SOMETIMES LIFE unfolds in a series of happenstances.
If not for her junior year abroad, Adria Shimada might have a doctoral degree by now. Instead she has an ice-cream shop in Ballard called Parfait.
Shimada grew up in Maryland the middle child of three sisters, the artistic one in a Jewish family where the emphasis was on academics. She dutifully went off to college, majoring in English at Cornell. After spending her junior year in Paris, she stayed in France for the summer, working in the kitchen of an inn. There, in Toulouse, began her dream of doing something creative with food.
Nevertheless, she started graduate school because that’s what you did in her family. But she also interned in a bakery. If she hadn’t enrolled at NYU, she might not have met her future husband, James, a Norwegian-Japanese native of Seattle.
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The romance blossomed even after she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, pursuing her passion for pastry at The California Culinary Academy, Greens Restaurant and La Farine French Bakery. They ended up married and living in his hometown, where she gave birth to Parfait and to their son, Ari, in the same year.
Parfait got rolling in 2009 as one of Seattle’s first food trucks. Why ice cream? “I didn’t want baker’s hours,” Shimada says. Plus, she saw a niche. “I wanted to elevate ice cream to the same level as other bakery items, to treat it with the same integrity.”
The low overhead of operating out of the truck allowed her to put money into the best ingredients. Everything is made from scratch — right down to the hand-piped sprinkles — using organic ingredients obtained as locally as possible.
“Every single flavor is built from the ground up,” Shimada says. She doesn’t use a commercially made mix, which gives her control over all the ingredients, including sugar. Parfait’s ice creams are a little less sweet, which makes the flavors much more vibrant.
Each of about a dozen rotating flavors gets made in 6-quart batches several times a week. The 2½-day process begins with custard cooked on a pair of stoves in Parfait’s kitchen. It is visible through a paned-glass wall that divides it from the front of the bright, cheery shop she opened last fall, modeled after a Parisian patisserie.
Some flavors are infused into the custard, which chills overnight before being churned into ice cream. Mint Stracciatella is her favorite. It’s made by steeping pounds of organic spearmint leaves into the custard then drizzling a thin stream of dark TCHO chocolate into the batch toward the end of the churning process. The warm chocolate hits the freezing cold ice cream and breaks into confetti-like chocolate flakes.
Each batch goes into the freezer for at least four hours before serving, says Shimada, showing off the shop’s 9-by-12-foot walk-in, a luxury she didn’t have on the truck (now available for catering only).
The shop also has given her room to create novelties like sherbet push-up pops, ice-cream cakes and ice-cream sandwiches made with brownies or French macarons.
The macaron ice-cream sandwiches are Shimada’s invention. She bakes a flatter cookie, so they won’t deflate under the weight of the ice cream, which is frozen in sheets and cut into thick rounds. Flavors rotate with the seasons, but the pretty pastel array in Parfait’s display case often includes Lemon Pistachio, Honey Lavender, Chocolate Hazelnut and always something pink.
They disappear in a few bites. Consider having one of each.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at email@example.com. John Lok is a Times staff photographer.