Ask the Chef

Big Gay Ice Cream's Debut Cookbook Gives a Crash Course in the Secrets to Its Success (Recipe)

Contrary to what you might believe, Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint do not have any crazy secrets behind the success of their food-truck-turned-ice-cream-empire Big Gay Ice Cream. They're just a couple of average guys who decided to have some fun one summer. Their spontaneous approach to their business has resulted in some of the kookiest ice cream treats to date that the world can't seem to get enough of. So whether you've fantasized about what a Salty Pimp might taste like or just have a proclivity for soft-serve ice cream, your taste buds don't have to wonder any longer with the release of their debut cookbook, Big Gay Ice Cream: Saucy Stories & Frozen Treats: Going All the Way With Ice Cream

Since this cookbook is for all of their dedicated fans who can't make it to one of the brick-and-mortar stores in New York City or Philadelphia, and soon Los Angeles, readers will get a crash course in everything that makes Big Gay Ice Cream perhaps the most iconic ice cream brand. Taking a twist on culinary education, the cookbook is organized like a yearbook and tries not to scare you on your first day of freshman year with basic lists of store-bought toppings and the essentials of a home ice cream parlor.

[T]he truck was just a summer project. However, it turned out to be a summer project that changed our lives and the direction we ended up taking.

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Thereafter, your lists come to life with tasty sauces and crunchy toppings, and once you think you're ready to hang with the pros, you'll move onto shakes, floats, and sundaes inspired by some of Big Gay Ice Cream's beloved treats. You'll meet the requirements for "graduation" only if you've mastered the grand finale: sorbet and ice cream recipes. Coupled with the quirkiness of Petroff and Quint and a humorous introduction by Headmaster Anthony Bourdain, there's not a more enjoyable way to learn how to make ice cream!

Petroff discusses the brand's approach to ice cream, how the cookbook takes it up a notch, and what newbies need to know about making ice cream at home. 

New Times: How are you handling the brand’s success?
Bryan Petroff: I was in human resources and corporate events before Big Gay Ice Cream. Doug was a classical musician. The truck started in 2009, and at first, the truck was just a summer project. However, it turned out to be a summer project that changed our lives and the direction we ended up taking. I had no qualms giving up the corporate world because I was totally burned out by it. Having the opportunity to do something for myself and be self-employed was really great and scary at the same time. It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. Doug reassured me that this was the right thing to do. He gave up his music career and doctorate at the time. I think it was much more bittersweet for Doug because his career was his passion, as opposed to mine.

We approached the truck a lot different than most New York food truck vendors. Most of them rely on their truck as their livelihood. It’s their career. It’s what pays the bills. It’s what puts food on the table. Big Gay Ice Cream is the most outlandish lemonade stand, but instead of a 10-year-old running it on the sidewalk, it was the two of us. It was a kooky, weird project that we were able to do because once we secured the truck, we realized we didn’t want it to be any old ice cream truck on the street. We took our truck to the next level. We were very serious about maintaining the soft-serve tradition, but we added a sophistication to it in terms of toppings, sauces, and flavor combinations. Our main focus was having fun. In our minds, ice cream is fun, and it’s a comfort food as well as our favorite childhood food. We ended up creating something that’s high quality and pays attention to detail while being outlandish and whimsical at the same time. The fact that we didn’t rely on the truck for our livelihood meant we could be as creative as we wanted. I think people really took a shine to the brand and were probably even a little weirded out by it.

Our success is still really weird to us, though. There are people who like what we do. They’re along for the ride, and they get our sense of humor. We love walking a fine line between high brow and low brow. Honestly, we had no idea what we were doing. We’re just fortunate that our humor and personalities have become the brand’s humor and personality. 

How does the cookbook evolve the Big Gay Ice Cream brand?
We have three stores now, and a fourth is on its way. The book came out on April 28, 2015. We were actually offered a book deal a few years ago, but it ended up being a fiasco, so we walked away from it. It was before we really had anything to sell or offer to the public, but it did create a lot of recipes for us, such as the soft-serve ice cream and the toppings. It was a real learning experience of what we did or did not want out of a publisher. We were a little hesitant when Clarkson Potter approached us a few years later, because we've already been there and done that. We started thinking about it some more, and the timing felt right. We've honed our craft. We're much better businessmen. We're much better ice cream men.

We're really no different from anybody else, though, and I think that's a part of the reason why people gravitate towards us, because they've watched us grow up in a way. We had to study cookbooks, meet with chefs, take classes, and ask questions. We had complete control over the process of publishing this cookbook, and it's a very prestigious imprint, given Clarkson Potter's reputation. They really believed in us and trusted that we would make a good cookbook. Even when they weren't sure what we were doing, they gave us a pretty long leash. That's why our cookbook is just as quirky and weird as our brand. We view this book as an opportunity to bring the brand to everyone who can't come to one of our stores, and that's 99 percent of the population. We specifically geared this book towards the home chef as much as a representation of the brand. 

What is the hardest thing about making ice cream at home?
The biggest obstacle for people making ice cream at home is exactly what we try not to do with our book. Most ice cream cookbooks force you to make a custard base right off the bat, like on page 2. All the other recipes in the book follow the custard recipe, and then they add recipes for toppings and sauces, at the very back of the book. We think that's kind of intimidating for people. Our book is similar to the way we started our business — we start off with toppings and combinations that were seen on the truck and then move on to ice cream recipes. We hope people will actually use it, because I'm a believer that people don't use cookbooks anymore — they just look at them. We wanted this to be an art book and a cookbook, and we focused on the basics. For instance, let's say you have a quart or a pint of vanilla ice cream in your freezer, and you've got a pantry and refrigerator full of stuff, our book is going to help you see which ice cream you can make. The phrase "Ice Cream 101" popped into our head while writing this book. What do you need to do to get from A to Z? In addition to presenting the custard base recipe in the beginning, I think many people have a hard time thinking outside the box in the kitchen. We want people to be more daring and creative with their ice cream. And you don't have to make ice cream from scratch to make really good ice cream. You can start with store-bought ice cream and then use high-quality olive oil and some sea salt to make great ice cream. That's just one of many approaches you'll find in the book. 

How do you react when someone tells you they don’t like ice cream?
Well, I think they're lying if they don't like ice cream. I don't know how they couldn't. Let's say you don't like pizza. Is there anyone in the world that doesn't like pizza? Ice cream is intrinsically a childhood memory for so many people, and I consider it a comfort food. For me, a comfort food is anything you eat while sitting under a blanket. It could be a bowl of cereal, but I think the best one is ice cream. I think every time people eat ice cream, they revert back to their inner child a little bit. Ice cream is a memory food. It brings up all these moments in your life, whether they're good or bar. You fell off your bike? Now you get a bowl of ice cream. You had a booster shot? You get a bowl of ice cream. You received an A on your report card? You get a bowl of ice cream. Or, you went on vacation with your family and got an ice cream cone at the beach. Nobody remembers toast or spaghetti that way but ice cream is something that will always have a place in your memory bank. It will always recall those things, so I think to say that you don't like ice cream is equivalent to calling yourself the Grinch. It's not real!

How did you come up with the names of the products? 
The names of our products are really specific to each item. A perfect example would be the Salty Pimp. I think it may have been the first thing we named and that coincided with the naming of the truck. We would still watch reruns of Pimp My Ride or Cribs on MTV. What we ended up doing is creating a cone that used more ingredients than anything else we had done. We felt we had pimped out the cone. The pimped out cone is salt — Salty Pimp. Bea Arthur had gone through a few different names. We had a Twitter campaign about naming specific cones, because we wanted to find one that would stick. Someone mentioned former Golden Girl Bea Arthur as an option because the actress had just died at the time and donated 300K to NYC's Ali Forney Center. Nobody knew she had this passion for this particular charity and it was kind of random that she left all this money, so we decided to name the cone in her honor. She was also a New Yorker. All of the names are a little serendipitous. Not a lot of thought goes into them but some of them are self-explanatory, such as the Gobbler. We didn't really stretch that one very much. Our brand name was initially a placeholder. It was from an offhanded comment that Doug made on Facebook when we started the truck. He did a post that said, "Hey, I've got a Big Gay Ice Cream truck today! I'm going to start posting pictures about it!" That's when we knew we had a name. 

Cardamom Ice Cream
Makes 1 quart

Cardamom is a unique ingredient. Many people ask us what it is, thinking they aren’t familiar with it, but we give them a pinch to smell, and they instantly recognize it from Indian cooking. More than simply flavoring a food, it gives it a fragrance. With both cardamom and vanilla, this ice cream fills your mouth with flavor in the way few other combinations can. We think it’s pretty goddamned interesting and even more goddamned delicious.
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tbsp ground cardamom
  • A small handful of cardamom pods (about 10), crushed with the side of a chef’s knife
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

Whisk the egg yolks in a large non-reactive saucepan; set aside. Warm the cream, milk, ground cardamom, and crushed cardamom pods in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring often to keep the mixture from scorching, for 15 minutes, until very aromatic. Add the mixture (it’s fine to leave the pods in for this step—you’ll strain them out later) to the yolks in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously.

Set the saucepan over medium-low heat, add the vanilla, sugar, and salt, and stir for about 2 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved. Continue cooking, stirring continuously, for another 5 minutes, or until the mixture begins to thicken; do not allow to boil. Transfer the pan to an ice bath to stop the cooking and stir until the steaming stops.

Pour the mixture through a sieve to remove the cardamom pods and seeds, transfer to an airtight container, cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When it is finished, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and freeze for at least 2 hours to harden. The ice cream can be stored in the freezer for up to 5 days.

Reprinted from Big Gay Ice Cream. Copyright © 2015 by Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint. Photographs copyright © 2015 by Donny Tsang. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
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Gillian Speiser
Contact: Gillian Speiser