Jillian Duran has worked in all kinds of restaurants in her home state of New York, from burger stands and Chinese restaurants in lower Manhattan to Michelin-starred restaurants including Public in New York and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the village of Tarrytown. She moved to New Orleans in 2015 and was a pastry chef at Maypop when the pandemic shut down the restaurant industry. She launched her Rahm Haus ice cream business last June and currently sells exotic sweet and savory flavors in scoops and pints from a counter inside the Courtyard Brewery. Rahm Haus also supplies exclusive flavors to restaurants such as Mopho, Maypop, Piece of Meat, Plume Alger and others.
Gambit: How did you get interested in desserts?
Jillian Duran: I went to a technical baking school on Long Island, but during the recession the housing market collapsed and I was like, “I need a job.” So I started working in a taco restaurant. I did everything: bakeries, burgers, ice cream, pastry. I worked in Chinese restaurants in New York. I worked for Tom Colicchio in the Hamptons – I was in charge of the dough and ice cream production at Topping Rose House.
My style of pastry chef has been influenced by all the places I have worked and all the chefs I have worked under. At One if by Land, Two if by Sea in New York, the pastry chef was Kevin Chen. He was 21 years old, but he was an extraordinary pastry chef. He was like, “Here, try all these things and do all these things.”
Gambit: How did you start Rahm Haus?
RE: (When the closures started) I lost my paid job. I left unemployed, but it took two months, and my lease was up, so I lost my apartment. I moved from New Orleans to North Carolina and lived in my aunt’s basement on a farm for two months. I returned home to New York, because I had worked as a private chef in New York during the summer, but this job was canceled. My things were still there, so I ended up coming back in June.
Some people have told me that pop-ups are getting really big, and as a New Yorker I was like, “I’m going to make bagels.” Then for some reason I thought it would be difficult. I was like, “I’m going to make ice cream,” because I really love ice cream and have worked in wholesale ice cream production for about six years. I texted Chef Mike (Gulotta from Maypop) and said, “The kitchen is closed. Can I rent it to you? He said, “You can use the kitchen for free and we’ll buy you ice cream.” So I used my unemployment money to start Rahm Haus.
During the pandemic, people were bored and looking for something to do. I was setting up (Instagram) posts like “Hey, I got this.” I also did free shipping. Before, deliveries took me two days. I had so much ice cream I was like, “How am I going to get rid of it?” More and more people came for ice cream every Saturday and Sunday, and I started offering scoops.
Chef Pat Gallagher must follow his own advice.
Gambit: Why did you focus on unique flavors?
RE: My goal at Rahm Haus is like, “Why do we eat mint crisps?” There are so many other things that are better or just as good. We’re making a mint chip right now, but it’s a mint curry chip. These are mint and curry leaves that are grown locally and are reminiscent of mint chips, but they have a different background flavor. It’s so good, but it’s hard to put your finger on it.
We have Black and Gold which is black garlic with local honey with honeycomb candy pieces covered in dark chocolate. I like to push the salty aspect of the sweet. I always thought dessert shouldn’t be the last. Everything should go together, because it can work and it can make sense. I think it comes from my experience in food, where there’s granita on things and intermezzos and mixing the temperatures and the mouthfeel and that sort of thing. I used to make tomato ice cream. It’s great when it’s in a dish with five other components, but when someone is just sitting down and eating it, how do you restructure it? Instead of coming in a plate, it comes in a pint, and they have to have this bite all the time.
When I started Rahm Haus I wanted to focus on making the smoothest ice cream because it’s important to me – that full mouth feel. My first ice cream was peach, and it was just peach and no additives. But a year later, we’re changing the menu every week, and I’ve realized that most people like the stuff in their ice cream. One of our best sellers is Thai tea and cookies. It’s Thai tea ice cream with Oreos and homemade rye and miso chocolate chip cookies.
I think it’s important for people to try ice cream. Some of the flavors are so unusual or unfamiliar that people tend to be a bit distant before trying them.
For more information, visit rahmhausicecream.com.
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