What’s big and gay and full of ice cream? If you guessed “truck” – as in a Mister-Softee-turned-giant-unicorn-branded, experimental-gourmet ice-cream-vending vehicle, most often stationed in midtown Manhattan, you’d be right. That’s what Bryan Petroff and Douglas Quint did for summer fun a few years back. They rented a food truck and parked it at Union Square, and proceeded to serve up ice cream, flavored and topped with a heretofore unimaginable selection of taste treats.
With a blog and Twitter as their main marketing strategies, the guys were a big hit. Soon everyone was standing on line at the Big Gay Ice Cream truck for a taste of olive oil/vanilla or a cone sprinkled with sharp cheddar cheese and fresh cherries or spice combinations not normally associated with ice cream. This success was followed by the opening of one shop in the West Village and another in the East Village, with more extravagantly designed sundae sauces and shakes, and regular science experiments in sodas and sorbets and specialty ice creams.
I mean, how much more special can you get than a Choinkwich: a chocolate ice cream sandwich with caramelized bacon strips? Or Peppercoke Sorbet loaded with Mexican Coca-Cola and black and pink peppercorns? Or the La Newyorkina-conceived Tangerine/Mezcal ice cream, sure to have you drifting through a plaza in Ciudad de México, if only in your imagination? But I get ahead of myself…
What comes next in the ever-voracious, can-you-top-this food business? A cookbook, of course! And so we arrive at the reason for all that preamble: Petroff and Quint have assembled a sweet plethora of recipes and ice-cream-truck lore in the shape of a high school yearbook, which in fact takes them through four years of hard work and fun times serving up ice cream. Their instructions begin with the basics in freshman year and become either more complicated or more outrageous, until by senior year you are making your ice cream from scratch. All along the way, interesting tidbits and useful, downright-scientific information is included that goes way beyond food safety regulations. Foreworded by Anthony Bourdain, the book will take you from I. C. Basics 101 through a senior field trip to the Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, the guys’ favorite source of pristine dairy products.
Jason O’Malley’s “Science Club” sidebars address intriguing data such as: What is an emulsifier? And what are the laws of physics at work in the blending of hot liquids? And what’s the difference in all the types of sweeteners on the market? As the illustrator and book-designer of Big Gay Ice Cream, O’Malley intersperses these factoids in bright, colorful script throughout the book, so that learning is fun! And the reader gets the idea that running a business can be fun, and cleaving to culinary ethics can be fun, and certainly making your own ice cream can be fun! Not to forget mentioning the funny testimonials from Rachael Ray and Neil Gaiman and a host of others equally or slightly less notable. The illustrator’s depictions of well-known customers – Bea Arthur being the heavenly visage keeping track of the whole enterprise – are silly and endearing.
Also known as the “Rural Modernist,” O’Malley creates vibrant and colorful portraits of people, places, pets and scenes – he calls these his “non-commercial work for normal people” – most often using Adobe Illustrator. His line of greeting cards is called Handsome Devil Press, producing “greeting cards for modern bohemians.” Big Gay Ice Cream was his first whole book-designing endeavor. He says that he has illustrated many books in the past, but to be involved on almost every page with all the handwritten captions and digital illustrations was, in his words, “kind of crazy.”
The yearbook concept was Petroff’s and Quint’s idea; O’Malley worked to capture that tone and still make it feel like their brand, with which he is integrally familiar. “I’ve done all Big Gay’s graphics and branding and logo work for a few years. And Random House was great; they were willing to work with me and get me up to speed, cover to cover.”
And now: The real reason for this long introduction to Bryan and Doug and Jason and Big Gay Ice Cream’s remarkable successes, now spread to Philadelphia and Los Angeles and to network and cable television and radio programs, is the Big Gay Ice Cream book launch, art presentation and ice cream social to be held this Saturday, August 8, at Bluecashew Kitchen Pharmacy in Rhinebeck. Stop in from 2 to 5 p.m. for saucy stories and frozen treats, and an exhibit of O’Malley’s work beyond BGIC, which will be shown through the end of the year or thereabouts. Bryan and Doug will be on hand to sign books and drop names and generally crank up the celebration.
Big Gay Ice Cream Social book launch/illustration exhibit, Saturday, August 8, 2-5 p.m., free, Bluecashew Kitchen Pharmacy, 6423 Montgomery Street, Suite 3, Rhinebeck; (845) 876-1117, www.bluecashewkitchen.com.