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First pasta, then pizza, and now ice cream: are there any foods that didn't originate from China? One French chef has traced the roots of ice cream all the way back to China, and is following them on a journey that will take him all the way to Sichuan.

Chef Gérard Taurin cuts a suave figure in his chefs whites. He discovered his passion for ice cream while training under legendary pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre, going on to take first place in the Ice Cream Championships in Turin in 2003. In 2010, inspired by the desire to find out more about the origins of ice cream, he set up the Gastronomical Tour of the Anthropology of Ice (GTAI) organization. GTAI's, and Taurin's, journey started with a trip high into the Atlas Mountains above Morocco, where he replicated the earliest forms of sorbet by mixing ice with local flavorings.

Now, in 2014, he hopes to do the same in China. But what are the roots of ice cream in China? According to the GTAI, a frozen mixture of rice and milk was first documented in China in 200BC They mention the legend  of a horseman traveling through the mountains of China with a jar filled with water flavored with herbs, roots, and fruits. He left the vessel outside overnight where it froze. In the morning, he poured in some goat’s milk and presto ice cream was born. Later on, Marco Polo (that old rogue) is said to have brought ice cream recipes back to Italy from China in the late 13th century.  

The ancient Chinese used a mixture of ice and saltpeter to quickly lower the temperature of an ice cream-like mixture. Taurin demonstrated this method during a recent appearance at TRB, replacing the ice with ordinary table salt. He combined milk infused with roses, goji berries and a touch of honey in a bowl suspended over the ice-salt mixture and after five minutes of vigorous whisking the mixture was beginning to look a lot like ice cream. Later that night at TRB, he created innovative savory ice cream pairings like "foie gras, risotto, and foie gras ice cream" and "truffle, sliced quail egg, roasted walnuts, and Epoisses ice cream."

After his time in Beijing, Taurin is heading off to Sichuan to create ice creams infused with the best of the province's local produce. He said he chose Sichuan because of the sheer variety of ingredients and techniques that are central to Sichuanese cuisine, including of course the ever-present chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. At the end he will have created ten different ice creams; two inspired by his time in Beijing and eight inspired by his time in Sichuan.  

Taurin hopes that the project will not only encourage ice cream professionals to better understand the origins of ice cream and use this knowledge to further their craft, but also demonstrate the incredible culinary contributions that Chinese cuisine has made to the world in every aspect.

Follow Taurin's journey on his website, www.gerard-taurin.com

More stories by this author here.

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Photos: Laurent Hou


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