Franklin Fountain Hosts Drexel-Themed Ice Cream Contest

The student-designed ice cream and the rubric used to grade them. From left to right: "Dragon's Breath," "Fire Breathing Dragon" (in waffle bowl) and "Blue(berry) and Gold."
The student-designed ice cream and the rubric used to grade them. From left to right: "Dragon's Breath," "Fire Breathing Dragon" (in waffle bowl) and "Blue(berry) and Gold."

If you had to design an ice cream flavor representing Drexel University, what would that taste like? And what would it be called?

That was the kind of prompt that Drexel culinary students were tasked with for an ice cream flavor competition in which the winning flavor would be sold by Franklin Fountain, a local historically themed ice cream parlor and soda fountain. 

For Nora Vaughan ’21, a culinary arts and science major in the  Center for Food & Hospitality Management, the ice cream that best exemplified Drexel was something she called “Dragon’s Breath,” which had a saffron- and orange-infused vanilla ice cream with cinnamon and pistachio honeycomb. She was announced as the winner of the Drexel-themed ice cream contest at a tasting event held at the University’s Academic Bistro on Feb. 27. 

The student finalists and co-owners of Franklin Fountain. From left to right: Ryan Berley, Katelyn Comerford, Bridget Heeney, Toni Hicks, Nora Vaughan and Eric Berley.

“I am thrilled and surprised to have won the Franklin Fountain ice cream flavor contest,” said Vaughan, who had originally thought of the ice cream’s name before the flavor and came up with an original saffron and cinnamon ice cream with “warm, fiery flavors that would well represent a dragon’s breath.” As she tested the recipe, she mixed in orange to complement the saffron and added pistachios to the honeycomb for extra crunch.

“I am happy with the final version of the ice cream and I’m excited to have more people try it!” she said. 

Eric Berley, who owns Franklin Fountain with his brother Ryan, called the ice cream’s multiple flavor notes “almost like an experience, like a piece of music.” 

“We’re excited to see what I would call a thoughtfully crafted, well-executed dessert come to the masses,” he said.   

“Dragon’s Breath” will be sold by the pint and by the scoop at Franklin Fountain for the month of April — and Dragons with a Drexel ID will receive a 30 percent discount. At the beginning of spring term, a special giveaway is also being planned for students to receive a free “Dragon’s Breath” ice cream on campus.  

The students and the judges. From left to right: Jim Burke, Toni Hicks, Eric Berley, Nora Vaughan, Daphne Macias, Katelyn Comerford, Michael Tunick and Bridget Heeney.

Vaughan’s flavor was one of three finalists compiled out of 33 entries from students in the Center for Food & Hospitality Management. The second-place winner in the contest was “Blue(berry) and Gold,” a lemon buttermilk ice cream with a blueberry crumble created by culinary arts and science majors Bridget Heeney and Katelyn Comerford. The third finalist was “Dragon Breathing Fire,” a rum-based ice cream with “fiery” apples and habanero peppers; it was created by culinary arts and science student Toni Hicks. 

In addition to representing Drexel (hence the ice cream names with the University’s colors and mascot), all of the contest entries had to follow guidelines used at Franklin Fountain. For example, they had to use local, socially-conscious and/or sustainable ingredients (Vaughan used organic cinnamon from Red Ape Cinnamon, which donates proceeds to adopt and protect orangutans) and create a product that would been able to have been made in the late 19th century or early 20th century, which is the time frame that informs everything from the shop’s flavors to décor to uniforms.

“You do have to balance what sounds great with what is able to be made properly,” said Jim Burke, a chef instructor in the Center for Food & Hospitality Management.

Burke was one of the Drexel judges spearheading the contest along with Michael H. Tunick, PhD, an assistant clinical professor in the Center with decades of experience working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he originally did his co-op as a Drexel chemistry student.

During the ice cream symposium on Feb. 6, the Berley brothers discussed how they built and grew the Franklin Fountain.

“The finalists were amazing,” said Tunick. “All of them brought a great deal of care and imagination to their entries.”

The contest unfolded over the course of several weeks, with the three finalists announced at an ice cream symposium held by the Berley brothers at the Academic Bistro on Feb. 6. One week later, on Feb. 13, the four Drexel students embarked on a behind-the-scenes tour of Franklin Fountain and Shane Confectionary, the country’s oldest continuous running candy shop that the Berleys also own and run. 

It was on this tour that the students learned how Franklin Fountain creates and designs its flavors. Daphne Macias, chef at the Franklin Fountain, was on hand to answer any questions the students had; she also judged the entries and will work with Vaughan to refine the recipe for large-scale production. 

Vaughan, for example, had been experimenting with butterfat percentages in “Dragon’s Breath,” and asked what Franklin Fountain strives for (about 14 to 16 percent). Her winning ice cream ended up with 15 percent butterfat — which created the ice cream’s silky texture that was “luscious, like gelato,” as Berley said. Hicks asked Macias’ opinion on how to prepare the apples so they wouldn’t soften in the ice cream, and Heeney and Comerford had questions about creating a blue color from blueberries, which had been turning up purple in previous batches. 

Franklin Fountain co-owner Eric Berley with Toni Hicks, Michael Tunick and Nora Vaughan at Franklin Fountain.

“The students were really engaged,” said Macias, who said Franklin Fountain had never partnered with a university before to create an ice cream flavor.  

The students did have extra time to refine their recipes after touring Franklin Fountain, thanks to a University snow day on the original Feb. 20 date of the contest reveal. During that time, Vaughan tinkered with her recipe and Hicks came up with the idea of poaching apples and worked on her ratios of rum and habanero peppers. 

When the final contest day rolled around on Feb. 27, the students were ready with large vats of ice cream (prepared in-house at Drexel’s professional kitchens) and signs and decorations to show off their creations. 71 student votes were cast by Dragons who came by the tastings for free ice cream, with Vaughan receiving a large majority of the votes. After filling out a score card evaluating the flavor, color, presentation and body and texture of the ice cream entries, the four judges were unanimous in their choice of “Dragon’s Breath” as what Berley called the “2019 Drexel Ice Cream Contest.”

The idea of the contest stemmed from a consulting project that the Berleys initiated with Vice Provost and Executive Director of the Lenfest Center for Cultural Partnerships Ros Remer, PhD, to explore the idea of publicly displaying their collection of historic artifacts related to ice cream and confectionary. During a two-day strategic planning process with an 18-person think tank, Remer and her team worked with the Berley brothers to develop ways to best show their commitment to their company and craft, as well as their historical interests. 

From left to right: "Dragon's Breath," "Fire Breathing Dragon" (in waffle bowl) and "Blue(berry) and Gold."

“They think constantly about their customer experience and how to teach people a little history while they’re enjoying something to eat,” said Remer. “We recommended they retool and refresh core business objectives as a way to sharpen their focus and think more about what they’re doing and be more intentional about what problem they’re trying to solve.” 

In lieu of payment to the Lenfest Center for Cultural Partnerships for consulting fees, Remer connected the Berley brothers with Rosemary Trout, program director and assistant clinical professor of culinary arts and food science in the Center for Food & Hospitality Management, to create a Drexel-themed ice cream contest. The first prize was $1,000; second prize was $500; and third prize was a gift basket with Frankllin Fountain and Shane Confectionery goodies, according to Trout. 

“The Berley brothers are making a really significant donation when you consider their labor, working with product and ingredients and working with students and teaching,” said Remer. “It was a total win-win because the students had an incredible opportunity to work with these guys, who are young, energetic, successful food entrepreneurs.”