KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 28 — It’s not easy running a business on your own. You need a trusted partner, so how about your mother?
That is exactly what Sarah Tan, 27, did. She tapped her mother Kim Ngoh’s business acumen to start artisanal ice cream brand Minus 4 Degrees.
Sarah wasn’t always an ice cream maker. She started off by studying culinary arts in KDU University College. Later a two-year stint in the French-Japanese fine dining restaurant Cilantro introduced her to the world of ice cream making.
Under Chef Takashi Kimura, who believes in rotating people in the kitchen to give them a well-rounded experience, she spent six months in pastry where she learnt how to make ice cream.
In Germany, where she interned, it dawned on her that her local food know-how was lacking as she didn’t even know how to make curry puffs! “It got me thinking... I am Malaysian but I didn’t really know how to cook Malaysian food.” She returned here to join Dewakan where Chef Darren Teoh introduced her to all kinds of local ingredients. She adds, “I learned to be a Malaysian there.”
Later, she decided to strike out on her own. There was a demand for her ice cream from family and friends, which made her realise, it’s a venture worth pursuing. In the beginning, she had big plans to open up her own ice cream shop.
After listening to her parents who used to run a flooring business, she reluctantly scaled back the plans. “My parents told me.. .don’t be so greedy, start small and we grow it.” Kim explained that she has seen so many young people jump straight into business and suffer losses or lose their confidence when the business is not good.
Looking back after one year in business, Sarah realises now that the whole business process is an important part of her learning curve. “Being a chef and being a business owner is very different. You got to learn to market the product, to organise things... there were so many things I didn’t know.”
Currently, Minus 4 Degrees supplies their ice cream in tubs. The bigger 650 milliliter tubs are for cafes or restaurants who prefer to scoop the ice cream themselves. The smaller 100 milliliter tubs are ideal for places where customers can just help themselves to the ice cream. Usually, they stock the ice cream tubs at least twice a month.
“I can’t produce in very big quantities and I also try to keep it as fresh as possible,” explained Sarah. Different restaurants offer different selections of flavours. Kim advised, “They will select the range that suits their clientele.” When it comes to customers, Kim explained they prefer artisans or owner-run establishments as they can appreciate their products and help market it.
You’ll find that their ice cream is smooth and creamy, thanks to a French custard base they use. “We don’t use vegetable oil in our ice cream and we use cream and milk,” explained Sarah. There’s also no artificial ingredients, just natural flavours, which Sarah is slowly educating people about.
“Our market is so used to the artificial flavouring. They are looking for the flavour to hit them first. Natural flavouring comes out a bit slower.” For instance, their banana ice cream has a more mellow taste compared to say, the overly sharp and fake-tasting banana essence. When churning her ice cream, Sarah prefers to use a commercial ice cream maker as the home machines just don’t produce the smooth, silky texture that she prefers.
Currently there’s a range of around eight to 10 flavours available; these include rum and raisin, Baileys coffee and gula Melaka. Most times, people pick familiar flavours like dark chocolate, salted caramel or vanilla since they cannot try out the ice cream first.
If you get a chance, do try their durian ice cream as they use organic durians sourced from a local orchard here. It’s so good that any discerning durian lover will want seconds.
Sarah dreams of making unusual flavours like savoury ones. So far, she’s made a konbu ice cream, which was strangely addictive with its umami levels. There was even a smoked salmon and smoked mussels ice cream, that was happily accepted by a bunch of food lovers.
Sarah’s latest experiment is a diabetic- and keto-friendly ice cream using a liquid sweetener approved by the Malaysian Diabetic Association. Using a special technology, the syrup doesn’t spike insulin. Most importantly, there’s no unpleasant after taste like stevia, the other natural sugar replacement.
“We realise that diabetics are deprived of good food as everything contains a little sugar. This will give them some life so they can indulge in ice cream and cakes without the insulin spike,” explained Kim.
And Sarah’s dream to open her own ice cream shop is soon going to be a reality as they are searching for the right location.
Most importantly, they have now built up a full range of flavours. This was carefully crafted after much experimentation and learning the market’s preferences by attending various bazaars.
“The Malaysian market is very diverse. In terms of different races. The Chinese will like it less sweet. The Indians and Malays don’t mind it so sweet,” said Sarah. With this in mind, they have been able to cater to various tastebuds.
So look out KL, you may be tucking into konbu ice cream or even dark chocolate buah keluak ice cream very soon.
Minus 4 Degrees
The ice cream can be found at the following places:
Butcher Carey KL
A-0-10, Plaza Damas 3, Jalan Sri Hartamas 1, Kuala Lumpur
The Sandwich Hub
30, Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad 1, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur
21-G, Jalan 17/45, Section 17, Petaling Jaya
Tommy Le Baker
82, Jalan Rotan, Kampung Attap, Kuala Lumpur
You can also WhatsApp 012-2369930 for home delivery