It takes a special kind of mind to come up with eclectic ice cream flavor combinations like Foie Gras, Caramelized Onion, Manchego Pineapple Thyme, Canadian Bacon & Maple, Tobacco, Smoked Chili & Huckleberry and Prosciutto Mellon—and gain an international following that seems to trust whatever whimsical creations he puts together. But that’s the wizardry behind Sam Mason, one of the most progressive gastronomic masterminds working in America today.
The owner of OddFellows Ice Cream Co. (http://www.oddfellowsnyc.com) with locations in Brooklyn and the East Village, Mason honed his craft, first at Johnson & Wales University, and later with Pierre Hermé at Ladurée in Paris before moving onto some of the most prestigious kitchens in NYC, including Palladin, Union Pacific, Atlas and Park Avenue Café.
His vision for combining unusual and innovative ingredients won him acclaim in 2005 as a StarChefs Rising Star Pastry Chef while at New York’s wd-50. That sweet success later translated to OddFellows, which he opened in Williamsburg in 2013.
As for where he gets his inspiration, he says it’s mainly about having fun – and thinking outside the box. And yes, pushing boundaries.
“I get hair-brained ideas just getting to work,” said Mason. He said living in New York City—with all its inspiration, challenges and frustrations—often brings out the ideas in him. “It can be as simple as seeing a building I never noticed before to my interactions with people to looking through magazines,” he said.
Travel is a big source of inspiration—living in Thailand, for example, helped sparked his creative juices and anytime he jets off somewhere he tries to come back home and recreate the things he tasted—though he admitted trying to make those things happen when you’re not on that foreign soil can be challenging.
The Manchego Pineapple & Thyme, in fact, was inspired by an experience he had in Barcelona where manchego, he said, was always served with fresh pineapple and thyme. He admitted he first tried creating a Manchego Cheesecake which turned out to be a disaster as manchego is an oily cheese and he and his team had to figure out to emulsify it to get it to a nice, cream cheese-like consistency. Trial and error got them from being as scientific as they are analytic—but it took time—and a lot of missteps. Now, he said, the OddFellows' formulas are tried and true – and often use carbonation and liquid nitrogen to get the necessary texture.
He’s also inspired by the seasons. Fall is his favorite time of year and so that means using autumnal flavors like squash, apples, pears and pumpkins. And, he likes using meats, i.e. Chinese sausage, Foie Gras, and whiskey tobacco, which, he says translate well into smoky flavors.
OddFellows recently started a new Passport Program which highlights distinct flavors from around the globe with a theme of the month and flavors that tie into that region. It’s one way, says Mason, to keep from getting stuck in the same rut as simply relying on the seasons to dictate product.
Altogether, OddFellows has created more than 200 original flavors, all using local ingredients. Mason says using fresh everything drives his product and to him, nothing beats the smell of pasteurization.
As far as the future, he’s concentrating more on boozy desserts, alcohol-infused pops and ice creams—think margarita, strawberry daiquiri, and sake pops, often containing 40% alcohol—and hopes to grow that business.
The team’s vision is simple: have fun. Take risks. And try not to overthink things too much. Mason operates on the motto that “no idea is a bad one” and relies on his team to help ricochet ideas off of each other.
Playing with textures and favors is key. “Ice cream is serious,” he says. “It’s such a singular product. But it’s diverse enough to keep me excited.”
As for his favorite flavor? “S’mores.”