Four dollars for a scoop of ice cream is money well spent if only one lick gets deposited in the memory bank. Anyone who’s been to Wanderlust Creamery more than once will agree that its owners Chef Adrienne Borlongan, age 32, and Jon-Patrick “JP” Lopez, 34, are improving the world one scoop at a time. They are in constant pursuit of the right proportion of butterfat, low levels of overrun, and exotic flavors and textures. (Read the sidebar for Adrienne’s perspective on butterfat and overrun.)
Founded in 2015, Wanderlust Creamery has shops in Tarzana and Atwater Village, and is a weekly vendor at Smorgasburg in ROW DTLA in the Los Angeles Arts District. Adrienne is the chef and creative partner blending the ingredients, and JP, a former lawyer, handles the business and marketing.
Love at First Lick
In its praise for Wanderlust Creamery, Los Angeles Magazine Digest Blog commented, "Besides their ever-changing monthly specials, their signature flavors, which represent memories of places they've been and places they want to go, are always available. Both the abuelita malted crunch and ube malted crunch were inspired by Borlongan's childhood memories of eating her favorite chocolate malted crunch ice cream from Thrifty's."
Wanderlust doesn’t take to gimmicks like vanilla chocolate chip named after Obama or orange sherbet for Trump. Taste scientist Adrienne recreates an unexpected delicacy, say Mango Sticky Rice, and tempts the customer to expand his palate. The risk taker is usually rewarded big time.
Adrienne and JP have been together 11 years and this summer, they added baby Sebastian to their household. The new parents, soon to be newlyweds, are first-generation Filipino Americans born in Los Angeles. Adrienne’s mother, Alicia Yabut, comes from Manila and JP’s mother, Ann-Hazel Lopez, from Bikol and father, Horacio Lopez, is Butuanon.
Flavors of Distinction
A flavor that is described as exotic typically originates from a hot climate, such as a Tahitian mango painted by Paul Gauguin or the watermelon half Mexican artist Frida Kahlo inscribed with “Viva La Vida.” Adrienne has set out to redefine exotic with a worldly view that includes destinations as cold as Eastern Europe.
“Wanderlust Creamery is an ice cream shop based on travel,” says Adrienne. “Think flavors like Fig Leaf and Pistachio based on a plated dessert we had in Croatia or Peruvian Cookies plus Cream based on my favorite cookie. We would never have your standard chocolate or vanilla ice cream or something as obvious as crème brûlée inspired by France.”
She eschews traditional buko pandan (young coconut with screw pine flavor) from the Philippines but does ube one better. “Frankly, flavors like cheese and buko pandan don’t appeal to me. I understand Filipino food is hot at the moment, but I don’t make flavors for the sake of riding a trend, especially when they don’t inspire me in the first place,” she asserts individual freedom.
Adrienne doesn’t reject every symbol of the Philippines. “I came up with Ube Malted Crunch, which is a Filipino iteration of a classic American ice cream I grew up eating. It incorporates malted milk and a mixture of ube jam and local purple yams. The result is an ice cream that tastes like ube cake, yet not at all like any commercially produced ube ice creams.”
The ube Adrienne prefers will shock the taste buds of Filipino traditionalists. “Because ube doesn’t grow here, it’s difficult to express the authentic flavor of ube without use of imported ube jam. We use a mixture of ube jam and locally sourced sweet purple yams of the Okinawan variety. I understand that to some Filipinos, this isn’t real ube,” grants Adrienne. “However, to the non-Filipino palate, the difference is so negligible, local sourcing is so much more important to our market of consumers.”
In other words, Filipinos aren’t Adrienne’s target market, though she deftly pays tribute to her ancestral home with a sly look backwards. “Moreover,” Adrienne says, “I’m not trying to replicate an authentic ube ice cream. Instead, I’m expressing what ube was to me growing up. Ube was my favorite flavor of cake. Again, our version incorporates malted milk. The result is an ice cream that tastes like ube cake and not at all like any commercially produced ube ice creams you buy at a store.”
Of Adrienne’s attitude, JP recalls, "If she was going to offer ube, it would be her own rendition. Ube Malted Crunch is our most popular flavor.”
JP elaborates, "Adrienne is very particular. Ninety-nine percent of the flavors are ones she likes, but once in a while she'll present a flavor she knows will be popular with customers. For example, Korean Melon Bar was a throwback flavor that was based on a familiar sweet.”
A Cold Business
JP has overseen two grand openings in three years with a third store in the works. The company has grown with products that are usually forgotten when temperatures dip below 70. “The best way to describe the sales cycle is that busy period is from April through September,” he relates. “Things start to slow down from October to December, but oddly pick up significantly in January and trend upwards monthly from April.”
Evidently, Wanderlust rejects the Baskin Robbins/Dunkin Donuts formula of donuts in winter, ice cream in summer. JP also veers from convention with an untypical answer to the question of whether his Filipino culture inspired his success. “There is zero Filipino or family influence in how we run our business. Neither of my parents were business people, so my take on how to run a business was based on my own experience as an employee. If there was a Filipino influence, it may have been to do the complete opposite of what my family said.”
JP’s response may be brutal honesty with a tinge of sleep deprivation that comes with a newborn. The blunt truth may make Wanderlust the antihero for a new generation of Filipino Americans.
Anthony Maddela works at the Jordan Downs public housing development in Watts Los Angeles. He lives with wife Susan and children Charlotte and Gregory in West Los Angeles. Family members are avid birders.
More articles from Anthony Maddela
Ice Cream Intelligence
As articulated by Chef Adrienne Borlongan
Despite the extensive mastication going on at the table, the appetizers and entrées usually consume all the interesting conversation. Dessert gets relegated to goodbyes in spite of the standard opinion that it’s the best part of the meal. Here’s a tip to skip closing pleasantries and sustain good conversation until the bill: Order ice cream for dessert, then seize the opportunity to expound on what makes ice cream heavenly.
In describing the qualities of Wanderlust ice cream, Adrienne defines the key terms to make anyone the resident expert on judging a bowl and use the Spanish word “heladeria” without sounding snooty.
Butterfat is the amount of fat in the ice cream. It is controlled by the cream-to-milk ratio in the ice cream base. We make our ice cream in the 12 to 16 percent range; where most store-bought brands are in the 10 to 12 percent range. This is completely a matter of preference. Some like their ice cream on the lighter side (less butterfat), while some like it rich (high butterfat). I believe that if you’re eating ice cream, it should be creamy and satisfying. However, butterfat coats the tongue, which inhibits certain flavor perceptions. This is why our range is so wide (12 to 16 percent). Certain flavors, such as fruits and herbs, benefit from a lower butterfat base. A bitter flavor like coffee or tea, on the other hand, would be best balanced with the creaminess of a 16 percent butterfat base.
We take pride in the fact that we use high quality, grass-fed dairy from local farms. This has nothing to do with any “organic” or health aspects, but rather, completely to do with taste. The dairy from a grass-fed small herd has a much creamier, buttery flavor.
Perhaps the No. 1 aspect of quality ice cream that most people don’t understand is overrun. Overrun is the amount of air that is whipped into the ice cream base as it is churned. Typically, most ice creams, such as those sold at Thrifty’s, Baskin Robbins, Magnolia, or other local heladeria, contain 75 percent air. This basically means if you start with one gallon of liquid ice cream base, at the end of churning, you should finish with 1.75 gallons of ice cream. Most brands do this to increase profits by creating more output. We stay closer to 25 to 33 percent overrun. Not only does this make a denser, creamier product, but fewer air molecules translate to more pronounced flavor.
In relation to overrun, there is something to be said about ice cream served at a higher temperature. It is usually indicative of a superior quality product. Ice creams made with a lot of sugar and high overrun cannot survive at a scoop-able consistency in low temperatures. This is the single defining difference between gelato and ice cream. Gelato is served at a much warmer temperature than ice cream.
High sugar content, high butterfat and absence of stabilizers will increase melting rate. Because these factors are neither positive or negative, but a matter of personal preference; melting rate isn’t really significant in terms of quality.