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17 Ice Cream Artisans to Know in Chicago

These pastry chefs are making scream-worthy desserts
June 27, 2017
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by Matt Kirouac

Summertime is ice cream season, and fortunately Chicagoans are never far from a good scoop thanks to the city’s thriving and multifaceted dessert scene. Be it a casual gelato shop or a fine-dining restaurant with refreshing desserts, housemade ice cream is everywhere. Here are 17 artisans making their own. 

Emily Spurlin at Bad Hunter
Pastry chef Emily Spurlin is cooling things down at one of Chicago’s hottest restaurants, Bad Hunter. She does so with an arsenal of inventive, offbeat ice creams and sorbets that dovetail with the restaurant’s vegetable-focused menus. Her savory and other seasonal ingredients showcase ice cream’s versatility, while blurring the lines between dinner and dessert. Current flavors include smoked sorghum and coconut ash ice creams, as well as pickled ginger and cucumber–green tea sorbets. She's planning Parmesan ice cream to accompany a zucchini and lemon dessert this summer, while porcini mushroom is a popular flavor in the fall.

Signature flavor: Coconut ash

Leigh Omilinsky at Nico Osteria
Reared in French pastry, with a résumé that includes Tru, L2O and Cafe des Architectes, Leigh Omilinsky has proven herself equally adept at Italian desserts. After earning accolades as executive pastry chef at Sofitel Chicago Water Tower, Omilinsky began flexing her creative muscles at the Gold Coast's Nico Osteria, where housemade gelato and sorbetto are a crux of the sweets menu. Frozen desserts accompany nearly every plated dessert, including pine nut–ricotta gelato alongside a lemon tart with zabaglione and tarragon. Her favorite flavor is Sicilian pistachio. “Most people buy pistachio paste, which is fine, but I find that it has a super-artificial flavor. Even the really good pistachio pastes don’t taste super-pistachio-y,” says Omilinsky. “My solution was to just make my own praline.” 

Signature flavor: Sicilian pistachio

Sarah Mispagel at Sepia and Proxi
“Ice cream is my favorite thing to make at work, and one of the only sweets I enjoy in my free time,” says Sarah Mispagel, who oversees desserts for both Sepia and its hot new sibling, Proxi. At Sepia, she begins each dessert with ice cream or sorbet, with flavors like carrot cake, lemon verbena and chamomile, then molds the rest of the plate around it. At Proxi, she rotates ice cream and sorbet offerings, with recent flavors like vanilla-yuzu ice cream served with yuzu curd and pine nut crumble, plus aloe vera sorbet with fresh raspberries and candied ginger streusel. 

Signature flavor: Peach tea with Rare Tea Cellars’ Georgia peach rooibos

Anna Posey at Elske
Anna Posey made an ice cream name for herself in her former role as pastry chef at The Publican. Now that she’s opened Elske with her husband David Posey, her ice cream is as scream worthy as ever. “I really love light, tangy flavors, because they accentuate so many other flavors in desserts,” says Posey. “I feel like I am naturally drawn to vanilla, yogurt, kefir, sour cream and buttermilk-based sorbets.” One of her current favorites is a sorbet that she makes with buttermilk left over from cultured butter, to which she adds yogurt. Insider tip: Vanilla-marshmallow ice cream is an off-menu flavor. “I pipe it like soft serve and pair it with a Gammel Dansk butterscotch sauce.” 

Signature flavor: Buttermilk sorbet

Nicole Guini at Blackbird
One Off Hospitality Group has a knack for churning out serious ice cream talent (Leigh Omilinsky at Nico Osteria, Anna Posey at The Publican). The latest example comes by way of the group’s OG restaurant Blackbird. With stints at Bleeding Heart Bakery, Spiaggia and a pastry and baking school in Argentina, Nicole Guini brings a keen eye for the unexpected. “I love making ice cream. My favorites are the ones that are the most uncommon flavors,” she says. That means everything from orange blossom–yuzu sorbet (“it tastes like Tang”) to sugar snap pea ice cream. 

Signature flavor: “I wouldn’t say I necessarily have a signature ice cream, as our menu changes all the time,” Guini says, pointing out recent flavors like milk chocolate-rose, apricot sherbet and green tea sorbet.

Claire Crenshaw at LH Rooftop
From Moto to the Loews Hotel Chicago to Zagat’s 30 Under 30, Claire Crenshaw has continued to impress as one of Chicago’s most promising pastry talents. In her current role at LH Rooftop at LondonHouse Chicago, she’s serving desserts on a grand scale, including an impressive ice cream roster, many of which are odes to childhood throwbacks. Flavors rotate seasonally, with the recent crop including sea salt and honey, avocado-lime, buttered rum pecan, toasted brioche, blueberry muffin and buttermilk peach pie. 

Signature flavor: Toasted marshmallow and graham

Meg Galus at Boka, Swift & Sons and Cold Storage
Between the three restaurants where she oversees desserts, Meg Galus seamlessly moves between whimsical nostalgia and fine dining, producing an impressive variety of housemade ice creams and sorbets. Some tap into childhood classics, while others experiment with modern flavor combinations. This means making rhubarb-Thai long peppercorn ice cream or ginger-Fernet ice cream at Boka, extravagant sundaes at Cold Storage, and roasted banana sorbet and cocoa nib–tonka bean ice cream at Swift & Sons. 

Signature flavor: “Some of my favorites from past or current menus have been malted crème fraîche​ ice cream, coconut-lime sorbet (so creamy that guests have actually accused me of putting dairy in it), black raspberry–plum sorbet, white coffee ice cream and black sesame ice cream."

Ryan Henderson at Income Tax
A wine-focused restaurant may not seem the most obvious destination for ice cream, but Income Tax does it all. Executive chef Ryan Henderson not only commands a savory menu of French, German and Italian fare, but he makes his own ice cream too. As the restaurant enters its first summer season, he’s whipping up ice cream infused with dry Oloroso sherry and accenting it with candied orange peel and almonds. 

Signature flavor: Oloroso sherry

Evan Sheridan at Sixteen
At Sixteen, Evan Sheridan’s desserts punctuate a spree of savory courses, amuse-bouches and wine pairings. They’re more than worth saving room for too, especially considering that some of the pastry chef’s most notable creations are sorbets. Sheridan manages to make sorbet exciting by matching it with intricate dessert courses, like cucumber-melon sorbet enrobed in roasted strawberry frozen mousse. He also makes soured coconut sorbet with kefir, lending a complex, tangy flavor that pairs well with chocolate from the Mekong Delta. 

Signature flavor: Soured coconut sorbet

Suzanne Imaz at Frontera Group
Suzanne Imaz is always churning out new ideas and flavors, often using home-grown ingredients such as lemon verbena grown on the Frontera Grill rooftop. House-ground Mexican chocolate ice cream, churro sundaes and flavors incorporating black sesame and paw paw are some of the highlights. “What sets our program apart is the degree to which we make, source and even grow our own ingredients to make ice creams,” says Imaz. 

Signature flavor: House-ground Mexican chocolate soft serve at XOCO. Another favorite is local strawberry ice cream, which reminds Imaz of summers in Michigan with her grandma. 

Kym DeLost at Acanto, The Gage and The Dawson
Kim DeLost is passionate about playful ice cream creations year round. And with a trifecta of restaurants under her pastry command, she's got a lot of room to flex her creative muscles. At Acanto, which skews more toward composed dessert plates, DeLost offers a daily sundae with flavors like summer red berry shortcake sundae. At The Gage and The Dawson, she offers "shot pops" (seasonal fruit pops poured with cordial syrup in a shot glass), frozen Greek yogurt pops and "Rocky Road Overload," a mash-up of French dark chocolate ice cream, marshmallow creme and chocolate shell sandwiched between chocolate chunk and candied almond cookies. 

Signature flavor: Seasonal fruit pops and sundaes

Jeffrey Robinson at BIN 36
Before moving to Chicago, Jeffrey Robinson lived in Miami, where he owned and operated an ice cream truck. That deep-seated passion manifests at BIN 36, where he not only makes bread, some cheeses and practically everything else from scratch but also ice cream, with a rich custard base, and sorbet. Current flavors include goat cheese and lavender, cinnamon-almond (made with housemade almond milk) and vanilla bourbon. 

Signature flavor: Mint chocolate chunk

Chris Teixeira at The Fifty/50 Group
Juggling dessert duty for so many restaurants, each with its own distinct character, is a role that pastry chef Chris Teixeira manages handily, curating sweets for Homestead on the Roof, West Town Bakery, Steadfast and The Berkshire Room. While some menus skew nostalgic and all-American, others afford him the opportunity to get more elaborate and refined. He does a s’mores ice cream sandwich for West Town Bakery with toasted marshmallow ice cream, for instance, and a cereal bowl sundae upstairs at Homestead that features Fruity Pebbles ice cream. At Steadfast, he pays homage to that theme park fixture, Dippin’ Dots, with his own raspberry and goat’s milk interpretation served alongside goat’s milk cheesecake, Muscovado streusel and fresh raspberries. 

Signature flavor: Dippin’ Dots

Anistar Griffith at Baptiste & Bottle 
Anistar Griffith's grandpa was a dairy farmer, and she grew up making ice cream. That passion beget a career in pastry, with an emphasis on ice cream. Formerly at Moto, and now at Baptiste & Bottle, she gets back to her roots with a focus on simpler recipes hinging on seasonal ingredients and fresh fruit. 

Signature flavor: Griffith’s favorites include riffs on classic sweets like s’mores and summer pies.

Scott Green at Travelle Kitchen + Bar
Before becoming pastry chef at Travelle Kitchen + Bar, Scott Green earned a B.S. in Graphic Design from the Art Institute of California, and that shows in the presentation of his desserts. Green makes all his own ice creams and sorbets, maximizing seasonal ingredients. Flavors both classic (strawberry sorbet) and contemporary (roasted cocoa nib ice cream) round out his dessert menu, which harkens to traditional, comforting flavors, like “grandma’s chocolate cake” and coconut paletas. 

Signature flavor: Roasted cocoa nib ice cream, guava sorbet and lemon-black pepper ice cream

Celina Torres at Bohemian House
Inspired by her upbringing in Mexico City, Celina Torres puts a distinct stamp on the dessert menus of this contemporary Eastern European restaurant, whose menu features the likes of Czech roasted duck leg and chicken paprikash. Torres’ cinnamon and raisin ice cream, for example, uses flavors common in both Mexican and Eastern European culture. They're ingredients that she would enjoy in tea, milk and rice pudding while growing up in Mexico City. 

Signature flavor: Cinnamon and raisin

Aya Fukai at Maple & Ash
Ever since she was little, eating dulce de leche ice cream from Baskin Robbins in Japan, Aya Fukai has been hooked on ice cream. Now, as executive pastry chef of Maple & Ash, Fukai spins all her own ice creams for the Gold Coast steakhouse and its downstairs sibling Eight Bar. This includes her own take on the all-American sundae, with scoops of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, plus a tin of toppings like hot fudge, salted caramel, chocolate crunch and candied coconut. 

Signature flavor: Sundae service with vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice creams

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