It was a genre-bending frozen dessert that wowed in the late 90s. But who was the mad scientist behind Dessertalicious? And what do they have to do with Snackmasters NZ?
Jessie Stanley was ankle deep in a soup of sponge cake, honeycomb ice cream and chocolate mousse when she realised she had made a huge mistake. It was the first trial run of Dessertalicious, Tip Top’s ambitious new hybrid frozen dessert, and the machines had all crapped out at once. Stanley, in her early 20s at the time, was the mastermind behind the mayhem. It was also her first big job in the food industry, and she was overwhelmed.
“We just could not get the machines working,” she recalls, over 20 years later. Production ceased and they had to bring in engineers to tinker with the equipment. On her return to HQ, Stanley was pulled aside by her manager into a quiet room and told that she had already blown a quarter of Tip Top’s research and development budget for the year, with no finished product to show for it. “I just remember crying and crying,” she says. “I basically destroyed everyone else’s budget at Tip Top because of my terrible product.”
That terrible product would go on to be one of the brand’s most beloved and bizarre innovations. Dessertalicious was a triple-layered delight concealed within your average two litre ice cream container. “The first layer was chocolate sponge, and then there was honeycomb ice cream, and then the thing that really made it extra super special was the top layer which was chocolate mousse,” Stanley explains. “We nailed the texture of the mousse because you could eat it frozen and you still knew it was mousse – and then there were the chocolate chips on top.”
Stanley was fresh out of a food science degree at university and still “pretty green” as one of Tip Top’s R&D technologists when she dreamed up the multi-layered monster. “I kind of felt like Willy Wonka, it was such a brilliant first job,” she laughs. At the time, top secret Tip Top market research had revealed people’s yearning for an instant frozen dessert. “We came up with this crazy concept of putting sponge, and then ice cream and then chocolate mousse altogether,” she says. “It was really different… I had to convince everybody that it was a cool idea.”
Despite initial technical hiccups, weeks of sponge cake testing, more than a few tears and a blown-out budget, Dessertalicious made it onto local shelves in the late 90s. Pre-social media, it took a while for Stanley to realise she had created a hit. “I think it was when I saw the reaction from family and friends, how excited they were about it,” she says. “Then I’d tell people that I’d made it and they were just so excited. The sales were good too, which helped.”
Stanley stayed another year at Tip Top, where she was responsible for the launch of over 25 products as well as countless creations that never made it to market. “I was always trying to push the boat out,” she laughs. “I don’t think many people understood what I was doing.” Some of her fondest failures were extreme sour ice blocks and molten chocolate cake ice cream. “I was ahead of my time, remember this was over 20 years ago, so it was really quite radical.”
After her stint at TipTop, Stanley moved to the UK to further her career in the food industry. Years into her time abroad, someone asked about successful products she had launched in New Zealand, which led to her Googling “Dessertalicious NZ”. “That was when I found out that it no longer existed,” she recalls, “I was really sad that it was discontinued.” It wasn’t all bad news though – Google led her to a forum “for people who liked smoking marijuana” who had voted Dessertalicious the “number one stoner food” in New Zealand.
“I just died, I just thought ‘wow, I’ve really made it’ – that really made me laugh.”
Decades on, the Dessertalicious fanbase has only strengthened. The community page titled Tip Top – Bring back “Dessertalicious” Ice Cream has nearly 5,000 passionate members, who have campaigned for the return of the frozen treat since the page was established seven years ago. “We all know just how good this was but is no longer available,” a post from June 2015 reads. “Get liking and sharing to let Tip Top know we want this back! You just never know…” They also made a lot of memes.
Over the years, the requests become more feverish. “Mini tubs sold at gas stations etc wouldn’t be a bad idea!” (August 2015). “Please bring this back” (2016). “Date night ice cream… a tub of that …2 spoons and a movie …we still say ..’I wish dessertalicious was still available’” (2017). “I wonder if Santa got Tip Top the special machine they said they needed to put Dessertalicious back in supermarket freezers,” a post from January, 2018 reads. “A new year brings new hope!”
In February this year, Dessertalicious fans had their prayers answered. “It’s official!” the fansite posted on Feb 4, 2022. “It’s not layered like the original but I’m really keen to give it a try!!” The layers are gone, the square tub is gone, but Stanley’s vision lives on in the mash-up of cake, chocolate and honeycomb. “It was so exciting for me because I’ve got kids now,” she says. “Generally, ice-cream only has quite a short lifespan. They innovate fast and furiously each year and have a short window and then they disappear.”
Since the Dessertalicious days, Stanley has gone on to innovate more in the food world. She built her business I Love Pies into an enormous home baking empire, and now she can add television to her impressive CV. Stanley has most recently lent her food knowledge to upcoming cooking competition Snackmasters NZ, where local chefs are pitted against each other to see who can best recreate classic New Zealand snacks from scratch. Stanley’s job? Food producer, meaning every challenge had to go through her first.
“We had to ensure that the chefs could do it and we would also get the right story beats and jeopardy on the show,” she says. That involved recreating every snack in her own test kitchen at home, which coincided nicely with Auckland’s lengthy lockdown last year. “It was the best time because I actually got to do it all in lockdown and my kids just thought it was heaven. I’d be rocking up with fresh Toffee Pops and fresh Trumpets and then KFC for dinner.” In a particularly exciting delivery, a giant bag of 11 herbs and spices showed up at her door one afternoon.
Ahead of the series premiere this week, Stanley says people should prepare to be impressed by the skills put on show by some of our finest chefs. The first episode sees Ganesh Raj (The Tasting Room) and Dariush Lolaiy (Cazador) compete to recreate the perfect boysenberry Trumpet, which comes with a fair bit of cone-based drama. “I probably spent a day making all the different cones with different batters and things,” Stanley says. “Their level of talent and skill just blew me away, they did amazingly well.”
While the chefs sweat over recreating ice cream magic on the television, Stanley says she will be relaxing on the couch with her family with Trumpets in hand themselves. Based on her experience, she’ll know the challenge better than anyone else – aside from Dessertalicious, she also invented the Colossal Cone.
Snackmasters NZ begins Wednesday 20 April on TVNZ2