The ice cream scooping crew at Ample Hills Creamery in Prospect Heights call them ‘the Sorbabes.’ That’s because Nicole Cardone and Deborah Gorman build their seasonal Gourmet Sorbets around meticulously-sourced local fruit by moonlight, in the Creamery’s kitchen during the late night hours. Such is the life of the fledgling food entrepreneur in Brooklyn today, where the confounding dearth of commercial kitchen space in an era of always-expanding demand for tasty, handmade, edible treats forces many fledgling makers to lease off-hours kitchen space from restaurants, shops, and better-established businesses to work deep into the night in pursuit of their dreams.
The story behind Gourmet Sorbet fits nicely within to the framework of the new fable of New York food entrepreneurship in the wake of the Great Recession. Nicole retreated from a career in finance following the economic collapse of 2008, returning to the kitchen to reclaim her college passion for developing pristine seasonal sorbets. Deborah, then a private chef for a family in the Hamptons, was introduced to Nicole through a family friend. A match was made and Gourmet Sorbet was born. Now, six months after officially launching the company, Nicole and Deborah’s sorbet is routinely selling out in stores on Long Island, and they’ve been riding the summer wave by setting up shop at markets and festivals across Brooklyn, like Dekalb Market, where I caught up with them last week.
“I’m just hoping it’s something we can actually start to make money on!” laughed Nicole, who had just wrapped up an eighteen hour sorbet-making marathon. “At the end of every day I’m covered in red splotches!”
What makes Gourmet Sorbet unique in a market saturated with spoonable frozen confections? An emphasis on the seasons. Nicole and Deborah focus many of their flavors on fresh, locally-grown fruit at the peak of ripeness. This, of course, requires intensive taste-testing to find the very best berries the Greenmarkets have to offer in any given week. For strawberries this year, after a survey of all the Greenmarket contenders, they chose Phillips Farms’ Chandler varietal over a close runner-up from Berried Treasures. “The Phillips Farm Chandlers were hands-down the best strawberries we found this season,” says Nicole.
In accordance with that natural law of seasonal eating, the strawberry and chocolate ripple Nicole and Deborah crafted with those Chandlers has come and gone – what was left of the already-limited supply was largely wiped out at Smorgasburg’s Ice Cream Fest a few weeks ago. I was lucky enough to get a taste, and it instantly brought to mind a refreshingly ice-cold version of an exquisitely executed chocolate-covered, perfectly-ripe strawberry – a taste of summer bliss.
In a sense, Gourmet Sorbet is doing for sorbet – the dairy-free and typically intensely fruity cousin to ice cream – what others have done with things like jam (think Anarchy in a Jar), soda (Brooklyn Soda Works), and ice pops (People’s Pops): They’ve based most of their flavors on prime local fruit at the peak of its season. While most commercial sorbets are created with decidedly non-seasonal, pre-made purees manufactured in bulk and delivered by a distributor, Nicole and Deborah insist on using fresh, raw ingredients. While this undeniably raises the bar for flavor, it also adds layers of complexity to the process of making Gourmet Sorbet, as the textures and flavors of locally grown fruits evolve over the course of their all-too-brief seasons, leading to what can seem like an endless cascade of adjustments in the making of every single batch.
In a similar departure from the typical process of making of your average supermarket sorbet, Nicole and Deborah, intent on respecting the integrity of the flavor of those perfectly ripe fruits, add a minimal amount of sugar. “I think people want something that’s a really pure expression of the ingredients, and when those are really ripe and flavorful you don’t need much sugar,” says Nicole.
When the day is done, red-splotched garb and sorbet-scooping fatigue aside, the Sorbabes take satisfaction in their effort to support small local farms. “Anyone who does their craft really well, especially small farmers…I want to support them,” says Nicole. It’s a philosophy shared throughout the community of Brooklyn-based food businesses – just a year ago Ample Hills was making their first batch of ice cream using the highest quality, locally farmed dairy and eggs, and they’ve already found themselves in the position to help other like-minded businesses, like Gourmet Sorbet, find their footing. “It’s a full circle,” says Nicole.
Always in search of new ways to serve their sorbet, the Sorbabes have developed a penchant for mixing up sorbet floats. At the markets this summer, they’ve been featuring a ‘Sorbet Sun Tea’ – a riff on the Arnold Palmer made with unsweetened iced tea topped with a melting scoop of lemon sorbet and a sprig of fresh mint; and a lemonade topped with a scoop of cucumber mint and white wine sorbet and a fresh lemon wedge. Like the sound of wine in your sorbet, but prefer something stronger? Try their rhubarb and rum flavor.
The Sorbabes don’t limit themselves exclusively to working with local fruit. Several heartier flavors feature the rich, natural creaminess of freshly ground nuts, like pistachio, which Nicole and Deborah treat with the same respect as the fruit – no dairy or coconut milk, and only a touch of sugar is added, in order to place the spotlight squarely on the pure flavors of the nuts.
Want a taste of truly seasonal sorbet? You can find Nicole, Deborah, and their Gourmet Sorbets every weekend at Dekalb Market in downtown Brooklyn, and they’ll be crossing the river for the New Amsterdam Market’s Ice Cream Sunday on August 19th.