Victoria Lai’s fridge is the ultimate mix of high and low. As the founder of Ice Cream Jubilee (side note: Ice Cream Jubilee is about to build a 100 foot sundae in honor of National Ice Cream Day), Lai understands the need celebrate childhood staples like Kraft cheese (or ice cream) and more refined, or even adult, ingredients like sous vide duck breast (or banana bourbon caramel ice cream). As we pour through the contents of her fridge during a commonly humid D.C. summer afternoon, Lai tells me all about her philosophy, “There’s no reason to go ‘out with the old’,” she says. She loves it all. The Stouffer’s lasagna and the organic strawberries. The canned whipped cream and the homemade waffles.
Like the ice cream she slings, Lai’s kitchen is also brimming with summer staples. Fresh summer fruits like watermelon and the aforementioned strawberries take a place of honor on the counter. On top of that Lai and her husband Howard Yoon are grill fiends. They rigged up a smoker using YouTube tutorials and have both gas and charcoal grills. They use the smoker to make enough brisket to last them the whole week, while they alternate between the gas and charcoal depending on the situation (“The gas grill is so fast,” Lai admits).
While Howard is the primary chef in the house, grocery duties are a family affair. Lai’s favorite Virginia haunts include classics like H-Mart, Lotte and Costco, plus D.C. originals like Glen’s Garden Market (which is also the first place that sold Ice Cream Jubilee). The two things she always has in her kitchen (no matter what) are eggs and milk, pantry staples that can be used to whip up fast meals for the family of four (which is soon to become a family of five).
On top of shopping for themselves, the Lai and Yoon also like to throw dinner parties, hence the sous vide duck breast, pickled mustard seed and the single Miller Lite keeping cool in the center of the fridge. Among the dinner party specials are more high lows, including pork buns from Texas and frozen tater tots, Kraft cheese and brie (“I grew up on Kraft American,” Lai explains), pressed bamboo shoots and yogurt squishers.
You can even see Lai’s love of nostalgic food in her condiments. Her kitchen is stacked with options including hoison sauce, chili garlic sauce, duck sauce and thick caramel sauce, to name a few. Hailing from Texas, she has strong opinions about BBQ sauce. “I’m not really into vinegar sauces and sweet sauces,” she explains, so her go to is the classic Texan BBQ sauce Stubb’s or (when she can get it) sauce from the Goode Company. Of course, her preferences don’t end there. Ketchup versus mustard is a (semi) serious battle in the family. “This is a point of contention,” she laughs, explaining that she’s pro-ketchup through and through, while her husband has pledged his loyalty to mustard.
Of course, the piece de resistance in Lai’s kitchen is the freezer. There are all sorts of goodies including frozen homemade waffles, dumplings, a leftover container of Hainan chicken rice, a slice of their wedding cake, and peaking between all of these delicious options are pints of ice cream. Flavors range from the infamous Marion Berry flavor to Thai Iced Tea to Snickers Snickerdoodle. There are even a handful of mystery flavors and new recipes that Lai hasn’t quite nailed down yet. “I’ll make a batch of ice cream and then divide it into small portions,” Lai explains. That way she can test different combinations with the same base. She’s played with Chinese ingredients like pandan leaves, but her holy grail ice cream creation is much more D.C. focused. “I would like to create something I could reasonably call Mumbo Sauce,” she says.
When it comes to ice cream that’s not her own, Lai has a huge soft spot in her heart from Blue Bell’s vanilla (with magic shell, of course) and loves D.C’s local gelato chain Dolcezza. Her one ice cream pet peeve? “Every time a kid comes in and asks for blue ice cream, I cringe.”
For a woman who offers ice cream flavors spiked with whiskey, gin and port (to name a few), it’s no surprised that Lai’s bar cart is stacked. Right from the top, we spied a few different bottles of wine, some Bulleit Bourbon and even a bottle of Cotton & Reed’s dry spiced rum. When it comes to cocktails, Lai enjoys grapefruit spiked drinks like Palomas, but she loves a Piña Colada. “I have a thing for Piña Coladas,” she admits, adding that her favorite comes from Whaley’s.
We finished the day combing through Lai’s never ending spice drawer. Packed with everything from Li Hing powder to McCormick staples, the drawer almost functions as a passport. When Lai travels, she loves to grab small bags and bottles of spices as mementos. Lai laughs, saying, “I don’t even know what country this is from,” as she pulls out bag after bag of rainbow colored spices.
Like her spice drawer, Lai’s kitchen has a little bit of everything. Highs, lows, old, new and everything in between.