Foodie Friday: The Ice Cream Tastemaster

Ray Karam enjoying a Cold Stone Creation.

Today marks the first of the Foodie Friday series. Every Friday, No Joe Schmo will feature someone who works in the food industry. I’ll give you a sneak peek: upcoming Foodie Fridays will include a potato chip inspector, a fortune cookie writer, and the creative director at Dylan’s Candy Bar!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Below, Cold Stone Creamery’s senior tastemaster Ray Karam tells you about his specialty French fry ice cream, the summer flavor lineup at Cold Stone, and everything you ever wanted to know about the dessert. Talk about a cool job! (Pun intended.)

Title: Senior Tastemaster, Cold Stone Creamery
Age: 54
Job description in one sentence: I’m constantly tasting and testing flavors, and I try to develop a new concept or flavor every day using frozen desserts as the basis.
Salary: More than $50,000, but less than $100,000/year
In the dairy industry for: 33 years, including 9 ½ years at Cold Stone
Graduated from: State University College at Oneonta, NY with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry; graduate coursework in agribusiness and food science at Arizona State University
Dream job in college: At first, a doctor or dentist. But then I fell in love with teaching, so I wanted to be a teacher.
Previous jobs: Microbiologist at Nestle; senior-level positions at Sun Street Ice Cream Company and Native Planet Foods Inc.

How he got the job: Just about all the plants I worked at in Arizona – Nestle, Sun Street Ice Cream, Native Planet Foods – got sold or broken up, so I went to graduate school for food science. At the end of my time there, the job at Cold Stone came up. I faxed, emailed, and snail-mailed my resume to them. On Monday morning, I was there with a shirt and tie, shoving my resume in the secretary’s face. I created my own buzz, and they couldn’t help but give me the job.

Best part of his job: I have a wide degree of freedom to explore tributaries beyond chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. I want people to follow me, so I do things that nobody else has done, or do things better than the competition.

Like what? I created ginger wasabi cream, chipotle chili chocolate nacho cheese ice cream, and French fry ice cream. I see people dipping French fries into milkshakes, so the stretch to ice cream isn’t that far off. I took a few pounds of French fries, blended them into a chunky mix, and froze it into the ice cream mix. People went nuts.

What makes a successful ice cream flavor? First, it has to be visually appealing – that’s what will attract people on the initial level. Secondly, when you put it in your mouth, it has to have a just-right consistency. It has to be the right combination of what the flavor says it is. When I was creating a PB&J ice cream, I tasted the flavor at other stores, and all of them missed the bread part. There needs to be a bakery item in the mix to imitate the bread, so I used graham cracker piecrust.

Our Strawberry Blonde: strawberry ice cream mixed with strawberries, caramel, and graham cracker.

Where do you look for inspiration? Traditional desserts, and especially international desserts. The flavor Our Strawberry Blonde – which is strawberry ice cream mixed with strawberries, caramel, and graham cracker – was derived from an Italian dessert called Strawberry Caramelito.

One essential piece of career advice? You can be creative in any job, no matter how boring you think it is. Learn on the job and make yourself valuable by doing more than what you’re asked for. If you have more skills than what you were hired for, companies can’t get rid of you as easily during layoffs.

How much ice cream do you consume per day? Somewhere between a “Love It” (8 oz.) and a “Gotta Have It” (12 oz.). Not all at once, though – I’ll have a spoonful here and there as I’m creating flavors.

What’s your favorite off-the-menu combo? My Oreo cream ice cream with crushed Oreo cookies on top. I asked Kraft to send me just the cream from their Oreos, and I blended that with ice cream and froze it.

Your job isn’t just about tasting ice cream. What skills did you use from your education? At Nestle, I used my background in physics and chemistry to change the physical properties of ice cream so it would flow better and stay together when it was trucked around the country.

Are you a picky eater? No. There are a few things I don’t like, but I try everything so I know what everything tastes like.

What does the summer flavor lineup at Cold Stone look like? This month, we’re featuring lemon poppy seed. June will be chocolate hazelnut, which was the winning flavor from Cold Stone’s Gold Cone contest. July will be strawberry basil, and August is mojito sorbet.

Do you ever get sick of ice cream? Never, even if it’s just plain vanilla. I will always eat and evaluate it, although I probably won’t talk about it if I’m out to dinner with friends.

Cone or cup? Cup.
Favorite candy bar? Snickers.

Food plans for Memorial Day Weekend? I’m doing the real Americana cookout in the backyard, with everything from steaks to sausages to chicken to grilled corn. And of course, ice cream for dessert! I’m thinking maybe a dark chocolate and raspberry combination.

Photo credit:

Ray Karam gives the scoop on breaking into food research and development.

1. You need the ability to function in two arenas: food science and culinary arts. In high school and college, take as many science classes as you possibly can. Lots of chefs don’t know why certain combinations work, so it’s helpful to know what the fats and proteins in foods are doing.

2. Find a two-year culinary program to get a degree as a chef — it’s a great springboard. Such programs are offered at many community colleges.

3. Exude passion for the food business, for cooking, and for learning your prospective employer’s business. If you’re applying to Nestle’s coffee division, talk about why you want to work there specifically and about your passion to make coffee better. You can have all the smarts in the world, but if you come across as a dull person, don’t waste my time. Action will carry you, I guarantee it.

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor or combo at Cold Stone? Comment below!

Click here for more Foodie Fridays! You can also follow Cold Stone Creamery on Twitter at @ColdStone_Corp.

3 thoughts on “Foodie Friday: The Ice Cream Tastemaster

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