A successful collaboration
When Kelly Chu first created Cirsea ice cream at her Charleston, S.C., restaurant Red Orchids back in 2008, she had no inkling it would evolve into one of the fastest-growing companies in the Southeast.
The name carries a double meaning. In the South, a “cirsea” is often regarded as a treat that one per-son gives to another. To Chu, the name represents one of her bedrock philosophies: circling the sea to bring together unique concepts from around the world. Cirsea is now a premium small-batch ice cream brand that is produced without any artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, or preservatives.
“It is a borderline gelato, with an overrun percentage of about 45 percent,” says Chu. “This makes it thicker and richer than typical ice cream.”
The line’s flavor portfolio is unique and represents some of the finest ingredients produced both locally and around the world. “I can usually visualize the flavor combinations in my head, and I know what I am looking for before I make it,” she says. There are a total of 13 varieties of Cirsea ice cream, including Black Sesame, Bourbon Caramel, Lavender, Strawberry Goat Cheese, and Green Tea.
When it was offered only at Chu’s restaurant, Cirsea ice cream became so popular, customers began asking for a packaged version to take home. And it was soon apparent that, based on increasing demand, the restaurant’s ice cream production capabilities were sorely lacking. “Cirsea was in such high demand, I couldn’t keep up,” says Chu. She found a 2,800-square-foot factory space to ramp up production but needed to find equipment that could produce 10 gallons of ice cream in 10 minutes.
While attending Pennsylvania State University’s Ice Cream Short Course program, Chu met John McCabe, Eastern Regional Area Manager at Carpigiani North America, a Winston- Salem, N.C.-based equipment manufacturer. “I met Kelly at Penn State, and we proposed some equipment for her commissary. I invited Kelly and her team to Winston-Salem to experiment with our batch freezers and other machines for the day,” says McCabe.
Chu did her research on the quality of ice cream Carpigiani machines could produce and then got in touch with McCabe to find out more. “We went to Carpigiani’s showroom, where John held a demo and did a tasting for me, which was helpful,” says Chu. “We decided to go with the equipment due to the quality and texture it pro- duces, which was just what we were looking for.”
Chu chose Carpigiani’s LB 1002G RTX batch freezer, its largest. The unit incorporates the latest in state-of-the-art batch freezer technology, offering a greater range of batch sizes with precision control of product quality. It produces consistent results for a wide range of frozen products. The unit’s patented Hard-O-Dynamic system produces a consistent finished product, regardless of the batch size, while offering greater stability and storage.
Cirsea is also utilizing Carpigiani’s Pastomaster PK-60 RTX Hot Treatment Mixer. This new-generation unit provides a high level of quality and flexibility. It processes virtually any kind of mix utilizing a refrigerated extraction spigot for maximum hygiene and an exchange pump for low homogenization. This model features 16 exclusive programs, making it ideal for Cirsea’s gourmet flavors. It is capable of mixing up to 60 liters or 16 gallons of mix per cycle.
Cirsea’s installation didn’t go as smoothly as hoped due to limitations with the facility’s utility output. Chu didn’t realize that her facility had only single-phase electrical capabilities, and she had chosen three-phase machines.
“John and Carpigiani were very accommodating and helped me make adjustments to replace units and make sure the others would work,” says Chu. “They went above and beyond getting us up to speed, and the issue didn’t impact my output at all.”
Chu was especially impressed with how easy the units are to clean as both can be easily disassembled and pulled apart for sanitizing. She also appreciates the simple operation, which requires just a push of a button. “The Carpigiani machines were just what we were looking for — equipment that provides higher quality, denser results with a lower overrun,” says Chu.
“Other equipment we looked at had higher overruns and put more air in the product, so the texture wasn’t what we were looking for.”
The conversion was such a success that last January, Chu was able to start selling Cirsea ice cream to other restaurants as well as to coffee shops and specialty stores. Chu worked with Charleston’s Holy City Brewing to come up with an ice cream flavor featuring the brewery’s Pluff Mud Porter. “It has been very well received by the locals, and they carry many Cirsea ice creams in their brewery now,” she says.
The Restoration Hotel, a luxury boutique hotel in Charleston, is also selling Cirsea ice cream.
During a visit to the hotel’s Watch restaurant, “I absolutely loved the vibe of the restaurant and the creativity of the menu,” says Chu. “I immediately scheduled a tasting with Chef Chad Anderson and Food and Beverage Director Rob DeLeo.” Chu is now discussing developing an exclusive flavor for the hotel. And an even wider audience will get to taste Cirsea ice cream as it will soon be available in local supermarkets.
Chu’s own culinary empire has expanded as well as she and her husband opened a second restaurant, the Aya Cookhouse, in Mount Pleasant, S.C., in 2014. “We wanted to bring traditional Asian dishes and add our interpretations to them,” she said. “We have had a lot of fun experimenting with classic dishes, and they have been very popular.”
Even though Cirsea ice cream is currently only available in the Charleston area, “We are working hard for future expansion,” Chu says. “We are considering adding two more machines since production has picked up substantially.” She adds, “We saw Carpigiani’s FantaStick novelty machines at a Chicago gelato competition and may incorporate those to expand our lines with popsicles or coated ice cream on a stick due to the success we’ve had with our current units.”
“We decided to go with the equipment due to the quality and texture it produces, which was just what we were looking for.”
Carpigiani’s FantaStick machine is an easy way to make gelato or sorbet pops. After the gelato mix is prepared in the MasterStick soft-serve freezer, pop molds are filled in an ergonomic, vertical position. In about 30 minutes of blast freezing in the FantaStick blast freezer set the bars, which can then be coated with chocolate or other flavored coatings and rolled in toppings.
“Kelly and her team, including Production Manager Matt Cook and her husband Tony, have been great to work with because they have a real desire to make high-quality frozen desserts featuring outstanding flavors,” says McCabe. “I am proud to work with a group that is enthusiastic and has an excellent reputation in the Charleston market.”
In terms of advice for others looking for batch freezers and mix treatment machines, Chu says it’s important to facilitate a test run with the product before making a purchase. “Every machine is different in terms of the way it runs, and the cylinder speed impacts the final product,” says Chu. “By conducting a test run, the operator can ensure what the end result will be.”