Shannon Dufresne of Crave Artisan Ice Cream

This week Shannon Dufresne, chef-owner of Crave Artisan Ice Cream joined us for Sweet Talk. Over a cup of coffee and a piece of cake, we discovered Shannon has quite a sweet tooth, how she set up her commercial kitchen as a co-op, and why good food is in the details.

Is Phoenix your hometown? No, I came to Phoenix to visit family. I saw how affordable the housing was compared to California, my home state, and six years ago, there were positions available here in the teaching field. I landed a job teaching 8th grade English and found a condo. I didn't love teaching, but I loved to cook. I decided to do what I love and went to Scottsdale Community College (SCC) for a Culinary Arts degree.

Did you know ice cream was your future? I had no idea what I was going to do after school. At school, I would make ice cream, weird flavors combining oatmeal and stout or cream cheese and lemon. I love doing beer flavors! I became known as "the ice cream chick".

more from Shannon after the jump

I met Tracy Dempsey at SCC, she came as a guest lecturer, which she does once a semester. I asked Tracy about staging with her at Cowboy Ciao and Digestif. She offered me a position after my first day there. We had a lot in common; we both came from teaching backgrounds.

Was your goal always to have your own business? I take after my Dad, a business consultant to manufacturers. When I was 8 yrs old I was making pot- holders and selling them door- to- door. I knew I wanted a business. After culinary school, I started selling biscotti and sampling ice cream on summer weekends, at the Downtown Phoenix Public Market. After a few weeks, I quit the biscotti and focused on the ice cream. Within 4 months my product was accepted into Whole Foods.

What inspirations do you draw from in the kitchen? My family background is Italian-Lebanese. The women on both sides of my family were always cooking, and always from scratch. I love how culture is represented in food. When I was little, I always wanted to know what was in the food I ate.

I like food that is made from scratch using fresh, natural ingredients. It is a sacrifice of time and cost for me to make my own ice cream base, but I won't use a base that is full of artificial ingredients. I appreciate chefs and cooks that prepare food that way, it means a lot to me. I want to operate my business that way. Did you have special training in ice cream manufacturing? Not formally, it was a lot of trial and error. I did research commercial ingredients. I consulted with food technicians. I learned about natural stabilizers and overrun (amount of air in ice cream). In the beginning I was making 2 quarts of ice cream at a time. When I purchased a 5- gallon machine, I had to adapt and adjust my recipes. I also had to learn about delivering a frozen product and shelf life once it left my operation.

What are your favorite flavor combinations? I like salty and sweet together. I love salted caramel you see it everywhere now. Pretzels and dark chocolate is another favorite, and using cocoa nibs. I like contrast in textures as well, getting both crunchy and smooth in an ice cream flavor.

What have been some of the challenges starting a wholesale food business? As big of a city as it is, Phoenix has a small enlightened food community. It is nice that that community is tight knit, but is can be limiting. Reaching out to restaurants to carry my product, I have to find the chefs that want the quality product I produce.

Having my product at Whole Foods has taught me a lot. I like being in the community of local independent producers. The customers are willing to pay for the quality of artisan, made from scratch, fresh ingredient products. There was a lot to learn about doing business as a small independent with a large corporation. When you have large accounts, meeting their requirements can make or break you. Figuring out how many stores will carry the product, and learning to control sales through in store marketing demos was part of the process for me. Were your start up costs high? I knew when creating my business model I would need my own space. Its very expensive to rent space by the hour. I planned for a space that would be big enough for me to share.

There are 3 other independent businesses that work out of the commercial kitchen. It has made being in business affordable for all of us as a cooperative kitchen. We've become a community of friends, and it is nice to be able to bounce ideas off other food producers and get feedback. We are all small businesses; it helps with our inventory when we share product orders and delivery fees.

What do you like to cook (or eat) when you are not cranking ice cream? I cook everyday at home. I like to make savory foods after working with sweets all day. I like to cook more than I like to eat! I like the doing, the hands on process. I love to cook anything that is a process; pizza, breads, bagels, pasta-all hand made. There is nothing left in my garden but basil after the frost, so right now it is a lot of pesto and sauces.

I have to finish a meal with a sweet. I make cookie dough every week. I keep it in the refrigerator and bake fresh cookies every day. My dream is having only a stone pizza oven at home, to cook and bake everything.

FnB is my favorite place to eat out. Charlene (Badman) is detailed in everything she does. Her flavors are perfect. She takes a relatable dish and makes it an amazing dish. Its what I try to do, without being outlandish.

What would you like to see on the Phoenix food scene? More awareness and support for independent food businesses. More customers with high expectations who support local independent businesses and keep money in the local economy. More chefs with passion for what they do, caring about fresh ingredients, making food from scratch and creating food that shows the details of what they do. What would you like to do that you haven't done? I would love to travel and visit some ice cream shops, Jeni's in Columbus Ohio, Bi Rite Creamery in San Francisco, CA, IcI in Berkeley CA and Jacques Torres in NYC.

I would love to do a gelato tour of Italy. I've been there but not since I started Crave. Actually, I would like to live there, in Sicily or Sardinia, and start my family there. Have a kid there, one who likes to go outside and play in the mud.

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