Alexa Norlin loves making weird food. She loves it so much that she’s made a living out of it.
Consider this oddball combination the founder of Salt Lake City’s Normal Ice Cream is trying to execute: Wasabi and white chocolate.
“It’ll be a weird combo, but it will have things that entice you to still order that product,” Norlin said, with confidence.
“I just have to get it out of my system because I love making interesting flavor combinations,” she said, sitting inside her shop at 169 E. 900 South, in the Maven District. “A lot of being in food — on the elevated side of food — my motto is you have to educate people at the same time as making things approachable.”
That’s been Norlin’s concept ever since she started Normal Ice Cream in 2017, as a soft-serve truck she drove around and parked at such places as Trolley Square. Today, the truck resides permanently in Millcreek Common, the skating center at 1354 E. Chambers Ave. in Millcreek.
Flash-forward six years, and Normal is a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s annual awards — the most prestigious in the food industry — in the category of “outstanding bakery.” According to Norlin, hers is the first ice cream shop to be nominated in the Beard awards’ 32-year history.
As the brand’s website (and a marquee board at the store, which is full of pops of color that make for Instagram-worthy content) tell it, their ice cream is anything but ordinary — from unconventional flavor combos to locally-sourced milk from Rosehill Dairy in Morgan.
This month, those flavors include: Salted vanilla bean, green apple, “supershroom,” Irish coffee (appropriate for the St. Patrick’s Day weekend approaching), amatika milk chocolate and fresh mint. Some of the staple flavors — available at the store, online or through such retailers as Whole Foods Market — include horchata, colada, pumpkin pie and London fog.
The company brings out new flavors at the stores every month, along with a new menu featuring six flavors of soft-serve at the store and four on the truck. One flavor that’s in the works is a Candy Cap Mushroom soft-serve.
“It might not be approachable to get a mushroom-flavor chocolate,” Norlin said. “But what people don’t know is it’s very maple-heavy, so we can educate people on what that tastes like.”
Norlin, who is from Park City, is a classically trained pastry chef who has worked in restaurants her entire life. For her, making quality products is what’s most important.
She brings that training to Normal with her experimentation with flavors in a way that creates an elevated taste with high-quality ingredients — they get their fruit purees from France, for example. She also focuses on soft-serve ice cream, which she said has a big gap in the Utah market.
Normal also sells “composed cones” or what Norlin describes as a plated dessert on a cone — an extension of her pastry chef life.
“It’s usually two or three different toppings on a flavor,” Norlin said. “You have textural and temperature balance, and a room-temp ganache with a crumb. So you have differences in texture and flavor, which are so important to eating something balanced.”
For example, in February, Normal offered a Valentine-themed “be mine?” cone: Red velvet and cream cheese twist, with red velvet cake bits, cream cheese frosting and cocoa power dust. It may sound overwhelming, but it’s the perfect balance of savory and sweet.
That might be Normal’s secret weapon: Its ice creams aren’t super-sweet. Ice cream shouldn’t be overpoweringly sweet, she said — and she opts to balance sweet with a salty flavor instead.
Norlin said her favorite flavor is sweet corn. She also said she’s lactose-intolerant, which she acknowledged is ironic for someone making ice cream.
The vegan recipes, though, don’t have lactose or other dairy elements. Normal pasteurizes all of its vegan products in-house. The store also sells the traditional ice cream novelties – bars, sandwiches and pints.
The James Beard honor was a complete surprise, Norlin said, adding that she didn’t pay attention to the Beard Foundation’s nominations when she left fine dining. It’s “very nice,” she said, to see her and her all-women team’s hard work pay off.
Award or no, Norlin said she hopes people take away one thing from her company’s products — that ice cream “can kind of be whatever you want it to be. Normal can be anything to anyone. It doesn’t have to be this standard of society.”