From Rose to Tamarind to Saffron, Malai’s Pooja Bavishi Celebrates the Flavors of Her Childhood

Q&A with Pooja Bavishi

Founder/CEO of Malai in Brooklyn, New York

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Nothing inspires me more than working with people who love what they do.

What is Malai all about?

Malai, which figuratively means “cream of the crop” in a North Indian language, is an ice cream company that draws inspiration from globally-sourced whole ingredients, aromatic South Asian based spices, and taking unexpected twists on old classics.

 

What is your earliest ice cream memory?

Waiting in line at Thomas Sweet in Princeton, N.J., on summer nights. I would dread inching closer to the front of the line because I knew that meant I would have to choose between a cup of ice cream or a milkshake!

 

What is Malai’s most popular flavor?

Rose with Cinnamon Roasted Almonds, and it’s one that I almost did not debut! Rose is such a familiar flavor to me, and to Indian audiences, especially in desserts, and it has really taken off in western cuisines in the past year. But when I was starting a few years ago, I wasn’t sure if a rose flavor would be too inaccessible.

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What is your favorite flavor?

Orange Fennel. I always wanted to have a fennel-flavored ice cream for Malai—it’s one of my favorite nostalgic flavors, and it’s such a common palate cleanser in Indian cuisine. I wanted to add some brightness and citrus notes, so I decided to add orange—orange and fennel are already a classic pairing in other types of cuisine. Customers are always telling me how familiar it tastes, even though they’ve never tasted anything like it in ice cream before! I love that personal, cross-cultural connection that Malai is able to make.

 

What inspires you?

Nothing inspires me more than working with people who love what they do. The most surprising and fulfilling part of being an entrepreneur is that you work with so many people in a variety of fields to help you reach your goals. Whether it's my photographer, whose images capture the beauty and deliciousness of our products, or the dairy farmer who provides us with best, most sustainable dairy to form our ice cream base. I got into this because I love it, and now I get to have a vantage point to see others do the same.

 

How did you get into the ice cream business?

Since I was a child, I have always had a love and passion for making desserts. I watched cooking TV shows, read baking magazines, and I even had my own dessert-based food blog. I was always experimenting with new flavors and recipes and having my friends come over to taste test everything. Early on in my life, I made the connection that desserts make people happy, and I knew that at some point in the future I would want my own dessert-based business! But I never felt like it was the right time—I didn’t feel ready, or I didn't have a concept.

 

How did you learn to make ice cream?

I learned by reading, experimenting, speaking to others, and testing.

 

What is the secret to scooping ice cream?

It's all in the forearm and not the wrist! It takes an entire full-arm motion to get the scooping just right. Take it from someone who learned this the hard way!

 

Cup or cone?

Cone! I love ice cream so much that I don't want to miss a single drop of it!

 

What’s a surprising thing you’ve learned about ice cream or ice cream fans?

Every time that I have hesitated about offering a new flavor, like Jaggery with Tamarind Caramel, Sweet Corn Saffron, or Carrot Halwa, I have been proven completely wrong. Consumers are adventurous and are looking for new twists on this traditional treat! This is exactly what makes room for all the amazing ice cream makers out there.  

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Best advice you can share for those who want to get into the ice cream biz?

Ask questions—ask often and ask many. There will be so many things that you feel like you don't have a grasp on, but ask the person who may know that answer or can direct you to the person who knows the answer. There are resources around you, so use them.  

 

Do you have an industry mentor or person who inspires you?

There are so many industry experts and trailblazers that inspire me. But no one inspires me more than my parents. They are the reason I started Malai—they encouraged me to find my passion, to do good, and to never stop learning. And more than that, it is the flavors that they introduced me to during my childhood that are the inspiration for my products!

 

Any advice for making ice cream at home?

Experiment! Ice cream is very forgiving, so try anything you have been wanting to. There's nothing like a freshly churned ice cream that you have created.

 

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Lauren Goldstein