KUALA LUMPUR, July 6 — “You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice-cream!”
That’s how the childhood chant goes, right? Everybody, whether they are eight or 80, loves a cold, creamy scoop. But in this waistline-conscious era, it does seem sinful to waste one’s calorie intake on anything less than drop-dead delicious, premium ice-cream.
Fortunately, we have Forty Licks Ice Cream, perhaps the best home-grown ice-cream maker in town, to ensure every lick is worth us cheating on our diets. Cheam Tat Wei, the 27-year-old ice-cream churner behind the brand, first started selling scoops at weekend markets two years ago. Today his hobby-turned-business has expanded to supplying various cafés and restaurants around the Klang Valley.
The name “Forty Licks” owes partly to the retrospective album of the same name by The Rolling Stones and also to the myth that it takes 50 licks to consume an ice-cream on average. “My hope is for my ice-cream to taste so good you’d only need 40 licks or less to finish,” says Cheam.
Top-selling flavours include an intensely rich Salted Caramel (Cheam’s personal favourite and the flavour that got him started on this venture) and a lightly-aromatic Earl Grey. Other more unusual offerings include roasted Thai tea, yuzu umeshu (a delicate blend of the Japanese citrus and Japanese plum liqueur), and a green tea ice-cream made from tea leaves instead of the conventional matcha (fine powder green tea).
Cheam never dreamed he would be making ice-cream for a living though. He had studied mechanical engineering in London but instead of joining the workforce right after graduating in 2008, he decided to take a year off to explore his options.
“A three-month stint at Le Cordon Bleu before I returned to Malaysia made me realise that I was deeply passionate about food. Even after coming home to KL and working in management consulting for a few years, I would still cook for family and friends during my free time,” says Cheam.
During this experimental period, he tested several ice-cream recipes which eventually led to his popular Salted Caramel ice-cream. Word-of-mouth meant early adopters comprising friends and colleagues soon swelled to include complete strangers.
“The more orders came in, the more obvious it became that this was too much work to juggle with a day job. Imagine coming home at 9pm after a full day at the office and then making ice-cream till 2am! It was scary but I decided to take the plunge and go at it full time.”
In the early days, Cheam churned ice-cream the old-fashioned way, with nothing more than a spatula and lots of wrist work. The ice-cream had to be repeatedly placed in the freezer to harden then taken out for further hand-churning.
“These days, life is a lot easier. I have a 10-litre batch freezer that can produce up to 40 litres of ice-cream per hour. My new machine pasteurises the ice-cream mixture first before freezing it, so it saves me time. The blades are also bigger and faster which means the mixture is broken up into smaller particles. As a result, my ice-cream contains less ice and has a creamier texture.”
The increase in orders and the size of equipment meant that Cheam had to look for a bigger space. His “ice-cream factory” used to be his family kitchen; today he has his own central kitchen with an industrial-sized, 30lb-capacity Ohaus digital scale and a custom-made Thermatek stove.
“The stove’s fire is big like what you get at your neighbourhood daichow! I definitely need this given the amount of caramel I make for my Salted Caramel ice-cream. In fact, I even have to wear a silicone glove thanks to this. The first time I made salted caramel in big batches my right hand turned yellow. I thought it was jaundice till I realised the rest of my body was fine. The colouration actually came from the steam of the caramel being cooked!”
Cheam prefers the French-style method of making ice-cream, which means an exact ratio of egg yolks, cream, milk and sugar. This custard mix forms the base for Forty Licks ice-cream flavours (other than sorbets, which only require sugar, water and a flavouring such as fruit juice, fruit purée or liqueur). The depth of flavour depends on how long the ingredients are steeped in milk.
“Usually I steep my ingredients overnight so the flavours get really intense. Naturally, the quality of the ingredients used makes a huge difference. I insist on fresh cream and unsalted butter from Elle & Vire, Varlhona chocolate and Madagascan vanilla pods. For the nuts, I import them raw and roast them myself to ensure the aromas are kept fresh.”
Cheam feels that he has managed to get this far thanks to the help of his loved ones and the kindness of strangers. One incident that has stuck in his mind was how he initially struggled to find a supplier for the ice-cream cups he needed as most did not take small orders.
“I had to drive all the way down to Johor Bahru before I found a suitable supplier. Normally he wouldn’t take such a small order but since I was just starting my business, he really wanted to help me. Even then, I couldn’t print out the labels in the beginning as 50,000 units was the minimum required. Instead I got my family and friends help to inscribe the names of the flavours on the lids by hand. The not-so-nice ones are mine, obviously,” he says, laughing.
Even the Forty Licks logo was designed by a friend. Cheam’s high school senior, Joanne Chew of Communications Designs, helped him to brainstorm and conceptualise the logo. He says, “I wanted a cone and Joanne came up with three versions with different colour pairings. I couldn’t decide on one as I liked them all so in the end I decided to use all three.”
Recently the ice-cream maker has celebrated his escape from the rat race with a pair of tattoos on his forearms. On his right arm is the Sanskrit word for “breathe” to remind him to keep calm, while his left arm carries the image of a feather, symbolising both flight and freedom.
“The tattoos remind me that I have to be more accountable for myself. I’m truly independent now. At the same time, they are also a reminder that I wouldn’t have been able to make handcrafted ice-cream full-time without the support of my family, friends and even strangers. I’ve been very blessed.”
So are we, those who have had a taste of the exquisite ice-cream from Forty Licks at any rate. Every lick is pure bliss, and trust me — it’ll be gone in less than forty licks!