Bryan Petroff (left) and Doug Quint (right) are the nicest guys to ever bitch-slap a cone of soft-serve ice cream. If you’re not living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of their New York City food truck, Big Gay Ice Cream, or their shops in the East and West Village. Their claim to fame: unique toppings, everything from wasabi pea dust to the elements of the Mexican Affo’gay’to (hot chocolate, vanilla soft serve, whipped cream, chocolate, and chiles). I recently caught up with Doug about Big Gay Ice Cream’s latest news, including a pair of bicoastal openings.
CHOW: I heard that you guys are expanding to open two new shops, one in Philadelphia and one in Los Angeles. What can you tell me about them?
DOUG QUINT: Philadelphia was an easy location choice for us because our dairy, Ronnybrook Farm, can deliver our same products there. We've found a partner dairy in LA—a minor difference in taste, but nothing you could possibly discern after six hours on a plane. Our Southern California menu will definitely expand to take advantage of year-round access to fresh fruit. And we’re working with one of our New York partners, La Newyorkina, to bring her paletas to LA. We are extremely passionate about Fany Gerson’s work—there are no finer paletas in New York City.
I read you’re creating a brand-new ice cream truck. How will it differ from your trusty old rental truck in New York?
Typical soft-serve trucks are not meant to accommodate the kind of volume we encounter. The ice cream production area of those trucks—the “kitchen”—is laid out for one person. For us to run smoothly, our truck needs to have three people on it. There are really only two people who have ever run Big Gay Ice Cream Truck when it’s at maximum capacity (myself and my rock-star-level counterpart, Genevieve). We had to step back and really reimagine the inside of our dream truck. It was very fun. We made a list of everything we could think of to squeeze in there, then ranked things by importance. I ran our ideas by Bryan, who always knows when something is a good or bad idea.
The truck will be centered in LA, but will travel everywhere, eventually. Let’s take it to new places, physically and spiritually. Running that truck at capacity is really a spiritual experience. We work until our arms stop functioning. We can’t hold cones up at the end of the week, and we start speaking in tongues. It makes so many people happy that it is more than a physical or emotional high for us.
What’s going on with your upcoming cookbook?
Phew, the book that took us a year longer than we thought it would! We were due to turn it in last summer, but we just had so many more things that we wanted to do with it. The Big Gay Ice Cream Book is modeled after a high school yearbook. It’s in four sections, freshman through senior. The recipes get harder as you work your way to upperclassman. There are clubs, messages from teachers, and class superlatives, all contributed by friends of ours who will be recognizable to every reader. We included hard ice cream versions of some of our soft-serve flavors, because very few homes have a soft-serve machine! And almost all of our popular toppings made the book. It was an absolute collaboration, and I am so proud of what Bryan and I have created. It’s also going to make you drool.
Speaking of cooking, you guys went from buying all of the toppings to making them. Was that hard to do?
When we began, nearly all of our toppings were combinations of commercially available products, and our ice cream was a commercial mix. Once we opened our stores, the ice cream was the first thing to get altered. We changed our dairy supplier to Ronnybrook Farm, and they produce our recipes for us. After that we moved on to our own recipes for all the toppings, and those are produced either in-house or at a kitchen in New Jersey. We had a lot of experience eating, and both enjoyed cooking, but had zero experience in a commercial kitchen. We learned! We have never been scared to ask questions, and most people appreciated our willingness to admit naiveté. Sure, we could have gone on making grainy butterscotch, but why not ask Johnny Iuzzini for advice on invert sugars? We are wildly fortunate to have access to some of the top pastry chefs in the world—Johnny, Paulette Goto, Zac Young—they have all been tutors to us. With ice cream, I’ve learned so much from Gus Rancatore and John LeSauvage. I will be forever in debt to them. Five years in I’m confident in what I know and still happy to admit what I don’t.
Photos by Donny Tsang for Big Gay Ice Cream
Leena Trivedi-Grenier is a Bay Area food writer and cooking teacher with an undying love for pot stickers. She earned her master's in gastronomy from Le Cordon Bleu. Besides CHOW, her writing appears on her blog Leena Eats and in various food-based encyclopedias.