The winter months are typically a quiet time for frozen-treats purveyors, unless they are Fany Gerson. The owner of La Newyorkina, Gerson has been using most of her waking hours to prepare for what is sure to be a very busy summer. In addition to her new cookbook, Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Aguas Frescas, and Shaved Ice, which comes out on June 7, the pastry chef is searching for a space in Brooklyn to house La Newyorkina’s production kitchen and storefront, which she hopes to open in May. Gerson, who is also the author of My Sweet Mexico, eked out a bit of time to speak with us about a possible collaboration with Rockaway Taco, Mexican hot chocolate, and her freezer full of paletas. Tune in tomorrow for the second half of the interview.
How is your search for a storefront going?
I’m still looking for a place; I haven’t found the right space yet. And then my friend owns Rockaway Taco, and we’re working out a deal for me to take a concession stand there for the summer. They also have commercial kitchens, and I’m going to go look at them this week. It may be a good option to do it there; if I did, the plan would change a little bit. I would consider having a very small storefront, probably in Brooklyn, and distribute [products] there, and then also have a small storefront [at Rockaway] and then have carts along the boardwalk.
The main idea of what I’m looking for is mostly a production space with a small retail space, and to have carts in different parts of the city. I’m applying for RFP’s in city parks and want to get [products] into restaurants and different high-end markets so that I have kind of different avenues, and then still be at the different fairs. So that’s why it needs to be a space where I can have potential to grow without having to break a lease or change to another place. I saw a space I really liked on Atlantic Avenue — it was one of those places that you see and think, “It’s cute, I could see myself there.” But I have to think bigger in the sense of where I want to be in five years. I definitely would love to be on Rockaway whether the kitchen is there or not; it’s a very good place to be because Rockaway Taco is there, and we go hand in hand.
You’ve mentioned that you’re planning to expand your product line.
I’m also going to add sorbet and ice cream to the repertoire. For ice cream, I’m thinking of flavors like queso fresco, tequila raisin, cajeta (goat’s milk caramel), turrón, and maybe rose petal, and then as far as sorbets go, things like prickly pear and soursop — I want to take advantage of seasonal things, but I still want to have the Mexican feel and flavor profile to it, not just have what’s in season. But obviously there are so many wonderful seasonal things — I love stone fruit so want to take advantage of that. I want to do more sorbets and water-based treats than ice creams.
Why is that?
Because in Mexico that’s what you see most. I think it’s because of the abundance of fruit that we have. It’s much more refreshing, and also, for the health point of view. I think if you’re going to indulge, you should when it’s the best butter or milk or chocolate. I definitely have a desire for that, but also there’s something very unique to a product that is both natural and delicious but also happens to be nutritious, because the sugar added to most things is as little as possible because you have the natural sweetness from the fruit. You can make a popsicle that’s, like, 80 calories without needing to advertise it. When I make paletas, there are days that I eat quite a few and I don’t feel guilty, I feel good.
Also, in the summer I personally crave more water-based things because I grew up with them; I almost always ignored the ice creams. But when it gets colder, I crave ice creams a little more. Now, my freezer is filled with paletas. I’ll have the yogurt berry ones; I really love those and the key lime ones. I’ve been eating way too many. But in the summer, it’s mango-chili and tamarind.
My Sweet Mexico explores the amazing variety of Mexican desserts — when you first conceived La Newyorkina, did you imagine using the business to expose more people to this diversity?
I wanted to open a business for a long time. I would always talk to my dad because I really respect his opinion, mostly because he’s not particularly a foodie — he loves food, but he doesn’t understand why people get so crazy about it. I would always be like, “Dad, this is what I want to open,” and he’d be like, “No, that’s not a good business model.” And then when I told him I wanted to do ice cream, he said, “Yeah, this is a great idea.” But I also wanted the flexibility of having sweets … especially in the store, I want to have traditional candy like what we eat for Day of the Dead. At New Amsterdam last year, I had the bread [pan de muertos] we make for that celebration, and I’d like to continue that through the year, along with churros, tamales, Mexican hot chocolate, and atoles, which is a corn-based drink that’s quite thick. You add whatever fruit is in season to it, and there’s also a chocolate version.
It seems like a lot of places here think Mexican hot chocolate means dumping cinnamon into regular hot chocolate.
Or they’re putting in chili and just calling it Mexican hot chocolate. I’m like, no.
It’s too bad, given how complex the real stuff is.
When I was doing research for the book, I met some incredible people and artisans and have been thinking of a way since then to kind of help them and help distribute and get known what they make. As a long-term goal, I would like to do an incubator in Mexico to help them out. In the meantime, what I want to do is source from people who grow cacao and hand-grind it in Mexico and import it here.
A lot of people ask me if I’m going to do organic. It’s organic when possible, but that’s not the main concern. When it’s seasonal and organic I will use those things for sure — I’m talking to different farms to source milk from them, but because the core of my product is Mexican, I feel more of a social responsibility to source from artisans in Mexico, whether it’s chilis or tamarind or chocolate. I want to help them, but also nobody else has a better product than they do. There are some very good products here — some companies do very good stone-ground chocolate — but I want to support these women that have been doing it for generations.