Chaeban Ice Cream, open now in the spot where the old Banana Boat used to be has created quite a stir since it opened. Not the least was the audacity to open an ice cream story in the middle of the cold of a Winnipeg winter.
Yesterday I attended a social media event to which I had been invited by the Chaeban social media coordinator Kristi Nikkel. It was a chance to learn a little about the ice cream store’s story. To learn a little bit about how they make their ice cream and to sample some of the product.
Chaeban (pronounced Shay-ban) is owned by Joseph Chaeban and his wife Zainab Ali. Joseph was born in Lebanon and came to Canada with his family when he was still quite young. Zainab is Syrian, and while she came to Canada with Joseph, more members of her family arrived as refugees. Their story is very compelling and you can read more of it here and here.
However, as compelling as their personal story is, and I do encourage you to look up more of their story, I’m here to write about the ice cream. As I mentioned at the top,
Chaeban is located on the sport where the old Banana Boat was. That building was torn down, and the store occupies a nice, bright spot on the ground floor of a new building, modern building. Everything in the front is bright and white and with windows on three sides there is plenty of natural light flooding into the building.
We were greeted on arrival last night, by Ms. Nikkel, and it was an opportunity to catch up with people who I haven’t seen in a while along with the chance to meet one or two new people. One thing that struck me right away is how social media friendly they are. They even have a couple of little light boxes that help you make your Instagram pictures look better.
Among those present were Getty Stewart, Getty is Winnipeg’s foremost home economist, her husband Daryl is the owner of Ibex Payroll, and a partner in Chaeban Ice Cream. It was also good to see Susie Ejavec Parker, and Jennifer Dyck, It was also a chance to meet or get to know a little better, Constance Popp, Wai Chan, Gina Sunderland, and Chris Kirouac, from Beeproject Apiaries. Beeproject supplies the honey that Chaeban uses.
Once we were all assembled Joseph and Zainab came out to meet us along with Saada. Saada didn’t take part in much of the conversation, as she is still developing her English language skills, but she plays a vital role in keeping the operation running smoothly.
I know I said I was going to talk mainly about ice cream, however, our evening started off with tasting two beverages that Chaeban intends to serve come summertime and the return of hot weather. One is made with Hibiscus and the other with Tamarind. Both are beverages that are allowed to be consumed during Ramadan, the Muslim period of fasting. The one pictured below is the Tamarind beverage to which has been added orange blossom. The acidity of the orange blossom takes away some of the heaviness of the tamarind (tamarind is the principal ingredient in most dipping sauces for samosas) and makes the whole beverage brighter, and more refreshing.
As we were getting ready to sample the beverages we learned a little more of Joseph’s story in relationship to his craft. He would continue filling us in with bits of it as we went on a little tour of the ice cream making area.
Josephès parents are Lebanese and left Lebanon because of the civil war to live in Germany. Joseph was born in Germany. Later, his father moved to Tunisia and opened a cheese factory. His parents came to Canada as immigrants in 1988.
Among the highlights of his story that stood out for me was how, as a child, he would go into the area where the Camembert were being stored and enjoy a wheel for breakfast. As a child who grew up on puffed wheat in the summer and oatmeal in the winter, I was immediately jealous.
We started on our tour and learned about the process that goes into making the ice cream (see I told you we’d get there). The ice cream starts with the arrival of raw milk at the store. This isn’t just any raw milk however. Just like there are now coffee shops selling single origin coffee, Chaeban serves ice cream made with single origin milk. All their milk comes from Grenkow Holstein Farms, in Stonewall.
Once the milk is delivered it is pasteurized and homogenized in the Chaeban store. This is not only a food safety choice, but it reflects Chaeban’s commitment of maintaining quality control from beginning to end, or from cow to cone. Think of it as something similar to bean to bar chocolate making. Joseph’s background is cheese making, and though he started out learning from his father, he also went on to study the science of cheese making at the University of Vermont. This has resulted in Chaeban being the only ice cream maker in Canada who controls the whole process of ice cream making from the moment the milk arrives to the moment it’s served to you over the counter.
Of course, great ice cream isn’t only about a great scientifically produced milk base. It’s about great flavour as well. A lot of that does indeed come in the pasteurizing and homogenizing process. The Chaeban ice cream is 13%-16% cream, the air that is pushed through it is at 55%-60%, and the ice cream machine itself is designed in such away that Chaeban controls the number of times the dashers (paddles) turn the ice cream over.
In addition to dairy based ice cream, Chaeban is also producing vegan ice cream using coconut milk.
Not surprisingly, as this is premium ice cream, the price is notably higher. However, it boils down to what you really want to eat. If you want to stuff your face with empty, sugary calories, Chaeban might not be the place for you. However, if you believe that a smaller amount of exceptional food, enjoyed at leisure with good friends and/or family, is what eating is really all about, Chaeban is definitely the dessert place for you.
However much of the flavour also comes from the ingredients that are added to produce the different flavours. That is where Zainab comes in, as she is the primary creator of flavour profiles. Not surprisingly many of the flavours are influenced by the couples Syrian-Lebanese heritage. This means that ingredients such as orange blossom, rose water, pistachios, and more.
As with the milk, as much of the ingredients as possible, that go into making the ice cream flavours, are locally grown and/or produced. In addition to local farms, Dogwood Coffee, and Oh! Doughnuts have already partnered with Chaeban in producing flavours. In fact the Mustang Sally flavour featuring Dogwood Coffee had sold out it was so popular.
When it came to finally sampling the ice cream we got to taste Joseph’s scientific precision, and Zainab’s flavour profiles at work. We were each invited to make a sundae, featuring two scoops of the ice cream. For my two scoops I chose the salty Carl and the Abir Al Sham(meaning perfume of Sham, Old Damascus).
Before I added any toppings, I took a small spoonful of each flavour to see what they were like on their own. Both are truly amazing. First there is great mouth feel. One doesn’t generally think of biting into ice cream, but the creamy richness, and thickness of this ice requires it. On a side note, they recommend that if you have bought their ice cream and put it in your freezer, that you stick it in your fridge for about half and hour before serving so that the ice cream can soften and be more easily scooped out.
The caramel in the Salty Carl is rich, but not overly sweet. On the whole, Chaeban doesn’t go overboard on sugar, so this ice cream won’t be producing to many sugar highs. You can detect just a hint of the salt as the ice cream melts in your mouth. The Abir Al Sham is even more interesting as the addition of the nuts and the rose and orange blossom waters make each mouthful different.
I added a variety of the toppings to my ice cream, but the ice cream doesn’t really need them. It would almost seem a sacrilege to put chocolate syrup on top of such incredible, fantastic food. In fact there was a bit of Twitter argument over the best way to eat it.
One thing I did like about the toppings, though, is that there were a lot of crunchy ones, which from a texture point of view, complement the ice cream quite nicely. After I had eaten my ice cream sundae, I also tried a couple of the vegnola toppings made by Fauxnola. I’m definitely going to pick some of that up, because it’s not only a good ice cream topping, but a good salad topper as well.
The opening of Chaeban started a winter conversation around eating ice cream. I’d suggest that you make as many winter visits as you can. Why? Once summer comes I see long times waiting in line to get your ice cream. Chaeban’s is truly a gift to Winnipeg, and to anyone who loves good food and particularly good ice cream.
Thank you, Joseph, Zainab, and Kristi for inviting me to be part of this event yesterday. Thank you more, however, for creating a great ice cream store, and for displaying the grace, creativity, and generosity, that immigrants can add to our communities. As Brian would say: “blessed are the cheesemakers.”