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In Conversation with Chubby Cheeks Ice Cream’s Tess Elliott

"My addiction to ice cream started at a young age. My mum wouldn’t buy me as much as I wanted (responsible parenting, in retrospect) so I started making my own from a recipe I found in a kid’s cooking book. It was DELICIOUS."

We speak with Chubby Cheeks Ice Cream’s Tess Elliott ahead of their appearance at the Vegan Market of Melbourne to find out how they keep their ice cream cool, creamy and sustainable!

Without giving away a secret recipe or anything like that… can you tell us what the heck is in your vegan ice cream?

Coconut cream! Well, that’s most of it. We then add in all sorts of delicious stuff like fudge sauces, caramel, nuts, cookies… most of which we make ourselves too. We have also started experimenting with other non-dairy milks and sugar-free sweeteners too. It’s important for us to not compromise on what makes ice cream so good – it’s a delicious, creamy and decedent treat.

What got you into the world of vegan desserts? Ethics or taste?

My addiction to ice cream started at a young age. My mum wouldn’t buy me as much as I wanted (responsible parenting, in retrospect) so I started making my own from a recipe I found in a kid’s cooking book. It was DELICIOUS. I thought I’d hit the jackpot until Mum realised how much I was making and started rationing the ingredients supply. Cover your tracks, kids!

I decided to go vegan about seven years ago after being vegetarian for a few years prior to that. At the time I lived in Brisbane and there were very few vegan ice cream options available, which was a major concern for me. I tried the few I could get my hands on but felt quite underwhelmed. Luckily though, I was well-versed in handling ice cream-related dilemma. I went out and bought a little home ice cream churner and never looked back.

Are most of your customers vegan, or are lots of them just curious about dairy free ice cream?

We generally attend vegan events so most of our customers are probably vegan, but certainly not all! We’ve seen plenty of non-vegan customers eat our ice cream without even knowing it’s dairy-free. We don’t really mind what brought people to us, we just want to provide a delicious alternative to dairy ice cream that’s just as rich and creamy – and with the extra bits like praline, fudge, and cookie chunks that you thought vegans didn’t eat!

Whether people are ethical eaters or not, dietary requirements are something people always have to be mindful of. Has that also played a role in creating your customer-base?

Definitely! As we’ve both been vegan for some time now, we started with a pretty good idea of what ingredients would or wouldn’t be suitable. Regardless, we still check our ingredients to ensure nothing has been recently changed and try to source from vegan-certified companies. Some of our flavours are also gluten-free, but because of our other flavours, our kitchen is not. We’re of course always happy to check our products for specific ingredients or allergens for our customers.

How important is a good pun in an ice cream flavour name?

It’s pundamental! In the early days when we were just making ice cream for ourselves, I would give each flavour a punny name. After that, it just kinda stuck! It’s also great to see people chuckle as they read it. Our ice cream flavours aren’t boring, so their names shouldn’t be either.

Chubby Cheeks isn’t just ethical about how ice cream is made, you’re ethical about how it’s kept cold. Tell us a bit about your solar-powered ice cream van.

We try to keep our carbon footprint as minimal as possible, so we’re always looking for ways to improve! We’ve been using a large 12-volt freezer which is powered by a deep-cycle battery. Before a market or event, we charge the battery using a solar panel which we can also bring along should we need to trickle charge the battery on the go!

It must’ve been a serious investment to create and build?

This is one of the few times that being a carpenter and a vegan ice cream aficionado really pays off! I custom built our cart, which is totally modular and can fit into a hatchback. All up it cost around $1,000. It’s been a great start-up but it’s only suitable for pre-packaged tubs. Now that we’ve purchased a new scooping freezer, our next job is finding a way to power it as efficiently as possible!

What’s the best part of taking your product mobile?

Well there’s plenty of variety in your workplace! Markets have been great because we’ve had the opportunity to bring our product to venues full of vegan customers (or vegan food appreciators!) and other vegan vendors. It’s also given us the ability to cater for events, such as weddings, with minimal fuss.

Are vegan markets like the Vegan Market of Melbourne at the Abbotsford Convent the best way for people to try your ice cream?

Yes! We love getting out to vegan markets about Melbourne. We’ve brought the cart along to a few VMM days, which have been great, but we will be easing off from markets as the weather in Melbourne cools down and back again when it warms up. Our next market stall will be at the Big Vegan Market in May, which we’re really looking forward to! We’re hoping to have Chubby Cheeks Ice Cream available at local cafés, vegan shops and health food stores in the near future too.

What plans do you have for 2018? Any exciting new flavours on the horizon?

We have a list a mile long of new flavour ideas, and we’re also working on ice cream sandwiches and doughnut sundaes! It takes some time to perfect, and a great deal of taste testing – but hey, someone has to do it! We’re up for the challenge.

Don’t miss your chance to catch Chubby Cheeks Ice Cream at the Vegan Market of Melbourne Saturday 7 April 2018.