Monday, July 24, 2017

Guss Damn Good: Ice Cream that makes me go Wah Lau Eh!

It's been way too long since I gave out my "Wah Lau Eh!" sticker to any establishment (since Paris Mikki last year), not because there were no good restaurants popping up. In fact, the dining scene here is so exciting that the heralded Michelin Guide has chosen to feature Bangkok this year. That said, the volatility of the industry has made it increasingly difficult for me to be sure that the eatery I root for not only produces food I love, but also stay true to their spirit in the long term.

After brief meeting on a rainy evening over some coffee with Rarin, co-founder of Guss Damn Good, I felt proud to have finally found the next fitting owner to my little sticker. It's quite incredible actually, how the concept behind Guss Damn Good resonated with me. Rarin and her partner found their love for ice cream during an unprecedented snowy winter in Boston, spending large amounts of time chilling out in various ice cream parlours, eager to find out why customers were digging into these mountains of ice in spite of the freezing weather. They finally understood that in Boston, ice cream was not only a dessert, but an emotion, a memory. Ice cream brought people to a happy place, it actually reminded them of summer.

Following the revelation, the spirit of Guss Damn Good was born, Guss, a combination of the words 'gut feeling' and 'focus', and Damn Good, an outburst of exclamation when someone eats something delicious. Even their hashtag #feelingcrafted brings through a combination of emotion (feeling) and a description of their expertise (Rarin describes their craft ice-cream as more than home-made ice-cream, as every ingredient is meticuously sourced and every element made from scratch). Their spirit isn't dissimilar to my own, as I only endorse food that wows me enough to exclaim "Wah Lau Eh!", which can literally mean "this is so damn good!"

I tried the Maine Rocky Coast, which tasted like pop corn with salted caramel, on their cocoa cone.

You might wonder why the names of their flavours are so peculiar. And where are usual suspects like strawberry cheesecake and cookies and cream? Every one of Guss Damn Good's flavour was (and will be) inspired by a story. No story, no inspiration. No inspiration, no flavour. And THAT, my friends, is why their flavours sound (and even taste) so polarising. Some are so extreme that you either love it or you hate it.

Make no mistake, they do not hold back on their flavours. The caramel in Bonfire (inspired by the moment after skiing/snowboarding, when people gather around the bonfire to warm themselves and toast marshmallows in the cold) is burnt to the edge of bitterness. Bow Tie In The Bar has enough liquor in one scoop to make me dizzy for a few minutes. I especially love the story behind one of their coffee ice-creams, when their trials have resulted in the right taste and texture but not the colour, and decided to go with it and call it "Why can't coffee be white?" It's one of the nicest coffee ice-creams I have tasted, though it doesn't look anything like one.

Their take-home packaging is on-point.
Now to the important question, does a scoop taste better, or the take-home cup?

I was a little surprised when Rarin said that quality is more consistent in her take-home cups. As if she could see the question marks appearing above my head, she further clarified that due to the frequent opening and closing of the freezer door, there is a chance that the scooped ice-cream can degrade slightly with too much exposure to the environment. On the other hand, the take-home cups will almost always be kept at the same conditions without exposure. The key is PATIENCE, as we need to wait for the take-home cups to be kept under room temperature for 2 minutes before it reaches optimum texture/softness.

Rarin with my Stamp of Approval at her permanent stall at Ei8ht Thong Lor outside Foodland.
They also scoop permanently at Sala Daeng Soi 1, below Bangkok Screening Room.

So good job Rarin. I am sure with your team's dedication and and the passion you share with your partner to stick to your unique concept, the only way for Guss Damn Good is up.

PS. If you miss the smooth creamy ice cream baos at the closed Little Bao Bangkok, it might interest you to know that the ice cream was made by Guss Damn Good. You know where to go now if you get that craving.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Follow the Chef: Gary Butler, the chef you must follow, literally

To say that my Follow the Chef series has been exciting (at least to me) thus far is an understatement. My previous 2 chefs had brands they created with their bare hands stripped from their grasp, and eventually found their own ways to survive in the business. My third chef though, is in a completely different category, and I shall start off with how he looks (finally, a picture of the featured chef!).

Presenting Gary, The Roaming Cook
Thanks to Martin, I recently got to know The Roaming Cook, Gary Butler. He's a die-hard Arsenal fan from the UK, and is not supposed to become friends with a hardcore Spurs fan like me, but there are too many things we have in common for a BITTER football rivalry to tear us apart.

Gary is not a trained chef, nor has he ever worked in a restaurant. He has a natural flair for cooking, and finds himself in the kitchen during all his free time. He shared with me that he lived a couple of years in his fiancee's house in the UK and started cooking for the family. Soon, he found himself cooking for his fiancee's parents' friends, then the entire street, which developed to even cooking for small events and dinner parties. His repertoire ranged from Italian, British to even exotic cuisines like Thai and Lebanese. Forget Curtis Stone, Martin is the true take-home chef.

Have a look at his website/instagram account and it will be clear where his cooking inclinations lie. He's just this Brit who's crazy about Asian food. I've been on 3 food expeditions with him, and not once has he suggested a Western restaurant. In fact, the older the place, the better for him. I can totally imagine him crouching gleefully near a low table in Hanoi digging into some Vietnamese rolls after rejecting a proposal to dine at a posh French restaurant in town. Hunting for original, local, Asian food is in his DNA.

What started off as a recipe website teaching his fans how to cook proper Asian food has also evolved into a platform with posts and videos on the authentic Asian fare he encounters during his extensive travels (increasingly in Thailand).

Gary doing what he does best, taking pictures of authentic Asian cuisine
Gary is a chef you must follow, and by that, I don't mean just Instagram or Facebook. He's uber familiar with the traditional eats in Bangkok old town (a place where I try to avoid as much as I can). If you need some advice, he is more than willing to help, and if he likes you enough, I am sure you will be invited to follow him around as he does his own food exploration.

Gary's ultimate goal is to have his own little eatery in Bangkok, serving a couple of delicious Thai dishes cooked from scratch with some yummy local coffee. As another self-taught home cook, I wish him all the best, as his success will mean hope for like-minded food-noobs like myself.

Make it happen, Gary! You already have your ambassador right here (provided I like the food)!


"Follow the Chef" is a new blog series where I sit down face to face with chefs and help them tell you what they want to say, in their perspective. My inspiration for this series stems from the fast-changing dining landscape in Bangkok, which is both exciting yet confusing for consumers like us. Do we follow the restaurants, or follow the chefs? I hope I can help you make a better decision.

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