Chefs share secrets for bringing bold flavors to frozen delicacies—tips that could move the traditional dessert item to any spot on the menu.

Nothing screams summer like ice cream, and now chefs are going above and beyond those traditional sweet flavors to incorporate spice, smoke, and other savory elements into the frozen treats. Think charred vegetables, exotic fruits, port wine, and more. 

Smoky Sweet

Smoked Purple Yam Ice Cream 
PAGU, Boston 
Tracy Chang, Chef  


Inspired by a similar, smoky dish at Asador Etxebarri in Spain, Tracy Chang’s recipe is mainly comprised of sheep’s milk yogurt with purple yam used as a natural stabilizer. At PAGU, it’s mixed with a scant amount of organic cane sugar and heavy cream. A red fruit sauce—made with berries, water, and organic cane sugar—gives a tart flavor that balances the creaminess of the dessert.

Grilled Corn and Banana Leaf Sundae
Dos Urban Cantina, Chicago 
Jennifer Jones Enyart, Co-Owner and Pastry Chef


Banana leaf is used all over Mexico as a wrap for various steamed foods, such as tamales and fish. Pastry chef Jennifer Jones Enyart, co-owner of Dos Urban Cantina, makes her own Banana Leaf Ice Cream by infusing the banana leaf in cream and milk for a mild, herbaceous flavor similar to green tea. She serves the ice cream scooped on top of a bed of masa harina cookie crumble, made by creating a crumble that resembles shortbread with subtle corn flavor. The dessert is topped with more corn flavor in the form of a cream made with grilled corn, adding a faintly charred and smoky taste to the sweet cream. “I was inspired by Yucatan sweet corn tamales, which are wrapped and steamed in banana leaves,” Enyart says. “The aroma of the banana leaf coming out of the steamer is incredibly exotic when paired with the sweetness of corn.” 

Savory Sweet 

Triple Chocolate and Port Wine Ice Cream
The Velvet Grill & Creamery, Lodi, California 
Kirk and Tina Smith, Owners 


This 1950s-style café, which has four locations in the Sacramento area, uses locally produced Lodi port wine to smooth out the richness of its triple chocolate, house-made ice cream. The wine is added in semi-cooked form to remove the alcohol. Lodi, located south of Sacramento and east of San Francisco, is home to 85 boutique wineries that specialize in small-lot, handmade wines.

Foie Gras Ice Cream 
Temporis, Chicago
Evan Fullerton and Sam Plotnick, Chefs


Creamy, silky, and light, the rich foie gras flavor shines through with each spoonful.  Chef Plotnick starts by tempering the egg yolks, cream, milk, and foie gras, allowing the mixture to cool to room temperature. This allows the foie to cook more quickly and evenly, and prevents the cream from whipping when added to the blender, says Plotnick. He then makes a caramel and quickly cooks the foie gras into it. Separately, egg yolks are blended with milk and the remaining cream. “The idea is to slowly incorporate all of the ingredients to warm,” he says. “This is a standard technique with most ice cream production. However, it is a little trickier with this recipe as you are working with a very hot caramel and foie gras.  This is why whisking some of the cream into the foie caramel is very important, to bring down the temperature of the caramel and help dissolve it into the dairy.” The custard is then strained and added to an ice cream maker. It is plated with a passion fruit reduction, black sesame tuile, canelé, port-poached cherries, and Hawaiian lava salt.

Spicy Sweet

White Chocolate Ancho Chili Ice Cream 
Beaker & Gray, Miami
John Maieli, Pastry Chef 


Chef John Maieli chose ancho chilies and ají rocoto peppers for a nice balance of smoke and heat.  He toasts star anise, whole cloves, and Ceylon cinnamon and, combined with the chili mixture, steeps the spices in milk to allow the flavors to develop.  The warmed milk is then poured over Felchlin Opus Blanc 35 percent white chocolate—a boutique Swiss chocolate using grass-fed cow milk. The ice cream is topped with a sprinkling of Himalayan black lava salt and served over dark chocolate cookie crumbs. “We use a variety of peppers from around the globe, and we wanted to create a spicy, savory ice cream without straying too far from the dessert world. Being obsessed with chocolate, this was a natural pairing,” Maieli explains.

Green Apple Sorbet with Olive Oil 
Fig & Olive, locations in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.


For their spicy exotic Green Apple Sorbet, chefs at this upscale dining group are looking for lower sugar content and more fruit-forward flavors as the base for this composed ice cream dessert that’s infused with artisan olive oils from Spain and Greece. Orange and grapefruit segments are placed in the glass, along with some of the fresh-squeezed juice from the fruit. The sorbet comes next, followed by a drizzling of Marques de Grinon extra virgin olive oil—a custom blend of Arbequina and Manzanilla olive oils with a strong green olive and spicy pepper flavor. A sweetened olive oil syrup made with Nocellara olive oil rounds out the savory and citrus notes of the dish. The idea came about when chefs contemplated replacing an ice cream dish with a lighter sorbet as a summer dessert—one that could be enriched by the healthy fats of the oil, creating “subtle nuances of the fruitiness of the sorbet combined with the grassiness and spiciness of the olive oil.”

Feature, Menu Innovations