Sweet Science

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Liquid nitrogen makes ice cream a truly cooler-than-cool experience.

Jason Fimbres pumps liquid nitrogen to sub-freeze ice cream at Ice Cream Lab, on Second Street in Little Tokyo. The process gives the dessert a smooth, dense texture, and provides a dramatic spectacle. (Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

Jason Fimbres pumps liquid nitrogen to sub-freeze ice cream at Ice Cream Lab, on Second Street in Little Tokyo. The process gives the dessert a smooth, dense texture, and provides a dramatic spectacle. (Photos by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

Picture a laboratory.

Scientists donning white coats and protective eye gear, carefully musing over beakers atop Bunsen burners filled with colorful fluids with tubes that run into other beakers with other colorful fluids, that when combined bubble forth into misting, magical, chemical newness.

While there’s a lot of actual chemistry that goes on, real science in the underlying background, it’s that misting part that gets everyone all giddy with excitement.

The big payoff.

Ice Cream Lab, located in the heart of Little Tokyo, has taken everyone’s favorite dessert to undiscovered heights by capitalizing on that payoff.

“I feel honored to work here,” Jason Fimbres told The Rafu Shimpo. “Because every day that I make ice cream, I see families come in, especially when there’s little kids, and they go crazy. I just love seeing their expressions and the smiles on their faces.”

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Ice Cream Lab’s idea revolves around the molecular gastronomy cooking concept, utilizing liquid nitrogen as the style of preparation to instantly freeze different natural ingredients into ice cream (check out Rafu’s Instagram to get a live view of the process at work). And yes, the payoff includes hissing, intense blasts of liquid nitrogen gas that literally fills the shop when it gets busy with lots of customers.

Known aptly as liquid nitrogen ice cream, it is noticeably more flavorful because of its made-to-order preparation process. The rapid freezing instantly blends different ingredients to create new flavors and creates a smoother texture because it forms smaller ice crystals.

Ice Cream Lab itself represents what could be thought of as the Little Tokyo experiment. Only, the subject matter is sociology. Not chemistry.

Take Jason for example. He is a first-gen Mexican American attending Cal State Dominguez Hills and majoring in business administration. Born and raised in Midtown, Jason now lives in South L.A. and makes what he and every other true-blue Angelino would describe as a “hectic” commute into Little Tokyo every day.

He works in a science-based ice cream shop that serves kosher-certified ice cream in the middle of Little Tokyo to an ever swirling melting-pot of customers.

Despite his young age, Jason has already been exposed to a great deal of Los Angeles. Before working in Little Tokyo, he had worked at every other Ice Cream Lab location: Westlake, Old Town Pasadena, and Beverly Hills. So, he’s been able to compare and contrast the diversity at each location.

“I actually like the fact that it’s not only Asians here,” Jason said of Little Tokyo. “It’s like so many different ethnicities walking around here. Especially coming into Ice Cream Lab.”

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With a chuckle, he related a story of two Middle Eastern women coming into the shop, mistaking him for one of their own, and speaking to him in Arabic.

The truth is, Little Tokyo is evolving. Has been for half a decade now. And while the incoming Metro station has caused a mini carmaggedon of traffic congestion, quite a bit of raucous noise, and most negatively, a noticeable loss in customer base for certain stores, it also points to an even brighter future for Little Tokyo.

At least, that’s the way Jason sees it.

“[The Metro Station] would not only benefit the Ice Cream Lab, but Little Tokyo itself,” he said. “It will bring a lot more people here to see the culture of Little Tokyo and migrate some of their culture into Little Tokyo too.”
Kind of like that one colorful liquid, making its way over into the other colorful liquid, and creating something truly amazing.

Ice Cream Lab is located on 369 E. 2nd St.

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