Monday, March 30, 2015

Nick visits Ben & Jerry's : Day 1

[By Nick] ‎I'd like to start this post with a big thank you to the whole Ben & Jerry's crew for an amazing trip last week. For those who don't know, I was invited to Vermont for a VIP experience courtesy of Ben & Jerry's. If you followed me on twitter or instagram, you got a sneak peek at all the things I was experiencing. If you weren't, I'm going to sum up the trip in a couple of semi long posts for you so bear with me.

Destination : Ben & Jerry's HQ - Peace, Love & Ice Cream

Sunday was a travel day which you would think wouldn't have been all that eventful especially since I was driving. Well, that was not the case. I'm the type of person to rely on my gps without checking where the route is going to take me. I shall no longer do that. Not only did my gps take me to a ferry port once but after driving another 30 miles, it brought me to a second ferry port. You would think the gps would warn me about ferries like it does tolls. After finally getting rid of every ferry in sight, I finally made it to the Hotel Vermont a little after 11pm. I literally doubled my actual trip time. It should've taken me two and a half hours to get there but it took me 5. Yeah, I hate my gps. All that aside, I made it into my hotel room and was greeted to an assortment of goodies from Ben & Jerry's. I was honestly too exhausted at that point to look at what was actually there. All I know was Greyston and alcohol was involved.

Monday was officially Day 1. ‎We all were supposed to meet in the lobby of the hotel at 9:30am. Somehow I was the first one there even though I was battling to leave my bed that morning. Slowly more and more of the group poured into the lobby. After all 13 of us were there (11 women to 2 men, great ratios if you ask me) we walked in the nice cool Vermont weather to the Penny Cluse Cafe (which was originally a part of Ben & Jerry's second scoop shop) for breakfast and introductions.

I honestly didn't think I would know any of the other bloggers there. Thankfully I knew of both sites Thrillest and Pop Sugar who were represented on the trip. There was one site I knew in particular from years and that was Jesse's aka CakeSpy. I've been following her for years and it was finally great to meet her in person. Her personality is just how you'd expect, reserved and shy. Oh wait, I mean outgoing and spontaneous.

After a nice breakfast (I had a vegan tofu scramble because I knew what I would be getting myself into later this day) and getting to know the other sites a bit, we were informed there would be a competition between groups when it came to creating a flavor. For those who don't know, I'm very competitive and that became quite clear to the other bloggers. I mean the winner gets a subscription to Ben & Jerry's brand new pint of the month club. I don't remember the exact details but I knew I had to win. So I recruited Cake Spy and Bakerella to create Team Scooper Spy at breakfast. However, we had quite a bit to do before we got to developing our flavor.

Next we headed to the Ben & Jerry's headquarters in Burlington. The first thing you see when you walk in is a giant slide. If you think I didn't go down it, you must be kidding yourself. If you think I didn't go down it twice, you don't know me at all. Sadly, I was the other one who went down the slide. That could be due to the facts that I was in a group of cowards or I was the baby of the group only being 22. Whichever the case, I highly recommend going down that slide once in your life if you get the opportunity. Twice if you're a child like me.

After looking around HQ we headed into Scoop U for a Q&A session with some of the major Ben & Jerry's bigwigs. I for some reason have absolutely no usable photos from this because I'm a professional and was busy asking the hard hitting questions. You know, such as the toffee fiasco. I got the typical response as we've all heard and was told the new formulation was out on shelves and the old stock should be disappearing soon enough. I was even told that I'd be able to sample the new toffee on its own later on in the trip.

Then I asked a question about a new Target exclusive flavor that has yet to be announced. With this question, it became clear that I was from the site that released the news about the new cookie cores and Jimmy Fallon flavor before B&J's got a chance to. I thought I was going to get the Willy Wonka treatment and a bunch of Oompa Loompas were going to escort me to the flavor graveyard. I might have sent my parents a message letting them know how much I loved them at this point in the trip.

There was also Q&A that didn't discuss flavors but more on the lines of their social mission and I'm not quite the one to explain what exactly they're doing properly. So if you'd like to know more about their current social focuses, click this link and learn something!

After this it was time to finally meet with the flavor gurus and discuss what exactly our flavor was going to be and what ingredients we were going to use. Among those ingredients was the new toffee that I have to say was really good. It's not quite a heath bar but it's not that awful burnt product a lot of people have experienced when they made the switch. I promised to re-review both the toffee bar flavors later this year to see if things have actually changed or if they just wanted to me to be quiet.

Back to making our own flavors. Both  Eric and Peter were more than helpful with providing knowledge and insight into creating flavors. Cake Spy being her creative self already came up with a bunch of flavor names. When I saw "Gentlemen Prefer Blondies" I knew this was going to be the flavor we had to make. I honestly didn't know it had anything to do with Marilyn Monroe, I was just sold on blondies. So we decided to do an ice cream with various shades of blonde. Our initial flavor combination was a peanut butter ice cream with a salted caramel swirl, blondie chunks and pecan pieces. Both flavor gurus thought it was an excellent idea and we were confident we would have the competition in the bag. However, it was time for lunch.

Since I was still full from breakfast as well as s‎ampling mix-ins, I decided I wanted to meet up with John Henry, the one person who was shocked by all the "secret" knowledge I had access to and talk more about their future products. Fun Fact: Ben & Jerry's is already working on what new flavors will be released in 2017. I also got the real reason behind the toffee fiasco and I have to commend Ben & Jerry's for what they did during this whole ordeal. I won't delve into things since I was sworn to secrecy multiple times on this tour and feel like this should go under those boundaries. That and they know where I live so I'd rather not randomly "disappear". After picking his brain, I finally grabbed my lunch which was catered by Healthy Living Market (remember they sent me home with my first two pints of Jeni's when they opened their second shop in my area not too long ago).

After lunch, it was time to head back into the test kitchen to make out flavor a reality. Armed with a white base, we added a peanut butter variegate to it and blended until we had a smooth consistency. After taking shots of the base mix like professionals, we decided we needed some vanilla to round out the flavor profile. Through the also professional method of "sucking" I piped up some vanilla extract and added it to our base. Being pleased with the result, into the ice cream machine our mix went. While our ice cream was churning, it was time to add to our swirl. Since we added the extra vanilla to the base, we decided to add some peanut butter to the salted caramel swirl. Something seemed missing in which Peter suggested we chop up some of the pecans and add them to the swirl. This is why he gets paid to make ice cream because it was a brilliant idea. It added the right amount of nuttiness as well as some texture to the swirl.

With our swirl finished and transferred into pastry bags, it was time to remove the ice cream from the machine. Since I knew the drill from The Gelato Fiasco, this wasn't much of a task. I also managed to grab a little overrun from the machine and let me say, there's nothing like ice cream straight from the machine. There's also something special when peanut butter is involved. With the ice cream out, it was time to fold in the mix-ins which in our case was our blondies and pecans. Nothing too exciting here. Cakespy and I poured when Bakerella mixed everything up. Now it was the ice cream turn to meet its fate in its pastry bag. After this, it was time to combine the swirl and ice cream. This sounds like a simple task right? Wrong. Trying to go move for move with someone else is a task within itself. Doing so when holding a bag that was below freezing was another story. Slight difficulties aside, Gentlemen Prefer Blondies was born and was sent to the deep freezer to set up while the other teams made their flavors and we worked out our promotional poster. Oh and I may or may not have ate the ice cream and swirl from the pastry bag. Like I said, I'm a professional.

The promotional part was second nature to our group. I have experience in marketing and both cakespy and Bakerella are well versed in making awesome designs. Meeting with‎ Janice who has been a part of the design team almost as long as I've been alive, it was time to make up our poster. Seeing as this was Marilyn Monroe themed, our cow had to slim down to fit into his dress. Yes, Ben & Jerry's cow is indeed a male. Another fun fact, his name is Woody and Ben & Jerry's must run all alterations of him by the original designer before he can be officially changed for a package. I'm not going to lie, Woody looked good in his pink dress. Who said guys or cows can't wear pink or dresses?!?! The fun part was coming up with the flavor description. I mean just look at our swirl's name. It took us multiple times to figure out how exactly we wanted to put each word and position them on the poster. That and deciding between blondie chunks and chunks of blondies was also fun. With our poster designed and our flavor finished, we were the first group done so we had some free time which resulted in me getting lost wandering the headquarters and playing with the various dogs. Ben & Jerry's Headquarters is a canine friendly work environment so employees are allowed to bring their dogs to work. If that's not an awesome perk than I don't know what is.

The day was close to over at the headquarters after this. Well we did something top secret that I once again can't talk about. Just know it'll be worth the not much longer wait for me to tell you what Ben & Jerry's has up their sleeve. While this was going on, I noticed there was a pint of Late Night Snack and Maple Tree Hugger in a freezer. LNS is actually kept around at the headquarters just in case Jimmy himself wants to eat his ice cream once again. Not wanting to steal from that pint, I couldn't help but ask for a scoop of Maple Tree Hugger (aka Maple Blondie). Oh and how I was happy I did. This flavor is exactly how I imagined it. Maple, brown sugar perfection. I could see me demolishing pint after pint of this. If you live in a country that offers this, you're doing yourself an injustice not trying this one. I would easily trade 10 of our U.S. flavors to have this one in our flavor catalog.

With top secret activities done, it was time to finally sample our flavors and vote before heading back to the hotel to relax before dinner. There was four groups. Oh, Sap (Our biggest competitor), Chili Today, Hot Tamale (the dark horse of the flavor race with an Ancho Chili swirl) and Samoa Split (you can guess why I wasn't excited about this but others really were).

While each flavor was delicious in their own right, I believed our flavor was the best of the bunch by a long shot. This isn't because my team made it, it was because it contained all of the flavors I personally loved. The peanut butter base wasn't too strong with the added vanilla, the swirl was salty, sweet, nutty perfection and the mix-ins were on point with the base. I took the liberty of adding all 4 flavors to my Ben & Jerry's rankings and our teams made it right at my Top 10 mark. I wasn't the only one in the room who thought it was great either. Both flavor gurus looked like they were enjoying themselves quite a bit.

With sampling and voting done, but results not being announced until the next day, it was time to head back to the hotel and draw an end to Day 1 of the trip. I can't thank the Ben & Jerry's group enough for inviting me and I probably will thank them a few more times in the next post as well. I mean, spoiler alert: I'm still alive and not in the flavor graveyard which is always a plus.

If you were wondering, we went to The Farmhouse in Burlington for dinner. If you were following me on Instagram, you would've known that already.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a marvelous time. The Factory in Waterbury is even better.

Farmhouse T&G is a marvelous place. I used to eat there all the time and my friend is a bar manager.

Sany Says said...

Loved it. Can't wait for part two! I think our day in Waterbury was my favorite.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait for part two! I am so hoping your flavor won. I have a good feeling that it did. Having Bakerella on your team could not have hurt.

We really need to get the new pint of the month for the blog!

I have RA but would have wanted to go down that slide so badly! I really wish someone had gotten a pic of you coming out the bottom.

Nick Rovo said...

Anon#1, Waterbury is a part of Day 2! The Farmhouse had some great food as well.
Sany Says, I think I enjoyed Day 1 a lot more mainly because of getting to make our own flavors and all the secretness;]
Anon#2, you'll have to wait and find out. Bakerella actually did get a photo of me coming out the bottom. That was the reason I had to do it twice because my first exit wasn't good enough for her aha.

John R. said...

This definitely made for a good read. That Maple Tree Hugger looks sounds out of this world!