By Louise Donovan | The Telegraph
Sitting among the vintage crockery and furniture stalls at a fete in West Didsbury, Manchester, is an unmissable pink 1997 Ford Transit ice cream van, Ginger’s Comfort Emporium. Even on a cold, rainy April afternoon Claire Kelsey, 35, its owner, has a queue.
Kelsey makes ice cream for grown-ups, selling it at food markets around the country, but mainly in and around Manchester, where she lives. She delights in unusual combinations such as liquorice root, coriander leaf and camel’s milk, and her bestselling ‘Chorlton crack’ (peanut butter and salted caramel). Her imaginative menu has not gone unnoticed. In 2011 her roasted banana, salt caramel and peanut ice cream won the British Street Food awards’ ‘best dessert’, which she won again in 2012 for ‘marmalade on toast’ – marmalade and caramelised breadcrumbs with orange blossom tea sorbet. Kelsey’s first job in food at the age of 21 was as a kitchen assistant in Raymond Blanc’s Brasserie in Manchester. She worked in restaurants for four years before becoming a food stylist. By 2009 she had decided she wanted her own business. ‘I looked at restaurants but it’s such a massive risk,’ she says. ‘I thought a mobile unit would be perfect because I could take it to festivals with my friends and it would be a party vehicle.’ Using her savings she found an ice cream van in Brighton for £8,000, which her father helped her paint and refurbish; a friend designed the logo. ‘A week later I had an ice cream van in my drive with no real business plan,’ she says. ‘I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I thought, “Well, I’ll start making ice cream, I’ll probably get bored of this in six months,” but I really enjoyed doing it.’
She taught herself how to make ice cream by hand, without specialist equipment, learning the best methods for freezing without a churn. But last year Kelsey bought a second-hand Carpigiani, a commercial ice cream machine, which she found on Gumtree. ‘I’m still finding my way,’ she says.
‘I don’t want to sound like an authority on machines because I’m not; I’m a home cook who’s had to upscale and it’s quite scary.’
Her ingredients are sourced from local producers where possible; the milk and cream comes from a Manchester dairy, the cones from a bakery in Eccles, and the grain for the malt ice cream is from a microbrewery in north Manchester. Her flavours are seasonal and Kelsey buys slightly overripe fruit from markets to make her compotes, jams and caramels that are then used as a base for many of her ice creams. She also welcomes contributions. ‘I’ve got some lovely customers who will bring me weird things I’ve never seen before such as mastic and wild orchid extract.’
In the summer Kelsey travels to festivals such as the Secret Garden Party, Wilderness and Kendal Calling, and food markets across the country, selling her ice cream cones for between £2.50 and £3.50 each. Pitch fees can vary from £300 a day to £1,000 for a weekend. How much does she make in a day?’ It’s as changeable as the British weather,’ she says. Her profit can range from nothing on a wet afternoon to £4,000 over a long weekend ‘depending on many, many variables’.
Kelsey has recently published Melt, her first book of ice cream recipes (more than a third of them don’t need churning), and she plans to have a permanent kitchen by the end of the year. ‘I need somewhere to manufacture because I’m turning work down left, right and centre,’ Kelsey says. ‘When I started doing this I saw having to go out and sell to people as a necessary evil, now it’s the most fun part of the job. That’s why I put the effort in. The business grows and grows, but it’s still just me at the end of the day. I’m not taking over the world; I’m just making ice cream.’