The cream of the crop

Smitten brings cool twist to ice cream in Los Altos

"Growing up, my mom used to say I had two stomachs, and one solely reserved for ice cream, and I still believe that," said Robyn Sue Fisher, owner and creator of Smitten Ice Cream.

A love for ice cream always hovered in the back of Fisher's mind as she went through college and explored career options. Unhappy with the corporate world, she returned to academia, studying business at Stanford University. While there, Fisher made a bold choice.

"I decided to dive into something I love and try to make it better, and that thing is ice cream," she said.

In 2009, Smitten Ice Cream debuted on the streets of San Francisco, where Fisher hauled around a red wagon, selling her sweet creation. The wagon was equipped with Fisher's version of an ice cream machine, which would churn out fresh, smooth ice cream by the scoop. Two years later, all the hauling paid off: Fisher opened her first location in the Hayes Valley neighborhood.

After adding another location in Rockridge, and with a location coming soon in Lafayette, Fisher has opened a third store on El Camino Real in Los Altos. The ice cream shop is attached to the Whole Foods Market, which Fisher visited when she was a student in the area. She said she always dreamed of opening a shop near Stanford.

Fisher described the partnership with Whole Foods as a match made in heaven. "(It) gives creditability to our brand ... being approved by Whole Foods, as using good ingredients and being the real thing," she said.

The machine that first churned Fisher's ice cream is now known as "Brrr," a patented device that took years and the help of seven engineers to design. She originally got the idea from a Stanford physics professor who would conduct demonstrations making ice cream using liquid nitrogen as a coolant, she said.

The "Brrr" machine cools the ingredients to an extremely low temperature of -321 degrees within minutes, which results in the formation of smaller ice crystals than normal ice cream machines produce, and results in a surprisingly smooth scoop.

Organic milk and cream, sugar and flavorings go into the machine and the end product is a flawless sphere with a consistency that Fisher compares to "frozen pudding."

Smitten ice cream is unique, she said, not only because of the way it is made, but also because of its quality and taste. All ingredients are sourced locally in California, and everything is made to order from scratch, with handpicked ingredients.

Customers have the option to choose from a handful of pairings each season, such as the strawberry-white-balsamic flavor, or classic favorites like vanilla and chocolate.

Each shop employs an open kitchen where customers can see their treat being made by one of the shops "brrristas."

"It is really important to us to be fully transparent, because we are proud of every ingredient that goes into our food," Fisher said.

The brain behind Smitten's ice cream combination is pastry chef Robyn Lenzi, who makes all the recipes. The process behind creating these unique ice cream flavors is critical, Fisher said.

"Every season we revisit recipes, because every harvest is different," she said, explaining, by way of example, that one rhubarb crop might be more tart than another. "So by revisiting the recipes, we see if we need to change anything in the ratios."

Currently, the Los Altos location is the only one offering "brrrgers," Smitten's twist on an ice cream sandwich. One "brrrger" offered includes a shortcake bun, brown sugar ice cream, with peanut butter and brown sugar caramel spreads.

Brrristas are trained to be knowledgeable about the products, and can explain any scoop of ice cream -- breaking down what is in a particular offering and where different ingredients come from, Fisher said.

Eight years after her first spark of inspiration, Fisher's love of ice cream has become a growing business.

"If it wasn't for that love, then I would have given up a long time ago," Fisher said. "So I'm smitten with it, it's supposed to make you smitten with it."

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