2016 Rust Belt Rising Star Pastry Chef Chad Townsend of Millie's Homemade Ice Cream

2016 Rust Belt Rising Star Pastry Chef Chad Townsend of Millie's Homemade Ice Cream
November 2016

Pennsylvania native and self-professed food science nerd, Chad Townsend got his start the way a lot of professional chefs do—as a teenager elbow deep in the humbling depths of a restaurant kitchen sink. From the dish pit to the Pitt and it’s restaurant scene, Townsend spent the next several years in some of Pittsburgh’s most influential kitchens, including Eleven and Salt of the Earth. Townsend also jumped the pond for a spell to work in the two star Michelin Yoann Conte restaurant on the shores of Lake Annecy, France.
Just when Townsend was ready to open up his own place, he and his wife (and now business partner) Lauren decided to finish up a date night with some supposedly artisan ice cream. The scoops fell way short of expectations and got his wheels turning. Looking for a way to keep himself busy before opening a restaurant, Townsend convinced his wife to invest in a professional ice cream machine—a piece of equipment that inspired endless creativity and the Townsends’ next business venture, Millie’s Homemade Ice Cream.
The couple set up a 1,200-square-foot, Department of Agriculture-certified production facility that supplies pints to local grocery stores and restaurants. Relying on his chef background, Townsend experiments with seasonal produce and exclusively uses Pennsylvania eggs and nonhomogenized milk to translate high-quality local ingredients into breathtaking scoops. In 2016, the Townsends opened their first brick and mortar on Highland Avenue and have plans to expand throughout the region.


Interview with Rust Belt Rising Star Pastry Chef Chad Townsend of Millie’s Homemade Ice

Caroline Hachett: How did you get started in the industry?
Chad Townsend:
I started washing dishes at a shitty bakery at a farm stand. Got fired from that. Worked at really bad, little restaurants. You have to learn as much as you can from a bad restaurant. I started traveling and staging at Auberge Carmel, Manresa, and Chez Panisse. That was before I was married and had some money in my pocket. I wrote letters to the French Michelin guide, started working at Yoanne Conte in France, and Came back, and started working at Salt of the Earth in Pittsburgh. I became the chef de cuisine there and made the ice cream.

CH: How long has Millie’s been open now?
We’ve been open for three months. The business has been going for two years, selling to grocery stores and other businesses. After I left Salt [of the Earth], it was time for me to do my own thing. I went out for ice cream and It was awful. I’d always been familiar with and made ice cream. I said, let’s do this for the summer, make some cash on the side. So, I started looking for a storefront and a production facility.

CH: What is dairy sourcing and certification like here?
Pennsylvania is a big dairy state. We use non-homogenized, partially Jersey cow milk. We’re constantly finding better milk and better eggs—Not the standard commodity junk stuff. Since Pennsylvania is a big dairy state, there was no cost for certification. There’s a quarterly inspection; they test equipment and do a cleanliness inspection. And we send samples every month to get tested by a third party lab.

CH: Tell me more about your ice cream technique
It’s an ongoing process. We mess with it a lot. We like a lot of dairy fat; we found that there’s a range when you can get too much [fat]. We like ice cream to taste intensely of the flavor. We’ve been able to acidulate the things we’re doing, or be more heavy handed with the salt. We’re always re-tooling the base recipes. Sometimes we use higher percentages of chocolate; 64 percent is standard. Seventy-two to 91 percent for dark chocolate ice creams, and we add sugar for volume. We’re always trying to figure out how to make it taste awesome.

CH: What's your five year plan?
Keep opening shops. We have none planned right now, but over the summer we’ll talk about it. We’d like to have four to six shops open in the next five years, in the western Pennsylvania region.