Tyler Malek fancies himself a storyteller via ice cream. As Head Ice Cream Maker for Salt & Straw, Portland’s growing ice cream scoop shop, Malek doesn’t just work with sugar and cream and traditional flavorings to create yet another version of conventional ice cream.
He collaborates with artisans, learns their techniques and uses that repertoire of detail to build unique and mind-blowing flavors, often layered as each bite plays with taste buds.
“With a foundation of cream and sugar and working with partners, we can tell endless stories,” Malek, who trained as a savory chef, said.
He and his cousin Kim Malek founded the company seven years ago. Originally it began as a red-and-white striped pushcart parked in front of a friend’s restaurant. Now they have four locations in Portland, five in L.A. (where their 8,000-square-foot factory is now based), two in San Francisco, and now one in San Diego on Little Italy’s India Street. Two more shops are planned to open soon in Seattle.
The Maleks make a point of partnering with local farmers and artisans in each of the regions where they do business. While they have their classic menu that pretty much stays in place throughout the year with flavors like Double Fold Vanilla, Sea Salt w/ Caramel Ribbons, Honey Lavender, and Avocado & Oaxacan Chocolate Fudge, they also have a monthly rotation of limited edition flavors. Both menus have flavors that incorporate products by local purveyors.
For instance, among the Classic Flavors in San Diego is James Coffee & Compartes Love Nuts. Now Compartes Love Nuts is a very cool L.A. chocolatier whose owner is a friend of Tyler Malek. They have a layered approach to making “Love Nuts,” hand-roasted nuts that are caramelized with vanilla, salted with sea salt, and then layered 14 times in their chocolate blend and dusted with raw cacao powder. Malek worked with Compartes to figure out how to draw out the best of the Love Nuts so they’d still have that crunchy goodness in ice cream. At the same time, he collaborated with San Diego’s James Coffee Co. to develop a warm brew method of incorporating their coffee into the ice cream with the Love Nuts. The result is a sublime mouth feel. If your coffee ice cream standard is Haagen Dazs, you’ll be thrilled with this version, with the extra gift of crunchy salty chocolate-y nuts.
Malek is also collaborating with Belching Beaver Brewery. The Classic Flavor, Peanut Butter Stout w/Chocolate Chicharron, was made for San Diego. By spending time at the brewery, Malek and the brewers developed at technique for resteeping the used malt combo from their Peanut Butter Stout and adding it as an ingredient in the ice cream. It creates an almost perfumed light and delicate peanut butter effect.
Coming up in January is a collaboration with Modern Times Beer. Malek explained that he is using their Thermometer Island saison aged in Pino Noir barrels. The beer features locally grown cara cara orange juice. The new flavor, Modern Times’ Hopped Orange Creamsicle, adds extra cara cara juice and coconut cream to create a sherbet texture.
In February, chocolate will be the rage, and Malek has been working with Chuao Chocolatier—incorporating their Raspberry Rose chocolate bar into an ice cream—and Nibble Chocolate, which will lend its 85% chocolate bars to a vegan chocolate sorbet.
You can purchase scoops in handmade waffle cones or cups, and pints of ice cream, as well as sundaes, ice cream floats, whole pint milkshakes, and some unique shakes called Pomegranate Pok Pok Drinking Vinegar Shake, and Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup & Vanilla Shake. Salt & Straw additionally carries local and their favorite confections.
Salt & Straw is located at 1670 India Street and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.