MANILA – There are those of us who enjoy a good meal, and there are those of us who can't wait to get to the sweetness that is dessert. Ice cream, oh that treat that is ice cream, is one of the types of dessert that seems so ubiquitous that it can be easily found in convenience stores or even with the traditional “dirty ice cream” that we've grown up with.
What then could possess someone to start up their own ice cream business and even develop decidedly Filipino flavors for an audience that didn't seem to be looking for them? For Ian Carandang, the man behind artisanal ice cream brand Sebastian's Ic Cream, creating his own brand was a matter of survival.
“Simply put, I knew I didn't have the attention span and discipline to hold down a standard 9-to-5 Job in an office,” Ian explains. “Not to say I'm too good for that; quite the opposite. There's something deficient in my own head where I lack that basic attention span that grown-ups have which enables them to work a conventional job. I knew that I needed to make this work because the alternative scared the crap out of me. So that's the biggest motivator behind starting all this: FEAR.”
Why ice cream, then? And how does one study the process of making ice cream? Amazingly, Ian shares that he was behind all the flavors and ideas behind Sebastian's and took no courses. “It was all self-taught via books, scouring for recipes online, and just countless hours and batches of recipes and experimentation,” he says. “When I first started, I actually checked Center for Culinary Arts (CCA) to see if they offered a course (they didn't at the time). Now, I could probably teach the course, but I'm not at the stage of my career yet where I'm ready to train my competition.”
“I studied in UP Diliman (Iskolar ng Bayan represent!) so it instilled in me a pride in our country and a desire to give back,” Ian begins. “When I was a kid, the most popular Pinoy ice cream was Ube. When I started Sebastian's, the most popular Pinoy flavor was STILL Ube. I didn't understand why that was.”
Analyzing the ice cream landscape, Ian notes that, “The untouchable pantheon of Vanilla, Chocolate, and Strawberry are always going to be the top flavors, but in the past 30 years, new flavors like Cookies n' Creme and Cookie Dough have been invented that manage to become embraced and enter that pantheon of universally loved ice creams as well. But no one had really done anything like that for Pinoy ice creams.”
He adds that altruistic intentions were another reason for the creation of new flavors. “Since I didn't have any real skills that could help the community like being a doctor or a lawyer, the next best thing was to use the techniques and flavors I've compiled thru the years to come up with new Ice Creams celebrating Filipino flavors that would hopefully be as timeless as Vanilla, Chocolate, and Ube. I love Filipino cuisine and showing the world the wonder and deliciousness of our cuisine is my way of giving back.”
With Valentine's Day now looming on the horizon, Sebastian's took the opportunity to showcase some new flavors, albeit for a limited time. Ian relays that it was a suggestion from an unlikely source that caused him to concoct some of his Valentine's-centric flavors. “A few years ago, Komiks artist and Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah creator Carl Vergara sent me a text message that said: 'Your next best selling flavor will be called Matinong Boyfriend.' This was around November, and I thought it was a hilarious idea. I kept that in the back of my mind until February 2014 came along. I made two ice creams: Matinong Boyfriend (always a combination of refined indulgence) and Matinong Girlfriend (something fun and not taking itself too seriously) and just put it out there.”
“The response was instant and overwhelming,” Ian happily notes. “The tubs sold out in less than two days and they exploded on social media. I was left scrambling to keep them in stock and I learned about the power of counterprogramming: While most Valentine promos cater to the couples in love, These flavors were targeted for the unattached ('Come to Sebastian's and find a matinong boyfriend!') and it really resonated with people. The next year I decided to expand the gag even further and added two more flavors: Closure (always a tea-based ice cream that is based on the idea of building harmonious blend of flavors meant to soothe you) and Unresolved Issues, a punchline of a product made with the Bitterest of ingredients, the lowly Ampalaya.”
“The Ampalaya Sorbet is a legit recipe, I didn't just throw it out there,” Ian narrates. “It was inspired by the ampalaya tea my mother has every night after dinner. Initial recipes had it not bitter enough and it was actually pleasant to the palate. I had to purposely scale back the sweetness to get the bitterness I was trying to express. I just put it out there as a gag product and didn't expect it to sell at all (especially since we offer free sampling and anyone curious would be able to try it without committing to a scoop) but to my surprise I would see that a couple of brave souls would buy a scoop. Whether it was because they lost a bet or they really really love Ampalaya, I couldn’t say.”
As for the public response to the quirky names given to these “seasonal” flavors, Ian says, “out of the four flavors, without fail, Unresolved Issues is the flavor that always gets the most shares, likes, and reposts on social media. For whatever reason, the concept and the humor really resonates with people, and while it still is the poorest selling flavor of the four (as expected), the value of it as "ingay" in social media marketing, it reigns supreme and is probably one of our most shared flavors, cumulatively speaking, of all time.”
With the arrival of the Valentine's Day flavors as well as the sustained popularity of the current selection, Ian plays it coy when asked what the brand's plans are for the immediate future: “Opening our first new branch in almost four years. Finding new distribution channels to get our products to the people that want them. Introducing new flavors and new products. Venturing into flavors and dishes we have never done before and might surprise more than a few people. It sounds vague, yes, I know but I don't want to spoil the surprise. “
In a day and age when "hugot" is symptomatic of relationships gone bad, a tub of Sebastian's just might serve as the comfort food of choice to soothe your heart (if not your tummy) this Valentine's Day.