Reinventing the ice cream truck menu at Big Gay Ice Cream

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Douglas Quint and his partner, Bryan Petroff, started the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck in 2009. Since then, it has morphed into two stores and a book, Big Gay Ice Cream. He shared the recipes for Milk Chocolate Ice Cream and Awesomesauce.

David Leite: How did the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck and the shop begin?

Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint
Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint (Photo: Donny Tsang)

Douglas Quint: I was getting my doctorate at the CUNY Graduate Center. It was a lot of work; getting a doctorate is not easy. You have to study, you have to play your instrument, you have to do recitals. (The doctorate was going to be in bassoon performance.)

In the winter leading up to my final semester, I thought, "I'm going to do something strange this summer. It's not going to have anything to do with music, it's not going to have anything to do with studying and it's going to have something to do with New York. It's going to be a summer job like I've never had." I always went to music camps and things like that.

The opportunity to have an ice cream truck appeared suddenly on Facebook through a friend of mine who had been driving an ice cream truck. I thought, "Well, that's weird." I mentioned the whole thing to Bryan, and Bryan said, "Yeah, that's weird. Do it." That's how it all started.

DL: The name Big Gay Ice Cream Truck came about how?

DQ: That came about because I wanted to tell my friends on Facebook what was going on, to have them come along for the ride. We didn't have a name for this Facebook group. I just called it the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck because it sounded like it was going to be a big, gay ice cream truck. We figured we'd do some sort of name later.

But so many people started joining the group just to see "I'm a fan of the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck" in their feed, we realized we had found our name. When we actually brought a truck out onto the street, people flipped out. They didn't realize we were serious about it. I didn't realize that either.

DL: Why soft-serve ice cream?

Milk Chocolate Ice Cream
Big Gay Ice Cream recipes: Milk Chocolate Ice Cream and Awesomesauce

DQ: Soft serve found us because the ice cream truck can only serve vanilla and chocolate ice cream. There are only those two handles on the ice cream truck. That's how the premise of getting a different topping menu started for the truck. We looked at it, and it was chocolate sprinkles, rainbow sprinkles, cherry dip and chocolate dip. Those are all great things, but those have all been on the ice cream truck menu since the diesel engine was invented.

We wanted to redo it, or at least boost it up a level. One of the combinations that grew popular was dulce de leche and crushed Nilla Wafers. It's the cone that would become the Bea Arthur.

DL: What are some of your other best-sellers?

DQ: The very best-seller is called the Salty Pimp, which is vanilla ice cream that we inject with dulce de leche, then salt and put into chocolate dip. The way that came about was I was using a squeeze bottle to drip dulce de leche onto everything. Then I realized, "Wait a minute. It's got a needle point -- I could just shove it right into the ice cream." And there I went.

I don't really know of anyone who screwed with soft serve like that at the time. I don't really know anyone now who does it. But the idea was to mangle it.

We have a cone called American Globs. It's busted-up pretzel pieces that are smashed into the ice cream and then chocolate dipped. We really, really abuse soft serve.

Big Gay Ice Cream Truck
(Photo: bradhoc / Flickr)

DL: That came out of Neil Gaiman.

DQ: I got word that he was coming to the truck. I panicked -- I actually wanted to name something for him.

DL: For one of his books.

DQ: I didn't even know at the time what it would be. I panicked and I thought, "Wait, wait, wait. I'm at Union Square. There's that great pretzel vendor over there. Go get me busted-up pretzels. We're going to call it American Globs after American Gods." Bryan and I made one and tested it. But the very first American Globs served to the public was served to Neil, which is pretty amazing.

DL: I think this is a trip, this book. You created it to be a yearbook of sorts, with the sections of freshman, sophomore, junior and senior. You have some pretty heavy-duty endorsements in there: Tony Bourdain, Rachael Ray and Gail Simmons. How did this come about?

DQ: We were approached by Random House. They said, "We really want you to do a book." We went into a hyperbaric chamber and dreamed up this concept. The main conceit of this book is that most ice cream cookbooks start with the very hardest thing first. They start with making a custard. It's intimidating, I think, for a lot of people.

We decided to do it backward. The very first recipes aren't really recipes, they're just fun things you can do with ice cream. Eventually, through the course of the book, hopefully you get the cojones to go ahead and make our ice cream recipes. But if you don't get that far, there's still stuff to do.

A lot of cookbooks people just look at; they're like Pinterest now. We wanted it to be practical. We've gotten some knocks in reviews about that -- just the fact that it starts off simple people don't really seem to get. Whatever.

From This Episode: 
Sweet Talk
Published: 
July 31st, 2015

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