Virginia Chef Celebrates Juneteenth And Her Heritage Through Ice Cream

<p>Mariah Miranda</p>

Mariah Miranda

Rabia Kamara got a first glimpse of her future career at the age of 8 when her mom bought her a Mrs. Fields dessert cookbook and told her to note any recipes she’d like to make. “I basically marked all of them,” she says. “I told my parents I wanted to be the next Mrs. Fields, and I didn’t even know what that meant when I said it.” Now as the owner of Ruby Scoops, an ice-cream shop in Richmond, Virginia, she is closer to realizing her childhood dream than she ever imagined.

After Kamara graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, she was all set to attend law school when she decided that if she was going to spend the rest of her life working, it should be doing something she loved. She enrolled in L’Academie de Cuisine Culinary School in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where she reignited her passion for sweets and also discovered an obsession with making confections.

“Something in my brain just kind of clicked,” she remembers. “I like to create, and it’s easy with ice cream because it’s such a blank canvas. As long as it freezes and scoops, it can be any flavor.”

Kamara began experimenting with less common ingredients like rhubarb, red bean, persimmon, and black sesame during all of her free hours in culinary school. She continued the practice during her first job as a pastry chef and eventually decided to turn her hobby into a pop-up business in the Maryland/D.C. metro area in 2015. Kamara found a permanent home for Ruby Scoops in 2020 in her former college town of Richmond, where she continues to use ice cream as a form of self-expression and a way to advocate for things that are important to her.

Kamara, whose father is from SierraLeone and whose mother is Egyptian as well as Mauritian by way of India, says global cuisine was a big part of her upbringing as a first-generation American. “I grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland, which has some of the most diverse cities in the country. All my neighbors were immigrants or children of immigrants,” she says. She recalls going to friends’ houses for Ethiopian food one night and Vietnamese the next. “I try to take things that seem foreign or out of the ordinary to people and present them as ice cream because that’s one thing that everyone knows.”

Flavors at Ruby Scoops are super seasonal, with summer options like Calamansi, Ube Cookies ’n Cream, and Raspberry-Peach Balsamic Sorbet. Kamara also rolls out specialty menus throughout the year, including one for Juneteenth with choices such as Banana Pudding, Candied Yam, Hot Honey Cornbread, and Jubilee Punch Sorbet. The latter features watermelon and Kool-Aid fruit punch, two ingredients that she says people have negatively attributed to Black people though they are actually meaningful to their culture and history.

Related: A Lowcountry Recipe That Celebrates Juneteenth

“Black people started selling watermelons because it was the only thing they could do to be financially free,” she says. “There isn’t always a history lesson [associated with a flavor], but if there is, we’re going to share it.” Kamara’s Blacker the Berry ice cream combines fresh blackberries with dark fudge brownies for an unexpected combo and a tongue-in-cheek play on the familiar adage, “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”

For Kamara, who grew up in an African household where Juneteenth was a distant concept, her themed menu is a way for her to celebrate with the Black American community in the shop’s neighborhood of Northside as well as to contribute to the nationwide observance. This year, she has introduced varieties inspired by the African diaspora, like hibiscus and ginger, to accompany her Southern scoops.

“We can teach the kids about Juneteenth and remind the older folks why it’s so important to them,” she says. “This kind of plays up who I am, what’s meaningful= to me, and also what’s important to the Richmond community.”

Blackberry-Brownie Ice Cream Sundae

<p>Victor Protasio</p>

Victor Protasio

get the recipe

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