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Don't Tell Mother is Durham's best-kept secret

food review

<p>Don't Tell Mother is an underground ice cream venture started by pastry chef Logan Atkinson.&nbsp;</p>

Don't Tell Mother is an underground ice cream venture started by pastry chef Logan Atkinson. 

I did everything I could to get a fix: I waited for months; I predicted a range of dates for the next drop; I looked at previous patterns to determine when that email would come through; and I signed up for text notifications that would inform me if the menu landed in my inbox. At 2:24 a.m. on Aug. 15, while I was undergoing a late-night Netflix binge, I received that fateful text on my phone: “Late Summer Pints,” it read. Was anyone else awake? I didn’t know. All I did know is that I would need to pick up that phone and get my order in before it was too late. A few taps later, and the message reached their inbox. “One Hokey Pokey, please!” it read. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

That afternoon, I received a reply: 

“Hi Alexander,

Thanks so much for your order. I have you down for:

One Hokey Pokey”

Finally, my time had come. I had secured a pint from the underground and highly sought after ice cream operation, Don’t Tell Mother.

Ice cream has the unique capacity to transcend demographics and appeal to all people through its accommodating ingredients. Nowadays, it comes in many varieties and can cater to every dietary and religious restriction, from vegan to gluten-free to even kosher; its power knows no bounds and transcends all concepts of demography. We often take it for granted — at grocery stores we can find a cheap splurge in generic gallon-sized tubs, or a decadent pint of Jeni’s waiting to be devoured in one sitting. Ice cream, then, is much more than a dessert. It’s a tool — for imparting joy upon ourselves and others, and for allowing us to feel some comfort on even the gloomiest of days. 

While we may be inclined to think of ice cream as a common product, its manufacture is a laborious process; blending, pasteurization, homogenization, freezing and hardening are all involved in producing a nicely packaged pint for you to enjoy. Duke students have a number of nearby options, including The Parlour or the incredible East Campus-adjacent Pincho Loco, where Luis or Marta (or both) are always there to welcome you with a warm smile. But what else is out there? Two Roosters recently opened at Golden Belt, and there’s a few originals in Chapel Hill worth a try. But what of adventure, splendor and ice cream ecstasy? Have you ever experienced it? Does frozen Nirvana exist? It does, and it will ruin all other ice cream for the rest of your life.

Food blog Bites of Bull City has provided an insight on the genius working magic behind the scenes of Durham “ice cream outfit” Don’t Tell Mother: pastry chef Logan Atkinson who has strong roots in the South. He grew up in North Carolina, attending NCSSM and heading to American University in D.C. to earn a degree in International Relations. He worked for the Human Rights Campaign, but he later concluded that politics wasn’t the right path for him. He changed direction and began Culinary School at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, MD. He worked for local legend Phoebe Lawless, finding comfort working at the now-closed Scratch Bakery. Yet, he was itching for change. Looking for something different, Atkinson found himself utilizing his dessert magic as the lead baker at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, where he stayed for a few years. When he returned, he worked at the now-closed restaurant The Lakewood, then briefly at Hello, Sailor and Kindred in Davidson before making his way back to Durham. 

Atkinson was working at Oak Steakhouse in Raleigh when people began to ask for pints of his ice cream, which he served for his plated desserts. He began his own email list, reaching out monthly to offer a selection of new and exciting flavors based on what is in season, and what he has found to be attractive. Since then, pints have been known to sell out within minutes — and sometimes seconds. To secure one is to find gold: precious, exquisite and likely something you can begin a black market off of if you were entrepreneurial. 

So, how do you secure one? Here’s an outline of the process:

  1. You receive an email with a clever subject line, offering you a small, yet genius selection of flavors.
  2. You read through their beautiful descriptions, moving quickly, because you don’t want them to sell out before you order.
  3. You reply to the email with your selection(s).
  4. You pray that you were fast enough.

Patience may be difficult, but you’ll find out if you made it within two days. That fateful email arrives confirming your order, and you do a happy dance in your dorm room. This is it. You made it!

You then drive to Old North Durham, a picturesque neighborhood near East Campus, appreciating the trees and homes as you make your way. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the neon popsicle sign in the store window, shining light on a metaphorical pot of gold at the end of this Bull City rainbow. You send Logan a text that you’ve arrived, he brings out your order, you kneel and praise his genius (not necessary, but it’s polite) and you make your way home.

So far, I’ve gotten lucky on three instances. Each time may have been better than the last. My first ever pint of Logan’s ice cream was Hokey Pokey, which utilizes a pure vanilla base “made with a financially irresponsible amount of whole vanilla bean” and crumble honeycomb toffee. My second pint was the Shiso Apricot, with a shiso-flavored base with a pinch of lime zest, slow-roasted apricots and a hint of ginger. And my third was Double Trouble… 

It’s hard to put the flavors and emotions that I experienced into words — each flavor was so intricate, complex and powerful in its own unique way that can only be described as life-changing. Not only are the flavors a bombastic tour of your palate that make your tastebuds embrace and dance the night away, but the texture is unlike any ice cream I’ve ever had before. Consider the best metaphor for it to be Vivaldi’s “Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 8, RV 297,” a piece made famous by the theme to Netflix’s Chef’s Table, and one that embodies the exact excitement and bliss experienced as the ice cream slowly melts on the tongue, its silky smoothness imparting a new perspective of what ice cream can be. Now, take that and add one of the most exhilarating and masterful flavors you’ve ever tasted. What does that taste like?

There’s a great moment in LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean” that occurs at 3:05. Part of its beauty blooms from the preceding three minutes and four seconds, defined by delicate tranquility and a soft voice speaking on interpersonal relationships. One can’t help but wonder if this will continue for the entire 8:56 song length. Is this it? Surely not. Let’s consider this moment as an analogy to the first time you eat Logan’s ice cream. The ice cream you’ve had before — it’s comfortable, but you don’t know what else lies beyond this calm that you’ve become so comfortable basking in. But where we expect one thing, we are served a reality far from what we anticipate. We experience worlds colliding at 3:05, an ascension to new realms and an unforgivable groove that compels your attention for the remaining 5:51. (You’ll need to listen to truly understand. Have some good headphones ready.) 

This is what eating Logan’s ice cream is like. Not only will it disrupt every ice cream ever had prior to it, but it imparts a symphony of flavors that is akin to eating  music. You’ll want to restrain yourself, to slowly savor this precious pint over the course of a week, but in the end, human nature may get the best of  you. If you ate it all in one sitting, I would understand.

Logan’s ice cream not only changes the game, but it ruins the game forever. Never again will you look at ice cream the same way. It’s almost as if trying this ice cream is a bad thing, because supermarket pints will never measure up, and the days on the couch with a Ben & Jerry’s will now seem subpar knowing that Logan’s pints are out there. So, if you care to know ice cream in its perfected form, buy yourself a pint — or buy a few, and spoil yourself over a few days after a stressful week of midterms. But never forget that this is all underground. Keep it under wraps, and if you’re still reading this, be sure to absorb this information in private. Don’t tell your friends. Don’t tell your professors. Don’t tell your family.

And most importantly, Don’t Tell Mother.

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