How Pop Culture Became A Part of Ample Hills Creamery's DNA
The release of the Brooklyn ice cream maker's Oscars flavor is yet another example of how it does ice cream differently.
On Monday, February 12, the Brooklyn-based creamery Ample Hills will begin selling an annual favorite made for the awards season. Aptly titled “Oscar Night,” the ice cream combines a thick and smooth sweet cream cheese ice cream with nearly melt-in-your-mouth pieces of One Girl Cookies red velvet cake. Everything from the colors to the textures is inspired by the red carpet, an edible embodiment of what Ample Hills co-founder Brian Smith describes as “the ambiance of the evening.”
“Making little miniature Oscar men out of chocolate seemed like maybe a little more literal, a little more on the nose, and certainly more technically complicated,” Smith tells Food & Wine about the creamery’s decision to go with the red carpet theme for its Oscars-inspired flavor. “You certainly can’t theme it around any specific movie because those change all the time. We just [thought] of the color red, and the idea of the red carpet, and all the gowns and outfits, and it seemed to fit with the idea of Ample Hills being a brand that's over the top in terms of the mix-ins and the flavors.”
In a world with an overabundance of flashy award shows, Smith calls the Oscars the holy grail of Hollywood celebrations, making it the perfect fit for an Awards-based blend. Like most sweet cream mixes that come out of Brooklyn company, including its wildly popular Star Wars and Gilmore Girls (“Where You Lead, I Will Marshmallow”) flavors, the idea for Oscar Night was born from the passions and interests of the people who work there.
Smith states they aren’t focus group testing to see which franchises or topics resonate most, but instead are going with their hearts, creating taste blends that make them most passionate—from presidents to pro-football. That is, outside of ice cream, of course.
“It’s sort of about trying to hit on the combination of something that feels like either there’s a food relationship or that someone at Ample Hills—myself or somebody else—feels strongly about,” Smith says. “We figure that if somebody really feels strongly about it, it’s going to connect to a wider audience. We are consumers of TV and movies, and pick things that we want to communicate in a broader sense.”
As Smith notes, it’s not an entirely scientific process, but you can’t deny the method is working. Ample Hills has made quite a name for itself and its special brand of flavors since the creamery opened in the spring of 2011. It should also go without saying the local company’s success with blending culture and cream isn’t unique to it or its brand. Vermont’s Ben & Jerry’s and even neighboring Queens-based Mikey Likes It also have flavor lines and reputations based on beloved media properties and people. Unlike some of their competitors, however, (pop) culture is built into the bones of Ample Hills, from its name to its co-founder’s backstory.
For literature, writing or even history enthusiasts, Ample Hills is a phrase that probably rings a bell. That’s because it comes from Walt Whitman’s poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” a time-traveling tribute to the city Ample Hills calls home. In it, Whitman describes the Brooklyn he knows, reaching out to his readers both in his present and beyond to revel in their shared experience of the city. It’s something that as a Brooklynite and writer emotionally resonates with Smith, who says the reference also represents what ice cream shops can do: foster human connection.
“[The poem is] about the connections between people through space and time—a community of people,” Smith tells Food & Wine. “Whitman is walking around Brooklyn and talking to the future—100, 150 years later—and saying, “I know I’m long gone, but I walked around and saw the same ample hills of Brooklyn that you see.” [In the poem] there’s that sense of community and connection that we were after in an ice cream shop, and the way that people use or used to use ice cream shops.”
Before starting Ample Hills, Smith was also a screenwriter for what he calls “bad monster movies.” With a life driven by the act and art of storytelling, he wanted to fuse that love of narrative into his work making ice cream treats.
“Sort of baked into the DNA of Ample Hills from the beginning was a desire that I had to use ice cream to tell stories,” Smith says. “It’d come from creating monsters and trying to figure out how to create a new monster that somebody hadn’t seen before. I didn’t want ice cream flavors to simply be a collection of milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and other ingredients. I wanted to use ice cream flavors as a way to connect people to something that was more resonant and deeper.”
The red velvet and cream cheese Oscar Night flavor is just another tasty result of this effort. It’s also yet another example of how Ample Hills is striving—with a little help from pop culture—to be the kind of mark-making ice cream company it wants to be.
“The red velvet cake and cream cheese ice cream are insanely decadent and over the top,” Smith says. “It’s not a subtle flavor, and the Oscars are not subtle. [At Ample Hills] we’re not making subtle, fine ice creams. It’s a bold and strong flavor, which is really what we’re about.”