Churning out Toscanini’s newest flavors of ice cream is not a shiny new Cuisinart automatic, but local Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef Kevin A. Rafferty.
Tosci’s has recipes for over 500 different ice cream flavors on file, including crowd pleasing favorites like “Burnt Caramel” and “Ginger Snap Molasses.” It’s Rafferty’s job to add to this list of flavors — creating, refining, and executing new recipes each week.
Rafferty said Tosci’s is special because it constantly searches for new, exotic ingredients and it is dedicated to handcrafting its ice cream.
“One of the things that makes [Tosci’s] more unique than say, Ben and Jerry’s is our production. Everything is done by hand in small batches. In a lot of instances, smaller batches hand done result in a better quality product,” said Rafferty.
Rafferty joined Tosci’s staff as the first-ever production manager around three months ago. He was chosen for “his experience as a chef at famous restaurants and ability to manage a kitchen,” said owner Gus E. Rancatore.
In addition to developing new flavors of ice cream, Rafferty also manages and stocks the kitchen, and fills orders.
Although Rafferty estimates he only spends five to twenty-five percent of his time developing new flavors — depending on how busy he is elsewhere in the kitchen — he says he’s always got new flavors on his mind.
“For the quintessential MIT student,” Rafferty envisions a double espresso flavor with a twist. “It’d have to be something heavy in caffeine with some sort of puzzle … something to figure out or something to keep the brain busy and make it interesting,” he said.
Rafferty said he heard about Tosci’s ice cream maker position through a Craigslist posting, and thought “What the hell. It’d be interesting to try something different.” Before joining Tocsi’s, Rafferty was the executive chef of Great Bay, a seafood restaurant in Kenmore Square that shut down in May.
Unique and Unusual Flavors
In his past three months at Tosci’s, Rafferty has developed over 26 different flavors of ice cream — some of his favorites are “Drunken Three Musketeers” (bourbon flavored ice cream and Three Musketeers candy bars) and “B3,” consisting of brown sugar, brown butter, and brownies.
Rafferty said he might follow up on the popular “B3” flavor with a “C4” flavor which he envisions would include chocolate chips and caramel ice cream with cookie crumbs.
Because of his extensive training as a chef on the “hot side,” Rafferty often turns to ingredients used less commonly in the ice cream industry such as miso (fermented soy bean paste), Japanese mint leaves, and the spice caraway. From these ingredients, Rafferty has created such flavors as “cranberry and lemon Japanese mint sorbet” and “pickled plum sorbet.”
Tosci’s churns about 50 flavors a week, according to Rancatore. Every week’s menu is a combination of traditional flavors as well as some new ones. Though Tosci’s is known for its adventuresome flavors, Rancatore said they never make “stupid” flavors.
“We don’t make shark or chicken turkey,” Rancatore said, although he said Tosci’s has made flavors involving avocado and garlic.
But even those odd ingredients worked. “Avocado is a popular flavor in Latin America and parts of the Pacific” for it’s rich and creamy flavor, said Rancatore. “Garlic is certainly unusual,” but he notes that black garlic ice cream is a popular dish in Korea when served with oysters.
“Sometimes ice creams can be savory. The most unusual flavors are probably made by the best chefs intent on achieving exotic surprises,” said Rancatore.
Rafferty likes that people in Cambridge are open to new flavors. “Even with some of the more exotic flavors, we almost always have someone that likes them,” Rafferty said.
Holiday and seasonal themes
Sometimes, Rafferty gets inspiration from seasonal ingredients and the holidays. He’s currently working on an apple pie flavor for the fall, although keeping the graham cracker crumbs crisp and the apples from frosting in storage has proven to be problematic, he said. For Halloween he’s contemplating a “goodie bag” flavor that combines lots of classic Halloween candies.
Rancatore said Tosci’s also makes a champagne sorbet for New Years and hamentashen for the winter Jewish holiday Purim.
In the fall, Tosci’s makes a Concord grape sorbet. In the summer, Rancatore said that he likes to take advantage of the local peaches and berries.
What the job entails
Rancatore said ice cream makers need to have “supertasting” abilities, a knack for thinking up tasty new concoctions, and the ability to reproduce their hits over and over again. They are artists.
“Ice cream makers need to follow recipes and extrapolate. They should be curious about ice cream and food. They should eat and read and be ready to take advantage of a serendipitous moment,” says Rancatore.
Rancatore says Tosci’s rarely has more than three ice cream makers beside himself at a time. The number peaks during summer.
“Everyone wants to make ice cream but very few of the people who work here [actually make ice cream],” Rancatore said. “I think it is important for a small number of people to regularly make ice cream.”
With the most recent addition of Rafferty, Tosci’s currently has three ice cream makers, including Rancatore.
Rancatore thinks that there might be some correlation between ice cream making capabilities and the ability to perform classic music. “I have thought that classical music students might be a good place to find ice cream makers,” he says. “They understand notions of incremental and constant improvement and believe that good music is a result of merging spontaneous authenticity and an inherited framework or tradition.”
Rancatore noted that when the store first opened in 1981, several of the best employees were women rowers from Boston University. They followed directions well and had the “extra benefit of being strong and possessing a lot of stamina.”
“So maybe what we need [in an ice cream maker] is a New England Conservatory student who rows and is a supertaster,” Rancatore joked.
The scoop on MIT
Several MIT students and faculty have helped develop Tosci’s ice cream flavors over the years.
S. Adam Simha ’88 finalized the recipes for the flavors Burnt Caramel and also Dark Chocolate. Sinha later became an award-winning bread maker and now owns MKS Design, which Rancatore said made most of the furniture in Tosci’s.
Rancatore said that the ice cream shop has only ever made one flavor named after a person — Paul Slovenski, a track and field coach a MIT.
“One day I was in the store when a short, intense man came up to me and said with determination that he wanted a flavor to be named after him,” Rancatore said. “Instead of saying ‘we don’t do that,’ I asked him what his name was and he said ‘Sluggo.’” Thus, Chocolate Sluggo was born.
Rancatore says Chocolate Sluggo is a light Belgian Chocolate layered with dark Cocoa pudding” plus almonds, chocolate chips, and Hydrox cookies. “I’ll make it some Thursday,” he said.