The Big Gay Ice Cream Interview!
Betwixt The Sugar Fairy herself, Rebecca Masson, & BGIC's Douglas Quint.
May 9, 2016
It's a meet-cute for the ages: sprightly baker competes on reality show, charmingly caustic Lord of soft-serve writes reviews of said show — baker spits tea out of her nose whilst reading one such review, hunts down Lord, friendship ensues.Just to bring it full-circle, Fluff Bake Bar goddess and human embodiment of the best sugar high you ever had, Rebecca Masson, interviews Douglas Quint of Big Gay Ice Cream, in honor of the belated first anniversary of the Big Gay Ice Cream book (which if you don't have, get, already). There's a little bit of ice cream talk, a little bit of sprinkle OCD, and a little bit of Tommy Lee.
Rebecca Masson: It's the one-year anniversary of your cookbook. What’s your favorite part? Is there a part of it that just bugs the hell out of you, that you wish you hadn't done?
Douglas Quint: Well, my favorite part is one of the pictures in the end, where our friend Dave Hill was trying to inseminate a cow with a turkey baster, and a blind guy is holding up the cow's tail. Bryan [Petroff, co-creator of Big Gay Ice Cream] and I wanted that photo to be, like, a ten-page spread that went on and on forever, and we wanted it to be absolutely the last thing in the book. We fought for it, but we didn't get it. They said, "You know, pictures in cookbooks are supposed to be appetizing, and that's a cow's asshole." We had to concede.
The thing that I really, really fought for, and that I love, [is] another picture of one of our ice creams, Bea Arthur, melting down my arm. That's really the epitome of what we want. We always want photos that people want to lick. A lot of ice cream books, a lot of pastry book, but especially ice cream books, the pictures don't look like you want to eat them. That picture we really had to fight for, because they said it was too messy, but we got it. Part of the pay-off was we reduced the cow butt-shot photo a little bit, part of the trade-off.
RM: I think that's a good trade-off.
DQ: Yeah, I suppose.
RM: You guys have your own custom blend of sprinkles. Is it Bryan or you that doesn't like the one color that's missing, and what color is that?
DQ: I think it was me that brought it up. Listen, vanilla ice cream should never have white sprinkles. It doesn't make sense to put a white candy on a white cone. It looks like incomplete coverage. It's a complete waste of real estate. If we had peppermint ice cream with light green sprinkles, I would want them gone. To say that we're a little OCD and neurotic with our sprinkles doesn't even begin to cover it.
It was a great relief to start buying segregated sprinkles; we have all the usual colors besides white. We also found that they can't go in on a one-to-one-to-one-to-one ratio. Yellow has to go in at fifty percent, otherwise it all looks jaundiced. I’m also really picky about the actual sprinkles themselves, because most of them taste like wax. I love edible wax in Tootsie Rolls, but you can find sprinkles that actually taste like candy, and it really makes a huge difference. Bryan and I, we trust no one, when it comes to our sprinkle blend. It's kind of desperate.
RM: Let's kind of go back to the beginning. You started this ice cream truck one summer because you were bored?
DQ: I wanted something weird to do on the streets of New York, and I really don't have any fear of getting killed, so an ice cream truck seemed like a reasonable thing to do. That's the God's honest truth.
RM: Did you know how to make ice cream?
DQ: Nope. I knew how to fill an ice cream machine, and we knew what we wanted to put on the ice cream, that was it.
RM: Over the years, as you've opened more and more shops, you've evolved into making almost everything in-house, right?
DQ: Yeah, the only stuff we don't make is stuff that has a brand name on it, like Nilla Wafers. There's some that we don't do ourselves, because the quantities are so great; the amount of dulce de leche we need? To cook it all would just be insane, so we have it done over in Jersey. The ice cream is our recipes, but, of course we also need it in such volume, and we don't want to pasteurize on site, so we have our recipes bulk-produced weekly for us.
About six months ago, I said to Bryan, "Let's go back to the drawing board, because we know so much more now, we've done this cookbook. We love our stuff, and it's all technically done right, but let's re-examine the sources, let's start with nothing and start ramping up to vanilla, check out the sweetness we want. The stuff that we came up with is just leaps and bounds past the stuff that we already love. It freaks me out. We've had a couple of chef friends write to us, unprovoked, before we even announced that there was a change, saying, "Did you change the machinery? What's going on? Why is it so much better?" For people to pick up on it like that is a real thrill. Of course, we still get the same people on Yelp who say, "Why don't you serve real ice cream?" because they think soft-serve ... I don't know what they think soft-serve is. Ridiculous. Go to hell, Yelp.
RM: You learned all of this by going to ice cream school?
DQ: No. I think the real learning was after that first summer. I really loved what we were doing, but I figured I’d better figure out what the hell I was doing. A lot of it was just online study, but the other thing was cooking my way through [David Lebovitz’s] The Perfect Scoop. It's the best ice cream book there is. There you go.
It's funny, because when we started figuring out what we wanted our book to be, part of it was that we wanted it to be the opposite of The Perfect Scoop. I think David's book is the best there is, but it starts by conquering some difficult tasks. His book is definitely meant for people who are serious amateurs, just like the people who read his blog — we wanted our book to be geared towards total idiots, like us, you know? With a lot of cookbooks, the author tries to prove themselves right off the bat. We went the opposite route. We went with sheer stupidity.
RM: I think it's a great approach. I know that when I was beginning, I would look at books, ooh and aah over the first five recipes, try them, fail miserably, and then just throw the book to the side.
DQ: I own a lot of cookbooks, but when it comes right down to it, when I need a recipe — and this is a terrible thing — I either go to my little folio that I've started, or I search "fried chicken Ina," and that's how I find a recipe. You never go wrong with Ina.
RM: You never go wrong with Lebovitz, either. He's never led me astray.
DQ: He's brilliant. We wanted our book to be more than what you would go to for a recipe. We wanted it to be what you would go to for some inspiration. There's that quart of vanilla in the freezer. It's just vanilla. What are we going to do with it? Maybe flip through the pages of our book, and just think, Oh, you know what, I also have strawberry jam in the fridge. Let me put some of that on it. Simple as that.
RM: Being a part of Big Gay Ice Cream has allowed you to travel the world spreading your ice cream love. What is the best place you've visited so far? Your favorite place you've gone?
DQ: Getting the opportunity to go to Australia twice is ridiculous. We did a tour of the South two years ago, going down as far as Oxford, Mississippi. That trip was both amazing and a little annoying to me, because I really expected some drama. When I started the truck, people would stare at the thing like I was the lone leper at a colony, and I loved that. People would be genuinely shocked by the truck and do double takes. One of the reasons we stopped doing it in New York was because people stopped doing double takes, and we thought, "You know what, let's get out of this. There's a thousand cupcake trucks on the next block. Food trucks have jumped the shark, and we've gone mainstream, so let's get out of here."
When we went to the South, we thought, okay, we're gonna get some action here. I always thought about the Sex Pistols, and how they started their only tour of the US in Atlanta, and then went way down into Texas, and it resulted in the eventual destruction, or implosion, of the band. I told Bryan, "Let's go on the tour of the South, and by the end of it, let's try to destroy Big Gay Ice Cream. Let's try to be so wild on this trip that everything explodes, and we have nothing left," but it was exactly the opposite.
On the one hand it was disappointing that there were no inflammatory concerns. On the other hand, it was really pretty great to just show up to people waiting when we got there. Something about hitting mainstream is satisfying. It made the jump.
RM: What is your spirit animal?
DQ: Dingo, cause I want to eat a baby.
RM: Because the dingo ate your baby?
DQ: I want to eat a baby, just like a dingo.
RM: What song do you want playing at your funeral?
DQ: Paradise City.
RM: Would you rather date a Danny Devito-sized John Stamos, or a John Stamos-sized Danny Devito?
DQ: Danny Devito-sized John Stamos, for sure.
RM: Favorite ice cream flavor?
DQ: I don't really give a shit. I like them all. I only eat in small quantities now, so that I can enjoy more stuff. The ones I think are revolting are cookie dough and bubble gum. Anything else I'll give a shot.
RM: You're friends with Tommy Lee. Has he ever let you play his drums?
DQ: We played the gong that hangs over his studio. There's no reason I couldn't play his drums, he has a kit set up, although he's moving, so I don't know what the story is. I'm sure I could have played his drums, but I was busy making ice cream and playing the gong. He is one of the nicest people I've ever met, and anything that's new to him, a new experience, or anything to learn, he has the wide eyes of a brilliant eight year old. I remember teaching him about emulsifiers, and just doing a little diagram about how things held together, and he's like, "This is fucking chemistry, man. It's so cool."
RM: You have quite the extraordinary relationship with Ms. Ottavia Bourdain. Has she ever kicked your ass?
DQ: Yes, there's video of it. And there's video of me taking a jujitsu lesson on Vice, where she has a guy sparring with me, and in the middle of it, he squeezes a fart out of me.