Jake Godby and Sean Vahey own San Francisco ice creamery Humphry Slocombe, a shop that sells flavors from Harvey Milk and Honey to Salt and Pepper to something called Rosemary's Baby (it's rosemary and pine nut ice cream, and is presumably not as possessed as its namesake). Now they're also cookbook authors: their Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book, co-written with Paolo Lucchesi, comes out on April 25 from Chronicle (pre-order on Amazon). Below, Godby and Vahey discuss ice cream, collaborating with restaurants, how the forthcoming California foie gras ban will affect their ice cream sandwiches, and why they think olive oil ice cream is the new vanilla.
Eater: So tell me about your approach to writing this book.
Sean Vahey: Well, we were approached originally by Chronicle Books to do it and that's how the wheel started turning for us.
Jake Godby: Yeah, we did it very much as a collaboration. We wrote our different parts separately and then emailed them to each other and then got together and reread everything over and over again. So it's not like there are separate parts by each of us, although it did kind of start out that way.
You touch on this in the book, but do you have advice about buying ice cream makers?
JG: So I guess this was a few years ago now, but Dwell magazine brought me over like seven or eight different ice cream machines at different price levels and I did a little comparison article. Anything under like $500 didn't make a whole lot of difference. Some were better for the money, but then you get up into the really expensive ones with compressors. So the CuisinArt was the best, and then second favorite was probably the KitchenAid attachment.
Humphry Slocombe is known for its creative and unusual ice cream recipes. Which flavor do you really hope people who read the book take a stab at making?
SV: That's a loaded question. That's tough, because there are so many — well, there are actually not as many sorbet recipes in there as we wanted — but I think that there is a really good variety in the way that Jake and [co-author] Paolo [Lucchesi] broke down the recipes. You can be creative, you know, and if you want the exact recipe and get the flavors we have in the store, go for it, but you can be creative too. As a lay person — you know, I don't cook — I look at them like what would I want to do, how would I want to pursue them. That's why I like that they use a CuisinArt, they're approachable, and also the recipes are broken down in a really easy way to understand. So it's like I could do this at home and change it up. So I'm not sure there'd be just one. I think it's more like jump in and go crazy.
JG: Personally, I would say the olive oil recipe. I think it's not only delicious but also I think of it the same way other people might think of vanilla. It pairs really well with a lot of different things. It's so unique and it's a crowd pleaser.
The shop works with a few restaurants. What's the creative process there like? Do chefs come to you with ideas, or do you base the flavors off their existing menus?
SV: It's kind of all of the above. It depends on the chef. Some like to come here and hang out with us and taste a bunch of ice cream, and some know exactly what they want.
JG: Yeah, some chefs are completely out of their element when it comes to dessert and they will happily let us make something up. We can help them that way. And some chefs are total control freaks and know exactly what they want.
We talked to a bunch of chefs on the upcoming California foie gras ban, and I was curious as to your thoughts on it. I know you use foie gras in the shop.
JG: Well, we're going to use it until we can't. It's not in our every day repertoire, we do it as an ice cream sandwich that is very small and intense. I do have some foie at the shop and we're going to use it to make some foie gras sandwiches. We don't have any petitions out. [laughs] I can't see myself doing that.
SV: I don't like being told what I can and can't eat.
JG: I think that's a really good way of putting it. I think that's the way a lot of people feel. It's a choice being taken away.
So is the shop okay after the flood the other day?
SV: So this part of the Mission just doesn't have the best drainage systems, and we've always had a little bit of a problem in our office area. But this was an entire day and night of torrential rain. What happened was we closed and our office started flooding, and there was no one here overnight. We got a few inches in the office.
And because we're used to this happening every once in awhile we usually have everything up and off the floor, but we had just had a delivery of books. They were books for us — not to sell in the shop but to give to our family and our friends, to kind of do with what we want. But one of the boxes became saturated and was ruined. We came in and were just — "No, really?" It was disappointing but it wasn't as bad as some of the other restaurants in the Mission, some of our chef friends had to close for days on end. Luckily, it wasn't in the kitchen area, just in the office.
Anything projects coming up?
JG: Well, just trying to get ready for summer.