horchata, strawberry rhubarb and cinnamon roll.
There are usually half a dozen ever-rotating options available, though that number swells during weeks
when Cooper is particularly inspired. Talks are happening about spinning off the sweet startup and turning it into a standalone shop.
“But for now, we’re just watching the baby grow,” Cooper says.
Visit Ice Cream Shoppe-Up inside La Collina, or order online at lacollinadc.com.