IN THE VAN WITH: BLU TOP ICE CREAMApril 12, 2016
Let’s face it. Summer is about one thing: Ice cream. And our favourite vendor has opened its baby blue doors for a delicious season of frozen goodness. You think you know ice cream? Not until you’ve laid eyes on Blu Top’s ice cream cookie sandwiches, bejewelled in lucky charms and wrapped in candy coloured packaging. We stopped by Blu Top’s HQ in Deptford for a look at where the sugary magic happens.
UO: Tell us a little about your story so far
I’m Richard, founder of Blu Top Ice Cream. I’m a dislocated northerner (from Liverpool originally) and total Americaphile based in Brixton. I sold my first ice cream back in March of 2015 and the Blu Top van hit the streets of London shortly after in May. I now hand-make some pretty kick-ass ice cream sandwiches from a railway arch in Deptford and flog them all over London (when it’s warm enough).
UO: What prompted you to start your own ice cream business?
As a former obese child, I’ve always been big on food, so I like to think I’m good at finding interesting stuff to eat. I briefly lived in California back in 2012 and was totally blown away by how well they did ice cream over there. They were leading the way with ice cream that was totally delicious and indulgent but also 100% natural – no gums or colours or stabilisers. I got back to London and my longing for California sort of manifest itself as a longing for ice cream – really good ice cream. I started following some home recipes, then trained with the School of Artisan Food and the Ice Cream Alliance until I decided to put what I’d learnt into practice. I catered for some small events run by my mates and people seemed really pumped about what I’d made, so I ran with it!
UO: Can you tell us a little about your trusty baby blue van, Barbara?
Barbara is a total dream-boat. She’s a custom converted 2008 Piaggio Porter fitted with a classic Whitby Morrison freezer. I searched for the perfect van for at least two years. I eventually spotted Barbara on Gumtree and it was love at first sight. She belonged to an amazing Italian family who had run a massive fleet of ice cream vans around London for generations. I obviously needed to add my branding but she was pretty much ready to go and hasn’t let me down once.
UO: What does a typical day look like for you?
I run Blu Top alone (because I’m a masochist apparently!) which means I do about five different jobs. My days are pretty varied! At the start of the week I’m locked up in my production kitchen in Deptford making as much ice cream as I can while trying to dream up the recipes for the next week. From Thursday through Saturday I’m either trading with Kerb or Druid Street Market and I finish the week with an ice cream class every Sunday. It sounds pretty exhausting, and it is, but I get about six months between October and March to catch up on sleep!
UO: What does the creative process look like when pulling together new Blu Top recipes and combos?
I read a lot about classic American cooking and am always dreaming up ways to get these ideas into ice cream recipes. I also try to keep a nostalgic British vibe to my flavours while using seasonal produce whenever I can. You learn pretty quickly which flavours will work and which won’t, but it’s fun to be surprised every once in a while (absinthe and meringue – just sayin’!)
UO: What is the biggest struggle you face operating a food truck?
Time! There’s so much more I’d like to do, so many other markets I’d like to take on, but I just don’t have time. It’s the same with every street food trader – in order to meet demand you eventually have to ask for help. If you’re a control freak (like me) the thought of this makes your skin crawl. I imagine I’ll have to buckle in the end – but it’s going to be a selection process of X-Factor proportions.
UO: What do you love about the growing street food / food truck scene in London and why do you think it has become so popular?
I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be a part of London’s street food scene right now – there are so many people making so much amazing food with so much passion. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I think customers really tap into that too – I really believe that food tastes better when the cook actually cares about each dish, and right now, there’s a lot of care in London street food. It’s a totally accessible way for people to try out their wildest food business ideas without the back-breaking capital of a London restaurant and it is encouraging a huge dearth in culinary creativity.
UO: We love the growing independent food business in London – which other brands are inspiring you right now?
I’m inspired by the obvious ones such as Bao: I think they’ve totally nailed that transition from street food to restaurant without forgetting where they came from. But I’m also constantly inspired by current street-food traders like Poke and Decatur. They bring a totally fresh attitude to the scene and I feel lucky to trade alongside them.
UO: What do you love most about your job?
Part of me wants to say that I most enjoy serving people and seeing how happy it makes them – that bit really is amazing. But actually the thing I love the most is ice cream. I really freaking love ice cream and I eat loads of it all the time. Ice cream is my final answer.
UO: Where do you hope to take Blu Top next in 2016?
This entire experience has just sort of felt like the most amazing free-fall (which doesn’t really do me any justice because it has also involved a lot of hard work) but I’m eager to keep that momentum up, regardless of where it takes me. I get really excited thinking about opening a shop, but I also would love to see my sammies in shops and cinemas and theatres. I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and hope I’m making the right decisions!
Find Blu Top serving up delicious morsels at Druid St Market every Saturday