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23 June 2020

Albert Soler: “The level in the Spanish Ice Cream Parlour Championship is very high”

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The ice cream maker, who won the competition with an entry based on Egyptian civilization, prepared himself very well to ensure that everything looked great and that the tasting went perfectly.

Albert Soler, one of the owners of the Can Soler ice cream parlours in Badalona and Montgat, was declared the winner of the third Spanish Ice Cream Parlour Championship, organised by the National Association of Artisan Ice Cream Parlours (ANHCEA) within the framework of InterSICOP 2019.

Soler, who beat eleven other chefs with an impeccable work on the theme of Egyptian civilisation, recommends future participants pay close attention to the tasting: "You cannot deliver ice cream that is too hard or very soft, and this is achieved by hard work and testing".

1.- As a participant and winner of the 3rd Spanish Ice Cream Parlour Championship, how did you find the experience?

Let me tell you a story! This is how the book I presented at the Spanish Championship began.

The assessment is, as always, very positive, in an activity like this, you go from 0 to 100 in an instant, that is, the mind begins to think, and one thing leads to another and before you know it you are creating moulds for new cakes, or imagining how to do things you wouldn't even think about in normal circumstances.

I recommend to all professionals in the sector that they appear in at least one competition, since afterwards you see everything differently, you draw on the efforts you made to compete. In short, it is a beautiful experience, and, in addition, there is the more professional side that is the exchange with your colleagues.

2.- What prompted you to participate? How did you prepare for the competition?

The momentum came from the previous contest I had taken part in, the one for best Sacher Artisanal ice cream maker, in which I came first in Catalonia and fourth in the national competition. It was an experience that led me later to consider participating in the ice cream parlour championship, it made me think a lot and especially about the high level of ice cream making in Spain.

So, once I acquired the rules for the third Spanish Ice Cream Parlour Championship, I considered the possibility of entering and how to combine my work with training for a high-level competition. I spoke with my family, they gave me their support and I began to think about how my entries could be and what form they would have. I'm good at drawing, I made some sketches and everything I presented came from there.

I am an ice cream maker and nougat maker by profession and at heart, I have ice cream parlours/nougat shops and a workshop, the decision to participate was made in August, a period in which I had to attend to my daily duties and when I finished, I spent many hours training for the championship, so those were a few months during which I slept very little. This was the easy part, but there are many things that have to be done apart from making good ice cream, you have to design all your entries so that other people can make the moulds, you have to find other professionals to help you improve in the areas where improvement is needed so that everything is perfect in the end, you have to look for some financing to be able to afford the payments for all the props that you are going to use, since it is the Spanish championship and it is high level competition.

In my case I had several people by my side. Antoni Pons was my teacher for isomalt, he taught me how to handle this sugar and shape it. In the pastry part, I was accompanied by my great friend Albert Roca, he was the third person to see my drawings, he offered me his help without hesitation and he was by my side almost every night helping me improve. It was hard, but it was worth it. And of course, at the end of the journey I was accompanied by my friend Lluís Ribas, with him I was able to organise my way of working.

There are many details you have to be on top of so that everything can shine visually and so that the tasting goes perfectly.

3.- You chose the theme of Egyptian civilization, why?

I don't know if the same thing has happened to you with some other subject, but in my case Egypt has attracted me for as long as I can remember. Its mummies, its enigmas, its gods, the brightness, the colours, I like everything about Egypt. Today if there is a documentary or story about Egypt, I disappear, and I watch it. 

I also knew that no one had submitted entries based on this civilisation and I asked myself why not? It gave me a lot of scope when working with colours, shapes and so on.

4.- Describe to us the products you presented in the competition.

There were four categories to present: ice cream tray, ice cream glass, ice cream cake and final buffet.

With the ice cream tray, I emulated Tutankhamun's face, I also wanted to pay tribute to Jijona, my hometown. The base was an Xixollana ice cream (nougat from Jijona, hazelnut and yuzu), which I am particularly passionate about because it is fresher on the palate than a traditional Jijona nougat ice cream and much lighter thanks to the citrus fruit (yuzu). The decoration consisted of a gold-glazed base, a piece of chocolate in the shape of the pharaoh that was also painted with golden details. The outer part of the funeral mask I made with transparent and blue isomalt.

The ice cream glass simulated an inverted pyramid. Its composition was as follows: from bottom to top, caramelised strawberries, surrounded by a rum baba, a coconut flan all crowned with an ice cream pyramid with a shot of balsamic vinegar inside made with liquid nitrogen, a strawberry/raspberry sorbet and ice cream with raw almond chocolate. The ice cream was glazed in red and gold tones, and at the top was an isomalt ring.

The ice cream cake was the most difficult piece, as it had a cross-shaped interior, several interior icings, a sponge cake, a wafer, and two ice cream flavours. I would emphasize that it was three-dimensional in shape; the relief was very fine and glazing this type of relief in ice cream is very complicated

Then came the presentation of the final buffet. Mine represented a step pyramid and each step had a different elaboration.

5. Did you expect to win?

Anyone who goes to a contest prepares to win. As the three days of work passed, I realised that I had a chance, although I repeat, the level that was presented in the championship was very high, I was facing great professionals.

In my case, I was helped a lot by the fact that I introduced new ways to glaze ice cream (which is very difficult), a new technique for ageing the chocolate and especially its tasting and serving temperature.

6.- What advice would you give to an ice cream maker who wants to participate in the next Championship?

That they must be really committed, that they must be aware that everyone is going to compete and that nobody is going to give you anything for nothing. That the theme you choose needs to be visually beautiful and above all that it speaks to you and that you can reproduce this in your elaborations.

Let's not forget that the most important part is the ice cream itself, the tasting has to be perfect, it is really important to control the serving temperature as much as possible. When a judge is doing the tasting, you cannot deliver an ice cream that is too hard or very soft, and this is achieved through hard work and testing.

You have to mentally prepare yourself for the possibility of not coming in one of the top positions, you can never lose the perspective that you have done the best you can, be totally convinced you have given 200%.

7.- Apart from the Championship, what were the other highlights from last year's Intersicop?

I am very happy to see the sector becoming more and more professional, this is also thanks to the work of fairs such as InterSICOP.

The gathering of so many professionals from the same field means we all give each other feedback, the conferences make the fair itself much more lively and enjoyable, it is an added bonus.

I have never missed an InterSICOP and there are differences every year. I can't say much about the last one, since after finishing the championship, I gave a presentation with my brother Carles and I really didn't have time to see the fair in depth. However, I know full well that every year there are more companies and of higher quality.

8.- Your victory coincided with Can Soler's 50th anniversary. How has the family ice cream parlour changed over these years? Do you have any medium/long term plans?

The year 2019 will not be easily erased from my memory. Apart from winning the Spanish championship, our business was 50 years old, it was a year of celebrations and thanks to our customers.

Our ice cream parlours have undergone a natural evolution, that is, an evolution due to a generational change that has brought freshness and new know-how. The way we manage a store today is totally different from how it was done a few years ago, and I'm not just talking about management but also about the way the ice cream is made and sold.

In our case, my parents came to Badalona in 1969, they set up a business in the centre, the ice cream was made in the basement. My father specialised in producing horchata, crushed ice drinks, ice cream and nougat. At first they only had five flavours of ice cream, some on a stick and the scoops, everything started to work well, and they were able to buy a second shop, this caused our ice cream production to increase and this is when we considered opening a new production area and leaving the basement.

Here we underwent another very big change, the new factory was very demanding, and we became equally demanding. Many changes have been made as both the people who make the ice cream and the stores are constantly developing. Changes of image, of logo, making us more visible on social networks, etc.

In the long term we have many new projects. This year we have set up a home delivery service and I believe this will continue, also the Click and Collect (order through the web and pick up at the parlour), and at product level, as always, we are introducing new things.

9.- As the winner, you were commissioned to form the team that represented Spain in the Ice Cream World Cup 2020 and you came sixth. How were the months of preparation and training? What are your memories of the final?

For me, I am very proud to have both represented Spain and formed this team that has given me so much.

The months of preparation were very hard, we trained and thought hard. I think we lacked a roadmap to avoid wasting time on the things that had been discovered by the other teams before, but, well, that's what competition is.

I don't remember the final especially, rather the entire championship. I saw situations that on a daily basis in the production would not even cross my mind, I was envisioning a winner that was obviously not going to be Italy. The Japanese amazed me at times, and I also want to say that our team did not deserve sixth place at all. I know perfectly well the type of work we did, and it was, in many cases, far superior to the rest, but, as they say, that is how competition is. I have not wanted to publicise my opinion, but it is certainly necessary. I am proud of my team and the work we presented, and I want to state that here.