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Here's the scoop: Ripples licks competition with its vanilla flavour

Montreal Gazette
Wednesday, August 5, 1998
Living: Food

Richard Bernett began making Montreal's best vanilla ice cream in an old, wooden ice cream churn as he sat watching television.

"I'd spread out old newspapers in front of the set, load the churn with ice and salt, fill the cylinder with cream, milk, sugar, eggs and corn syrup, and and it would take me about 25 minutes to make a quart of ice cream," said Bernett, 38, while filling a three-scooper vanilla cone at his St. Laurent Blvd. shop Ripples.

Although he's long since mechanized and now sells 30 flavours of ice cream, sorbet and frozen yogurt, Bernett, winner of The Gazette's latest Quest for the Best contest, still prides himself on the home-style recipes he uses to make his products.

Runner-up to Ripples was Scoopy's of Pointe Claire. Its ice cream rated second in a group of six establishments that sell either their own products or products made specially for them. None of the other entries rated high enough to be named third-place winner.

In a second judging of five brands sold in supermarkets, the two rating the highest scores were Breyers All Natural vanilla and Metro stores' own brand of French vanilla, made for them by Nestle. We chose vanilla for the contest in the belief that other flavourings can make it more difficult to assess quality. Some tasters found the experience revealing, having rarely eaten vanilla ice cream alone, but usually with a sauce or as a trimming to another dessert.

Tasting by The Gazette's panel of six editors and reporters revealed big differences in texture and flavour. "The stale baklava taste is definitely a no," said business reporter Sarah Richards about one entry. "An odd colour, like mashed potatoes, and the texture is like mashed potatoes too,'' said features editor Catherine Wallace about another. "A strong, chemical after-taste,'' said new-media manager Peter Cooney about another.

Although vanilla is one of the Ripples best-sellers, Bernett says flavoured ice creams are the major part of the ice-cream business. He insists even his off-beat flavourings must be the real thing, and gestured to his green tea ice cream, an avocado colour thanks to the addition of Japanese green tea leaves. "I buy the tea for $60 a pound. It looks like fish scales, but the ice cream is very popular," he said.

Halvah ice cream, made with Middle Eastern ingredients, is another of his unusual varieties. He makes it with tahini and real chocolate marble halvah chunks and a ripple of chocolate fudge. "Nobody else in town makes halvah ice cream," he said. "And I make pina colada flavour for the Spanish and South American community," said Bernett, who claims to taste-test his products constantly but looks too skinny to be much of an ice-cream consumer.

He writes each flavour experiment, on his refrigerator doors in different colours of felt pen. "Those are my tests - peach, lemon, pina, you name it," he said, gesturing to lists of ingredients in his minute kitchen. "I write every test down so that, if it's perfect, I can repeat it."

Even his original vanilla ice cream recipe has been worked over in the 14 years he's run his shop. Constant experimenting has led him to use three types of vanilla to give what he calls "a caramel-custard background flavour." The result is a dark cream colour and what our tasters decided was a butterscotch taste.

Tracking down the ingredients he wants is a major headache for Bernett, who, besides Ripples, runs a lunch bar at 5463 Queen Mary Rd. The location was once a McDougherty's ice cream shop. He's about to rename it Pellegrinos.

I constantly have to upgrade my ingredients because companies merge and discontinue making the flavourings I like," he said, citing the recent partnership between Montreal flavouring maker Rose and Laflamme and a Toronto company called Boyes and their purchase by CSP of Saskatchewan.

The result has been he can't get six discontinued Rose and Laflamme flavours - rum and raisin, orange, pistachio, cherry, chocolate ripple and one kind of vanilla. "Some of the substitutes don't work with my formulas and I've had to find other products."

The rich texture of his ice cream is explained by his insistence on 14 per cent butter fat, a blend of cream, milk and skim-milk powder.

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