Before Ben Ungermann shot to stardom on MasterChef Australia, he’d never even dabbled in making sweets.
When the show pushed him outside his comfort zone, his aptitude for making sweet, sweet culinary magic manifested.
Dubbed the "Ice Cream King" by his fans, the cry was for an ice cream parlour and Ben and his brother Danny opened up Ungermann Brothers.
The parlour features a striking electro-swing aesthetic that blends the retro cool of old-school ice creameries with more modern nuances.
The space also boasts a walk-through kitchen where you can glimpse the Ungermann brothers at work – crafting and scooping the ice-cream in an engrossing display of kitchen theatre.
I sat with him, at the Capisicum Culinary Studio in Pretoria, to get the scoop.
At what point did you know that you'd work with ice cream for a living?
"My idea to open an ice-cream shop, in partnership with my brother, derived from trying to turn my initial weakness for desserts into a strength.
At the start of the MasterChef competition we were advised to work on our weaknesses and as a savoury cook, I started working really hard on desserts.
During my journey, I discovered a love of sweets things, particularly ice-cream and I was nurtured by the judges to really develop this further."
Have you had any mentors since MasterChef?
"To better myself after the competition I contacted Yottam Ottalenghi and did a stint in London in one of his restaurants focusing on mezze and shared plates. He is an amazing man. After that I went to see Heston Blumenthal and worked in his Michelin starred restaurant.
It was an eye-opener and an experience of a lifetime. I then went to work with Clare Smyth who was also a guest on our season.
She was Chef Patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay from 2012 to 2016 and has become the first female British chef to hold and retain three Michelin stars. She is such a strong woman.
That was probably the most intense but fun time I have had in a kitchen."
Describe some of the most popular ice-cream flavours on your menu.
"The salted caramel and pecan is a popular choice, and so it the coffee and cardamom.
This Middle Eastern spice works perfectly with coffee’s nuances. It’s creamy and delicious. Other popular flavours include strawberry balsamic and chocolate mandarin with candied zest."
What was the first batch of ice-cream you ever made and how did it turn out?
"A lemongrass ice-cream on MasterChef and it turned out well! It was the first time I ever got chosen to be tasted as one of the Top 3 in the invention test."
Any advice for aspiring ice cream makers?
"Don’t ever skimp on quality. My ice-creams are really expensive to produce but I am not willing to compromise on quality.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavour combinations.
If I could recommend one book it would be The Flavor Bible which provides a treasure trove of spectacular flavour combinations."