Published September 26th, 2017 at 4:17 PM
Water vapor rolls around Ben Myers’ forearms, a puff of white clouds that subconsciously draws people toward the window of the light blue trailer parked in the parking lot of Breakout KC.
“This was always a show stopper in class,” Myers said. “I love watching people get pulled in by the show. The teacher in me can’t wait to tell them about the science once I have their attention.”
Element Ice Cream, a trailer selling liquid nitrogen ice cream and frozen caramel corn puffs, is a new experiment run by the former Blue Valley West High School science teacher. He has been selling ice cream in the River Market for just over two months.
“I wanted this to be accessible science, not mad science,” Myers said. “This is not the scientist with frizzy white hair and a lab coat.”
After making Instagram waves on the coasts, liquid nitrogen ice cream came inland to Kansas City this year. The Kansas City Baking Co. started offering it at Kauffman Stadium this season (the final home-stand is this weekend) and MadMen’s Nitro Cream (a pop-up shop) is slinging it at the Lenexa Public Market, which opened earlier this month.
The ice cream shop is something Myers has toyed around with for the past decade. It’s the latest venture for the teacher with an entrepreneurial streak. He started a small windows cleaning company and Second Story — a business that sought to repurpose leather scraps as belts, wallets and bags.
Those two previous endeavors were side businesses — something that he wanted to pursue, but never in place of the classroom. Yet, after nine years at Blue Valley West, educational policy changes led him to pursue a new career.
“I never thought I’d leave teaching, but I didn’t feel like the education system was student-focused,” Myers said. “And here, this is fun. People are happy when they have ice cream, and I still get to teach.”
He spent the spring building out the trailer before launching Element in July. His ice cream base — a mix of milk, cream, sugar, tapioca syrup and cream cheese — comes from Hildebrand Farms, based out of Junction City, Kansas. He makes weekly trips to De Soto, Kansas, to pick up a delivery from the dairy.
To make the ice cream, Myers pours the cream base into a stainless steel bowl. He then adds liquid nitrogen, which freezes the liquid base in about 15 seconds.
“The faster you freeze the cream, the smaller the ice crystals,” Myers said. “The smaller the ice crystals, the smoother the ice cream.”
The process is new enough that Myers wants to correct some incorrect assumptions. The ice cream is not so cold that it will stick to your tongue and its one big scoop, rather than a series of small bubbles like Dippin’ Dots.
“People walk up and get so intrigued by the show,” Myers said. “I love that I get to talk about the science of it.”
Element’s Snickerdoodle has the sweet cream base with snickerdoodle cookies and salted caramel. Local bakery Little Spoon makes all the baked goods used. A Salted Caramel Streusel features a caramel ribbon and a crumble top. The Chocolate Lovers has mixed-in brownies and Chocolate Chip has mini semi-sweet chocolate chips. There are also Frostbites: puffed caramel corn that’s been dipped in liquid nitrogen.
“The cooled air in the puffed corn condenses the water vapor in your breath into a cloud, and when you bite down, all that cloud comes out your nose,” Myers said.
Myers will use the next month for research and development, keeping the trailer open through the end of October. Over the fall and winter months, he intends to develop an educational outreach program and look into repurposing a shipping container as a brick and mortar location for Element.
“Part of the business is to inspire kids to move into science,” Myers said. “Science isn’t just some lab-coat deal. There’s science in food, and that’s what I want to show them.”
Element Ice Cream’s trailer will be in the parking lot of Breakout KC (114 W. Third St., Suite #102) from 4 to 10 p.m. Fridays and noon to 10 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 28.
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