Interview: Daniel Clary of Alkemie Dairy-Free Ice Cream! »
Daniel Clary is the 28-year-old mastermind behind the raw, delicious and dairy-free Alkemie Ice Cream. His story of how the ice cream begin as an idea a few years back and evolved into something tasty, edible and accessible is not only interesting, but totally inspiring.
How long have you been vegan?
Full-on about seven years now; mostly veggie all my life. My dad went to farmers market every weekend. It was always [a] local and sustainable mindset from a very young age. My mom fed us tofu very young. Carob was my first “chocolate.” I naturally gravitated toward the veggie foods early on.
Are you vegan for health, environmental, animal rights reasons, or a combination?
As much as the environmental aspect and animal rights movement are very important to me, my main reason is health. That’s my mission…to do my part in changing the health of the world. Once I went full vegan, my health improved dramatically. Not that I was ever sick or “unhealthy,” but when the full switch came, it was like my internal lightbulb went on. Huge difference. And now I try to maintain high raw foods, which only created a new level of health and clarity in my life.
How much of your diet is raw?
I would say about 65 to 70 percent on any given day; some days it’s 100 percent. I’m vegan before I’m raw for sure. But raw foods really changed my life.
What is your favorite animal?
Dogs! Just got a puppy! He’s 12 weeks old now. A springer spaniel named Winston. [Vegansaurus PSA (per usual, we always be judging you): Always rescue a dog! Even if it’s a purebred! All purebreds have rescues, including the ADORABLE springer spaniel!]
Favorite vegan food to make?
As a chef, my favorite foods/flavors to work with would have to be Thai. I spent two months last year in Southeast Asia—mostly in Thailand—and I fell in love with the food. My heritage is half-Latin, [and] my mom’s side is from Central America, so Latin/Spanish flavors would be second. Fusing the two together excites me as well.
And as a chef?
I was a personal vegan chef for four years before taking this project on full-time. I worked for families throughout the peninsula, weekly service, catering events, private dinner parties…
Favorite vegan dish at a restaurant/favorite vegan restaurant?
Favorite restaurant would be Millennium in SF, and Pure Food in NYC. Favorite dish—hmmm, so many! I would say a killer Thai curry, or my vegan paella.
How long ago did the idea for Alkemie begin, and what are its origins?
It all started when I began absorbing myself in raw foods, about 2006-07. I worked at a small raw vegan cafe part-time to really dive into the art of preparing it (versus spending an ungodly amount of money to go to a raw school). I was blown away by what I was creating: the textures, flavors, specifically the desserts. I have a HUGE sweet tooth, and these desserts were blowing my mind—better than any standard cooked vegan desserts. Initially my mission was to create a business model around that. I wanted to open my own raw vegan bakery. But the costs, overhead, labor, etc. just didn’t pan out to be a viable business.
Then I thought of just doing one thing, and doing that one thing well. I literally one day was eating some Coconut Bliss, and thought: ICE CREAM! Why not ice cream? Who doesn’t like ice cream? And at that point I had NEVER experimented or created a raw ice cream, but I have never been satisfied with ANY of the vegan ice creams out there. They just didn’t embody what classic dairy ice cream does, and I knew that with the raw foods, I could potentially come up with something stellar, so I started experimenting.
How long was it between the time you perfected the recipe to the time you were packaging and selling the product?
The formula was perfected in spring ‘08. Then I decided to take some time off, travel, do some soul searching, research…I came back from Thailand and then went straight into selling at farmers market in fall ‘08, and was doing that about a year. The response was amazing. People were floored by the ice cream. So without knowing exactly where to go next, I just kept on selling every week, until things started happening last summer.
I met my investor/business partner. I met the VP of Whole Foods. I was networking and meeting amazing connections. We then took this idea [and] started researching on how to take it to the next level. Found Boulder Ice Cream. Fell in love with the staff, did our tasting for NorCal, and got the green light a week later.
Honestly, it’s surreal. I’ve worked so hard my entire life, to finally have my dreams manifested—it’s, well, words can’t describe.
How did the name come about?
It all started in Thailand. I went there also to get inspired with a name for the company. I knew it was a beautiful land and people and surely I would come up with something. Halfway through the trip, after meeting so many people and telling them my story, vision, et cetera, I was coming up with nothing. When I was in Chiang Mai, I met a fellow traveler from London. We were talking one day about traveling, books, following your signs, et cetera. She said if I really wanted to read a book that will change [my] life, I should read The Alchemist.
So I bought the book when I was in Bangkok, [and] brought it down to the islands with me. One day, I had nothing to do; decided to pull the book out, head to the beach in the morning and start reading. I didn’t put the book down.
The message had such an impact on me. It was very simplistic in what it was saying: follow your dreams; trust your heart; follow the signs. But it was like that “a-ha!” moment for me.
So, after putting the book down, the name stuck in my head. I knew what alchemy meant literally: a transmutation of metal into gold. But I wanted to know more. So I went straight to the computer and looked the word up. The very first definition I found was: “any seemingly magical process of transforming ordinary ingredients into something of true merit.” The name of the company was born.
Do you see yourself dedicating yourself 100 percent to this, or do you still eventually want to open that bakery?
Good question! I do eventually want to venture out, and take on other projects, whether its the bakery, a small restaurant, an actual ice cream shop…still not sure yet. Once this business takes off and I can focus on other things, then I’ll decide.
Anything else you wanted to add or share?
We will be coming out with new flavors soon. Also, a little insider info: one of the flavors had a small error in production—the dark chocolate. The end product had too much free water added, which made it less creamy and more icy than the other two stellar flavors. It’s still good, just not perfect. It has since been corrected on the most recent production run and should be in the stock as the others are sold and rotated out. Just one of the inevitable growing pains small businesses go through.
If you want to stay in the loop about this product (because, let’s face it, ice cream is the best food ever), you can become a fan on Facebook, download the iPhone application, and even follow Alkemie on Twitter. Also, be sure to check out the blog for dates and information on in-store appearances.
Natalye just started graduate school studying creative writing, which means that she no longer has a social life, and her drinking has increased exponentially. She has a shiny but relatively useless college degree in journalism and music, and does freelance work, sometimes writing about indie music in Oakland. When she has down time, she’s usually sleeping, but rides her road bike when she can and makes both a killer vegan pizza and the most amazing mixtapes ever. Her updates are private, but you can follow her on Twitter and she’ll probably accept your request if you’re cute enough.