Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 4 August 2020

From mushroom to guacamole: Meet Dr Ice, the Dubai man reinventing traditional ice cream flavours

Vasco Valenca de Sousa has more than 30 years experience working in research and development in the ice cream industry

Gorgonzola, mushroom, guacamole, tomato chilli, courgette and coriander. Together, they sound like ingredients in a rather unusual salad. But these are actually some of the ice cream flavours found in Dubai resident Vasco Valenca de Sousa’s freezer.

The Portuguese national, who moved to the UAE in 2013, has more than 30 years of experience as a food engineer, earning him the nickname Dr Ice. In fact, his experience in research and development in ice cream has led him to work with some of the biggest names in the industry. He spent more than 20 years with Unilever, during which, he was part of the team behind the world-famous Magnum ice cream bar.

Sousa moved to the UAE when one of his clients asked him to join as a consultant. Since then, he has worked with a number of well-known brands in the region, including Kwality, Jelly Belly and Magnolia Bakery, for which he has developed ice cream flavours. Recently, he worked on the vegan range launched by low-calorie ice cream company The Brooklyn Creamery.

While most people might not appreciate having to bring their work home, Sousa can’t seem to get enough of it. The food engineer is constantly thinking up creative new flavours, and his need to experiment finally led him to create what he has nicknamed the "Ice Cave" – a space within his kitchen, filled with ice cream-making equipment. It is here that he experiments with flavours ranging from unique to just plain bizarre.

“I’m a social guy, I like having friends over. Sometimes, when I invite people, we discuss what kind of ice cream we would like to have. If I have the ingredients, I start the preparation immediately, and then after the meal, when everybody is socialising, I whip up that ice cream and serve it to my guests,” he says. The entire process takes about an hour.

“Most of them think it’s crazy that I do this for a living,” he adds. “Many have asked me how much I had to pay to get this job!”

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: N/A. Features. Vasco makes a buckwheat cinnamon ice cream. Vasco Valenca De Sousa aka Dr Ice is a food engineer specialising in in ice cream innovation, research and development. He has developed a new vegan range and also makes his own weird ice cream flavours. Wednesday, July 8th, 2020. The Palm, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Vasco Valenca de Sousa, seen here preparing a buckwheat cinnamon ice cream. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Some of the eccentric flavours he has created include the aforementioned vegetable medley. The savoury ice cream flavours of mushroom, guacamole, Gorgonzola and tomato chilli, can be combined, spread on toast, and enjoyed as a starter. Other flavours he has created include Parmesan, ketchup, and buckwheat and cinnamon.

Sousa says that it was a love for the sweet stuff that led to this offbeat career. With a sweet tooth from a young age, he dreamt of working in the food and beverage industry. However, since his father was a pediatrician, he contemplated a career in the medical field before realising that his passion lay with food. He completed a course, and, as he puts it, “was lucky” to be picked up by Unilever for its ice cream division.

Today, Sousa credits his food engineering experience with helping him create such eccentric flavours. “Food engineering is about understanding ingredients in a more detailed way. While a chef deals with fine-tuning the flavour of a dish to make it appealing, a food engineer needs to understand how ingredients react with one another, how they react to the outside environment. It’s a more scientific approach, and that’s why I can build the recipes inside my brain, because I can figure out what kinds of ingredients will work well together.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: N/A. Features. Vasco scoops out some of his Tomato and chilli ice cream. Vasco Valenca De Sousa aka Dr Ice is a food engineer specialising in in ice cream innovation, research and development. He has developed a new vegan range and also makes his own weird ice cream flavours. Wednesday, July 8th, 2020. The Palm, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Vasco Valenca de Sousa scoops out some of his Tomato and chilli ice cream. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“Creating that perfect ice cream is about finding the right balance in texture and flavour,” he adds. “In the end, I need to be pleased with the final product to the point where I can’t find anything around me that tastes better."

That being said, taste can be a relative thing, and flavour profiles vary from country to country. In the Middle East, some local flavours that are popular include dates and nuts (such as pistachio), while deserts combining baklava and Umm Ali always yield interesting results, he says.

In the end, I need to be pleased with the final product to the point where I can’t find anything around me that tastes better

Vasco Valenca de Sousa

“This is a very open-minded region for new flavours,” says Sousa. “Dubai is an innovation jewel. People here are ready to experiment with new things from all over the world. I’ve introduced flavours like dates and chocolate in the past and it has worked very well.”

Meanwhile, his mantra for the time being is to keep on experimenting, and to take up new adventures. With the recipe for traditional ice cream already being tried and perfected, Sousa has now set his sights on a new challenge – to make ice creams that are "healthier".

“The world is changing,” he says. “Nowadays, you have more people who count calories, and this drives demand in a different way.”

Changing consumer demands is also what led him to work with The Brooklyn Creamery to develop its new vegan range, made using coconut milk and almond milk. “My goal was to create an ice cream that’s so indulgent and creamy that people don’t even notice that it is vegan.”

Updated: July 16, 2020 10:48 AM

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