Cuckoo for Rococo, Maine’s Most Creative Scoop Shop
Q&A with Lauren Guptill
Owner and head chef of Rococo Ice Cream in Kennebunkport, Ogunquit, and Wells, Maine
Describe what makes Rococo unique.
Our ice cream is inspired by the five years I spent living in Argentina and eating, arguably, the most ice cream of any point in my life. I studied ice cream production in Argentina and developed my own recipe for an ice cream base formulated in a South American style—a classic custard base with an Italian gelato influence.
What is your earliest ice cream memory?
Ahh ha ha. When I was a young girl, my grandmother (who was always very put together and quite refined) would frequently take me to a classic American-style roadside ice cream shop near her house. My order always was a sugar cone with bubble gum on the bottom and peppermint stick on the top and I would ask for a cup on the side. And then, as I ate my ice cream, I would save the bubble gum in the cup (by spitting it out; gross right?) and when I was all done with the ice cream, I’d have my leftover gum. I thought I was soooo clever. I laugh when I think back to that kid and her pink ice cream and her cup of soggy Chiclets. It’s remarkable that I’ve developed an ability to create such classy flavors.
What is Rococo’s most popular flavor?
Goat Cheese Blackberry Chambord. This French inspired flavor is both elegant and approachable, combining the sweet tanginess of goat cheese with the smooth fruitiness of Chambord.
What is your favorite flavor?
I am a big fan of putting already powerful flavors together to make SUPER combos! My personal favorite is either a three-way combo of our Strawberry Habanero, Banana Red Hot, and Chocolate Coconut Cream flavors, or a three-way combo of Dark Chocolate, Passion Fruit, and Raspberry Coconut Cream. If I had to choose just one flavor, I’d choose Lemon Pink Peppercorn. I love the way the peppercorn subtly plays with citrus tones and softens out when blended with cream.
What is the most unique flavor you’ve ever offered?
Our Sweet Avocado Cayenne, which is made with avocados from Mexico, Maine wildflower honey to add a touch of sweetness, and cayenne to add a bit of edge, might be the most unique flavor in regular rotation that we make.
Is there a flavor you love(d) but didn’t find an audience?
Yes, lobster. Surprisingly, even in Maine, no one really wants lobster ice cream beyond the gimmicky “I tried lobster in ice cream” experience.
What inspires you?
The Rococo art period, which is known for its whimsical and spontaneous design. It was a reaction against the strict confines of the mid-18th century Baroque period. When it comes to flavor creation, I always ask, “Is it Rococo enough? Does it go against the norm? Are we challenging our customers to have a unique flavor experience? Would someone describe this flavor as ordinary?”
I am also inspired by travel and try to go on one “taste exploration” trip a year. Last March, after a month in Cuba, I created a collection of six ice creams based on the tropical island for the members of our Pint Club, which is a quarterly subscription service.
How did you get into the ice cream business?
During my early 20s, I moved to Argentina and created my own study-abroad company in Buenos Aires. After owning a business in and residing there for five years, I began to miss the rugged coast of Maine. I decided to sell my company and look around for a new business that could bring me back to Maine—all the while, thinking of the abundant heladarias of Buenos Aires that I frequented.
I knew I wanted to have a storefront that would allow for a closer connection to the customer, and also allow for personal engagement and the ability to foster lifelong friendships, something I lacked with my study-abroad business. I also knew I wanted to be in a town with a strong community.
How did you learn to make ice cream?
Batch by batch, in my shop in Kennebunkport, often while customers were trickling in during the first two (very slow) summers. Customers would try flavors, give feedback, and I would workshop recipes. In many ways, it was a very cohesive and collaborative process. I had only taken two week-long courses to learn how to make ice cream. One was in Argentina (in Spanish) and one in Florida, mostly to learn how to use my equipment, and basic things like temperature.
What is the secret to scooping ice cream?
Don’t skip over the good stuff! No one wants a cone missing all the caramel sauce, nuts, chocolate bits, fruit, etc. I’m always digging in for the best scoop!!
Cup or cone?
Cone. Classic sugar or baked dark chocolate, which we offer, depending on the flavor.
What is your topping of choice?
We don’t offer toppings. Why mask good flavors?
A surprising thing you’ve learned about ice cream or ice cream fans?
Rococo fans still request flavors that were only made once or twice over the last seven years, and describe them back to me in details better than I can remember. Once someone told my about a beet ice cream I made with orange zest and chocolate chip. I corrected him, saying I had never made that flavor, and he encouraged me to looked it up. Turns out I was wrong. People remember unique flavor experiences.
Best advice you can share for those who want to get into the biz?
Define your style and stick to it! During my first two years, I would spend my days watching countless parties walk out of my shop because I didn’t offer traditional flavors or make sundaes and milkshakes. It was incredibly difficult as I was struggling to make ends meet, cover payroll, and keep faith in my concept. But I persevered. Now we are pioneers in the craft ice cream movement, nationally and internationally recognized, with lines out the door and around the block on busy summer nights!
Any industry mentor or person who inspires you?
I am in awe of the cult-like brand loyalty that Jeni Britton Bauer has achieved. I frequently have Jeni’s fans in my shops, and they always tell me about their favorite Jeni’s flavors. I am also a big fan of Milk Bar and Christina Tosi. I adore the scene of her in the Netflix series, Chef’s Table, walking through the bodega, randomly taking items off the shelf to create her now-signature items. It reminded me of my own creative process, for some of my first flavors, that whimsical I-know-it-will-work-but-don’t-ask-me-how kinda way.
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