• Kismet & Ice Cream

    Lokelani Alabanza

    Summer 2022

    I believe in kismet. And because of kismet, the past year had me sitting in an olive-green W. H. Gunlocke chair, facing my desk in my office, writing a cookbook manuscript about the history of Black ice cream in America. My eyes often wandered to the pinboard above my desk, covered in postcards, photos, milagros, neon-pink Post-its, pastel pushpins, quotes, and reminders of things to do. It was a year of reading books about ice cream, ice, history, and sugar. Many months spent carefully combing the internet for any tidbit of information, and bidding on photos of Black America eating ice cream in the mid-twentieth century as I wondered what I got myself into. This is all out of character for me. Professionally, I identify as a pastry chef, not a writer. Be that as it may, no matter how uncomfortable I was with the writing, I knew these stories had to be told. The voices sat with me, ate with me, and slept with me. Am I a vessel? I often wondered. Or was this just good timing?

    I have been a pastry chef for most of my adult life. My kitchen experience is very different from this newer generation of cooks. When I was a young, bright-eyed pastry assistant, there were very few women executive chefs and almost none were Black. For years, I roamed throughout kitchens never seeing someone with a face like mine staring back at me—not behind the line, not in management, not at the dessert station. Generally speaking, a restaurant’s kitchen environment is that of the brigade system: rigid hierarchies, lots of egos needing validation, and emotional bonds that feel as strong as family. Add to that lots of late-night drinking and plenty of folks suffering various addictions and you have a strange world, then, that only a few really thrive in.

    However, I was one of those people, always hungry and eager to learn all that I could. During my days in culinary school, I not only loved learning the process of cooking but also the history of food and its preparation. I would often wonder what my purpose was in the food world. Deep in my core, I knew I would never own a restaurant: that seemed too tight of a shoe to wear long-term. It would take many years to figure it out, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I always knew that I would make something. Of course, such thoughts made little sense at the time.

    I started a business during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic. Months prior, in mid-March, I had been laid off from my job as a culinary director for a creamery. On St. Patrick’s Day, I heard a crystal-clear voice in my head—was it kismet speaking even then?—telling me that I would not be returning to work in this place. There was fear in the air; Nashville was days from shutting down. Before I left work that afternoon, I bought two pints of ice cream, Strawberry Rosewater and Coconut Oreo—an unusual purchase, as I don’t have a sweet tooth. Perhaps I was unconsciously preparing for what was to come.

    Four years previously, I had been hired as the culinary director for Hattie Jane’s Creamery in Columbia, Tennessee, also once known as the mule capital of the world. The most notable thing about my first day of work: a brand-new Carpigiani, an Italian ice cream machine that I had no clue how to use, had just been delivered to the kitchen. Fortunately, a very helpful technician named Jeff walked me through its operations and functions. He also had me take it apart and put it back together three times. Within weeks, I could do this in my sleep. It was an absolute whirlwind of a time—easily the most challenging of my culinary career. I had two and a half weeks to open the creamery, there were zero recipes, and we didn’t have an ice cream menu or small wares. I relied heavily on my culinary intuition and a little grit. It was during this period that I first hatched the idea of launching a new ice cream company. The idea grew during the long commute and morning hours of prep. I didn’t realize that I had been creating recipes for a future business. I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for to make this dream something concrete. I was tired of being in the background.  And then I got laid off.

    Lokelani Alabanza is the owner of SATURATED, a plant-powered, hemp-derived CBD ice cream company. Her first cookbook will debut the Summer of 2023. She currently resides in Nashville.

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