Passion for a cold dessert led to one of the best artisanal
There is the usual affectionate horseplay between father and son Francisco “Paco” and Jaime Magsaysay, who are hamming it up for the camera. Except that their antics take place in a walk-in freezer where the temperature is -30 degrees C, which explains their winter jackets despite the sweltering heat outside.
Surrounding them are shelves full of pints of ice cream, bearing witty monickers such as “He’s not worth it,” “Nuts about you” and “Secret breakfast” – three of 38 flavors that comprise the tasting palette of the highly successful artisanal ice cream Carmen’s Best.
Crazy about cold desserts
Launched quietly in 2011 and only sold initially in Magsaysay’s tony Ayala Alabang neighborhood, the product piqued the interest of ice cream fanatics eternally in search of unusual cold concoctions, if not fresh twists to traditional selections. The descendant of President Ramon Magsaysay and son of popular former senator Jun Magsaysay definitely counts himself among this quirky band of connoisseurs. “I was never fond of pastries, cakes and pies. It was always ice cream for me,” he recalls. Get this, working parttime during college for the logistics giant UPS in Houston where he lived from ages 12 to 25 with his mother Isabel Delgado and her second spouse, leukemia speialist Dr. Kenneth McCredie and older sister Marga, Magsaysay would pick up a pint of his favourite choices either a Butter Pecan, Praline and Cream or Pistachio Almond Fudge “for dinner since I was too tired to cook.”
In San Francisco, where he completed middle school, Saturdays always represented trips to chocolatier Ghirardelli for Butterscotch Sundae. Reaching further back into his boyhood, there were outings to the Magnolia Ice-Cream House (now inside Robinsons’ Magnolia), along Aurora Boulevard, where he and his cousins tumbled on the grassy area fronting the parlor. Magsaysay muses: “Only when I got into the ice cream business did I realize so much of my childhood memories are associated with ice cream, and they are happy ones!”
Carmen’s Best after unica hija
Carmen’s Best, named after his only daughter Carmen, who comes after Jaime, a Carmen’s Best management trainee and Mikee, 21, a La Salle Taft student, is the compelling reason for Magsaysay’s commitment to the highest quality standards in churning out his ice cream. “I could have named it something else, but I named it after my daughter.
“Carmen’s Best combines both my professional and personal worlds. These are not detached from the other, and I didn’t think it was going to define me as a person. There is so much of me in the brand: the taste, how we choose to sell it and the partners we deal with. If someone proves difficult to work with or doesn’t pay well, we just don’t bother working with them.”
Being true to his gut feel and innate sense of the yummy has led Magsaysay to experiment with out-of-the-cone flavors (for Filipinos at least) such as Turkish Baklava, Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Hokey-Pokey (a New Zealand staple) and Brazilian Coffee among others. (Pope Francis, flying out of Manila on Philippine Airlines after his first papal visit in 2015 opted for the Brown Butter Almond Brittle and Malted Milk. He is Argentinian after all with that insatiable sweet tooth.) Magsaysay does draw the line, however, at some combinations too avant-garde for him like chili in chocolate or wasabi ice cream.
“I can’t make or sell a flavor that I don’t like. I have to enjoy it first. I speak from the heart,” he says in earnest.
As demand has grown for a wider reach for Carmen’s Best products – especially since its Salted Caramel, Butter Pecan, Malted Milk, Brazilian Coffee, Pistachio and Rocky Road were gaining a fast and loyal following – it can now be picked up in select supermarkets (Rustan’s Supermarket Ayala Center), coffee shops (Bo’s Coffee), tourist boutiques (Balikbayan Handicrafts on Pasay Road) and even golf courses (Santa Elena Golf and Country Estate in Laguna). “Really, with my taste, the business grew,” Magsaysay reports unabashedly.
Free to innovate
He also cites the fact that the owners and directors of Carmen’s Best Dairy Products, the company that the ice cream brand operates under, is not bound by profit margins expected in big food concerns. This allows more investments in securing quality ingredients such as pistachios from Sicily, said to be Ground Zero for the enticing nut, as well as the freedom to choose a concoction based purely on (Magsaysay’s) taste. “How many food companies can say that about themselves,” he challenges the competition. On the company’s board sits Magsaysay’s pere Jun, who presented his son with the proposal to put the excess milk produced by their New Zealand Holnstein-Sahiwal cows at their Bay, Laguna farm to good financial use.
The original version of best-seller Pistachio contained no nuts until he added roasted pistachios to the formulation, “which totally changed the character of the ice cream,” recalls Magsaysay. Though considered a premium and pricey ingredient, pistachios became the highlight of the mixture. Their Strawberry flavor also recently received enhancement, switching from frozen fruits to “individually quick frozen (IQF)” ones from Australia for a better tasting product. Magsaysay could have increased both of their prices but chose not to.
He adds: “I don’t mind eating into my margins just to make a better product. Kaya pa naman.”
Ice-cream, being a dairy product, is based on cow’s milk. On the Magsaysay farm, which produces Holly’s Milk. it is said: “our milk never spoils but our cows are.” Sizeable investment is channeled into breeding, feeding and providing the most conducive environment for their cash cows to produce from 12 to 14 liters daily (national Philippine average: 7 liters daily). Mozart, and at times Bach, plays softly in the background as if to give inspiration to the “lactators.”
Fresh milk will always be one of the main ingredients of Carmen’s Best products, never powdered milk. Unlike other ice creams that are easy to scoop despite being well-frozen due to air being incorporated, Carmen’s Best ice cream can prove to be rock hard when the pint lid is pried open. Magsaysay believes this is a good thing: “Because the ice cream is dense and we are not selling you puff.”
Art and the children
Outside of his creamy universe, Magsaysay says he savors collecting art of the masters. He has a Picasso, Miró, Dali and Malang, which hang prominently where he can see them daily – we just won’t tell you where! He got these these gems at auctions when the US economy was tanking in 2008 and 2009. But like ice cream, he has to like viewing them, and not regard them with the eye to resell them at a later date.
There is also a vintage wall world map, which he inherited from Cita Delgado, his mother’s mom, whom he admired immensely for her charm and ability to present business partners with the best of Philippine products as gifts. “She would put pins on the countries she had traveled to, and I would say: ‘Wow, I wish I could travel like that too. And because of Carmen’s Best, I’m doing it now.
“Like my Lola Cita, I also like giving presents to foreign customers and potential partners to show them the beautiful local handicrafts like Narda’s blankets or placemats that we are capable of making. They never forget them.”
Magsaysay says that he lives for his three children, whom he hopes will take over his legacy when they are ready, if not willing. All of them love ice cream as he does, and Carmen, 19, the company mascot and a business junior at Fordham University in New York, has learned to enjoy the celebrity and pose gamely with customers when they ask for selfies with her.
Jaime, 23, a marketing graduate of De La Salle University expected all along to join his dad in running the business “as it is growing and he needs help as it grows… it was an easy decision for me to join him because I really learn a lot from him and I enjoy working with him!”
As management trainee in Carmen’s Best permits the young man to study all sides of the operations, “which will teach me how to eventually run Carmen’s Best.”
He adds: “I am learning the different aspects of the business most especially the marketing side. My father has taught me to sell the ice cream by sharing our story because it gives our customers reassurance that every ice cream we make is 100 percent the best.
And what is his favorite flavor? He chuckles: “Sometimes I like sneaking outside and getting some ice cream for myself. My favorite is Hokey Pokey because I like honeycomb and caramel – it is the perfect flavor for a sweet-tooth like me!”
Jaime’s dad believes members of the food industry, particularly in ice cream, are happy people. Looking at this passionate and creative entrepreneur, who brings sweetness into so many lives, my gut feel tells me I’m right.