Q&A With Wanderlust Creamery’s Adrienne Borlongan
There’s a new artisan ice cream shop making a splash on the Los Angeles dessert scene — and it’s all the way up in Tarzana. After all, Wanderlust Creamery is all about flavors inspired by travel and, believe me, the ice cream is so good you won’t mind making the trip to the San Fernando Valley from wherever you are. The Ventura Boulevard spot, which opened in August, is the brainchild of mixologist Adrienne Borlongan and her boyfriend, attorney JP Lopez. All of the unique flavors — from Sticky Rice and Mango to Earl Grey and Thai Tea — are made from scratch and pasteurized in house. Pretty cool, eh? (Check out my full review of the yummy ice cream.)
In its first month of operation, Wanderlust has already attracted the attention of LAist, Eater, Los Angeles Times Food, Time Out, and lots of LA foodies ready to Instagram their delicious flavors in house-made green tea and ube cones or macarons! Borlongan was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about Wanderlust, why they’re in the Valley, traveling the world, and what flavors don’t exactly work as ice cream.
You have a mixology background. how did you get started in making ice cream?
I guess it’s in my blood. My grandparents met at an ice cream factory — my grandpa was a flavor chemist and my grandma was a janitor. They didn’t speak the same language, but they met and fell in love no less. I was always moved by that story and every time I eat ice cream, I think of how much I love ice cream. I never met either of my grandparents, so I just think back to what kind of people they were and I’m curious if I get my culinary curiosities from them. I love ice cream and I’m not big sweets person, but for some reason, I can’t resist ice cream.
What was the first flavor of ice cream you’ve ever made?
I think it was vanilla bean. It’s my favorite flavor — as Odd as it is. I know I’m making crazy ice cream flavors, but my favorite is basic vanilla bean.
The theme of Wanderlust Creamery is travel-inspired flavors. What places have inspired some of the flavors? Is there anything else you draw inspiration from — childhood curiosities, etc.?
Definitely childhood flavors. When my older brother was in high school (and I was in elementary school), he worked at Thrifty, scooping ice cream, so the chocolate malted crunch comes from that. The Sticky Rice and Mango comes from Thailand. The Brown-Butter Hazelnut Cake is actually a cake that me and my sister are really into making — it’s our favorite cake in the world. And I thought if I could make this into an ice cream flavor, it would be amazing. Just plain hazelnut doesn’t do it — it needs that brown butter.
I’ve traveled a lot and literally, inspiration comes from places that you would least suspect.
As a world traveler, is there one place you’d like to go next? Or a place that you’ve wanted to go to for a really long time and haven’t been able to yet?
I would love to go to Peru. It’s my favorite cuisine ever and I’ve never been to that part of the world — I’ve always gone to Europe or Asia. I’m dying to go to Peru.
How did Wanderlust Creamery come about?
I’ve always been into food and I’ve been with my boyfriend [JP] for 8 years. He and his family have been telling me, “You need to open a restaurant and do something with your talent,” and I’ve just never been confident enough to take that step. I always thought you had to go to culinary school or have worked in a kitchen or for someone famous. But I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 16 — now I’m 30 — and I realized that’s actually not the case. Anyone can be a chef. It’s just literally a science — and I have a bachelor’s degree in science.
Recently, my boyfriend and I went to the Philippines and his cousin owns a bunch of restaurants and night clubs. I just thought, “Why not?” When we came back, it was our New Year’s resolution to start it up.
All the ingredients you use in the flavors are fresh. What kind of challenges does that bring?
I will say the biggest challenge is the seasonality. You can’t make blackberry jam in the dead of winter; it’s not going to be amazing. But the good thing that comes from that is it gives people something to look forward to. I love how the seasons change and the flavors change. If we offered the same flavors all the time, what fun is that?
Every flavor is made from scratch, instead of using a pre-made base. What was the reasoning behind that decision?
The reason why I’m so staunch about making the ice cream base from scratch is because I believe certain ice cream flavors don’t do well with egg. Traditionally, egg is present in all ice creams. Let’s say with strawberry or that fresh mint palo santo, if there were egg in that it would just take away from the bright, fresh vivacious flavor. For the salted caramel, if I had used a pre-made base, the base already has sugar and for me to make it salted caramel, I’d have to add more sugar and it would be so sweet. That’s why I’m sticking to pasteurizing my own base.
A lot of your flavors are a mixture of savory and sweet, which is so different. What kind of challenges do face when bringing savory flavors to a dessert known for its sweetness?
I think it comes from the fact that I’m not really a desserts person. I’m not really into sweets and I’m always trying to find a way to balance it out with other qualities. I’m trying to find a good happy medium that will please all palates.
Is there a certain ingredient or flavor you loved or experimented with, but it just didn’t work well as ice cream?
Any alcohol flavor does not work well as ice cream, just because the more alcohol you add, the harder it is to freeze. It lowers the freezing point. I’ve made cognac ice cream before and it’s just not a good ice cream flavor. I’ve made an olive oil flavor before — and, again, I have trouble finding a happy medium between savory and sweet — so I guess I had made it too savory for my boyfriend’s liking. He was like, “No, that’s not going on the menu.” But I thought it was delicious.
Where are you favorite places to eat in LA?
I love hole-in-the-wall places that have been around for a long time, like Mario’s Peruvian. I love going to the San Gabriel Valley — if I have a Sunday off, me and my sister will go and just make a day out of it, having dim sum for brunch, getting ice cream and lunch, and then we’ll go get boba with cotton candy on top.
Why pick the San Fernando Valley as the location for Wanderlust?
Me and my boyfriend wanted to open something here in the Valley, because we’re from the Valley. I don’t think people realize people born and raised in LA aren’t always from Fairfax and Melrose, you know? We were looking for places in the Valley because we think it’s an under-served market for artisan ice cream. This spot kind of fell in our lap and it came equipped.
Photos by Eric Shin