Under the name La Grotta Ices, in a small and unassuming converted greengrocers in south London, Kitty Travers creates an array of unique iced delights – fresh ice creams that taste of the real fruits, with signature flavour combinations such as white peach and tomato, tamarillo, and papaya with green chilli and lime; hand-made choc ices that crack open to reveal playful pastel-coloured layers; juice-drenched granitas to be stuffed into brioche buns with fresh cream; and refreshing sorbets. Her desserts have gained much popularity, earning a particularly strong following from London’s food and art world insiders.
Travers has always had a passion for ice cream, her love beginning many years ago in the south of France. She told Something Curated: “I was living in Cannes, working as a waitress and travelling up and down the Riviera lot on my weekends off, visiting different places in Italy. A deep affection for the small, funny, built-up-slowly, kind of family owned businesses grew. One of my favourite places was a beautiful old glacière that I started going to for breakfast everyday, where they had a menu board of fresh new ice creams on offer every time I visited. I decided I wanted to create something similar back home in London – something nice for my area but to make it unique and local rather than simply try and copy what the French and Italians did so well already.”
Travers’ interest in ice cream stayed with her, and continued to grow as she trained as a chef at the Institute Of Culinary Education in New York. There, she worked with Mario Batali at his restaurant, Otto, where she first got the opportunity to explore the craft of making ice cream. After studying, Travers moved back to London, and worked as the pastry chef at St John Bread and Wine in Shoreditch, before she decided to launch La Grotta Ices in 2006. The first La Grotta Ices were sold at the Islington Farmer’s Market, where Travers set up shop, using ingredients that were grown locally in the area to make her ices by hand.
Though some may have found this to be a challenge, Travers adopted the idea of focusing her ice and custard flavours on seasonal and, most often, regionally sourced ingredients, making it her signature practice. “Fruits – I love ‘em. I have a kind of obsession with fruit – the smell and sight, and think that the best thing you can do with fruit after admiring it, is to turn it into ice cream. I’d be rubbish at painting it, hopeless at growing it but I try and capture the aroma and colour and succulence in a scoop,” she told us.
La Grotta Ices forgoes using glucose syrup, milk powder, and dextrose, so each bite is light and clean-tasting without any extra additives. When Travers wasn’t at the farmer’s market, she was circulating London in her Piaggio Ape mini truck, selling her ice cream creations to locals around the city. Currently, the ices are being sold every Saturday at Spa Terminus in Bermondsey, where you can get your ices in a cone, cup, or by the pint. Given the seasonal nature of the ingredients, the flavours change frequently. Some recent flavours on the menu include leafy black currant, black malt vanilla, and charentais melon with jasmine.
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I’ll be at #Spaterminus today from 9-2pm, outside the wonderful @puntarelle_co fruit & veg. Elena & the fam turn unsold fruits & vegetable into addictive unpasteurised krauts, ferments and kefir waters every week using a lot of hard work and her natural RUSSIAN NOUS. She also has copies of my book for sale behind the counter. Last Spa for a while..
In June 2018, Travers published her first recipe book entitled La Grotta Ices, featuring 75 ice cream, sorbet, and granita recipes. A second edition of the book will be coming out in March 2019. “I make around 96 flavours a year and the book contains about 75 of these,” said Travers. On selecting the recipes that made it into the book, she told us: “Starting with citrus fruits in January then moving on to tropical fruits, stone fruit, summer berries then richer autumnal flavours like rosemary caramel and pine nuts and finally more festive winter flavours like medici almond sorbet and lime and botanicals; a mix of my favourites and the most popular ones. Also we shot the photographs for the book (myself and the photographer Grant Cornett) in 5 days and didn’t manage to shoot everything in that time so it’s also about which recipes we had the pictures to accompany!”
Recently, one of La Grotta’s ice cream cakes was included in the show Ahead of The Curve – Women Artists at 2 Willow Road, curated by graphic designer Frith Kerr. On her relationship with art, Travers tells us: “When I left school in the 90’s I went to art school – same route my mum had gone when she was young and a lot of my friends were going so I just sort of assumed I’d be cut out for it. It took a couple of years of dismal failure and not really engaging to realise that cooking and Italy and plants were what I had the most enthusiasm for. Once I started working ‘in food’ I suppose I was drawn toward businesses that had a really strong artistry to what they did – like Poilâne and St John and that’s become the kind of community I work alongside now. It’s the same artistry I loved originally about the little fruit and vegetable carts or ice cream sellers I met when I was travelling – like the grattacheche stands in Rome balancing a pile of San Pellegrino cans and lemons and slices of watermelon and making it look beautiful.”
La Grotta Ices are also sold at E5 Bakehouse in east London and The General Store in Peckham, and the sweet treats occasionally make an appearance at select events, including Frieze London.
Feature image: Kitty Travers, ‘The Entertaining Freezer, A Garden Ice Box Cake’ at Ahead of the Curve, 2 Willow Road (Photo: Arianna Lago)