If there was any doubt that New York is living through an ice cream golden age, it was erased yesterday's Ice Cream Takedown at Brooklyn's Bell House. Almost 20 intrepid amateur competitors served tastings from two gallons of homemade ice cream to a packed room of devotees. There were no dull offerings here; these creations spoke to the infectious enthusiasm of our city's home cooks to make for themselves versions of the creative, delicious ice creams on offer in groceries, restaurants, scoop shops, and street carts.
The Takedown, the latest in a series of home-cooking competitions organized by Matt Timms, keeps its rules simple. Anything goes so long as you bring enough for the sold-out crowd to scarf down. Judges from Van Lewen Ice Cream, Il Laboratorio del Gelato, and Ample Hills Creamery were charged with selecting winners and runners up. Attendees also filled out ballots for People's Choice awards.
Flavors skewed towards the offbeat and inventive, though not in ways you'd expect. People must be getting tired with bacon-flavored sweets, as only one ice cream contained pork belly or meat of any kind. Most ice creams tended towards lighter and milkier rather than full-on creamy onslaughts, a blessing in disguise when you're on your seventh tasting sample. The offerings demonstrated a level of maturity on behalf of the competitors—playful flavors, sure, but all with the goal of great, addictive dessert above all else.
So what could you expect to find at the event? How's an iced toddy sound: a creamy, bright Earl Grey ice cream spiked with whiskey caramel topped with crumbled shortbread cookies? Or perhaps an absinthe chocolate chip? Maybe a banana peanut-praline is more up your alley, or a pleasingly piquant Vietnamese coffee. Summer's fruit was in refreshing abundance, much of it locally grown (this is Brooklyn, after all). Blueberries met green tea for a demure anti-oxident super team. Roasted peach and basil sorbet was the perfect expression of the season.
Some of the more traditional ice creams were among the strongest: coffee and doughnuts was everything your 12-year-old self wants breakfast to be, while chocolate amaretto could make you wonder why you ever serve chocolate without nuts. And then there were the truly bizarre. Smokey brown sugar and apple was described as a sweet barbecue sauce, to almost disturbing accuracy. The Caprese Freezee, a layered frozen dessert, brought to ice cream the flavors of basil, mozzarella, and tomato in a caprese-inspired riff on less daring Neapolitans.
This was more a celebration of ice cream in all its forms than a competition. Regardless of rank, winners received the same ice cream scoops, milkshake blenders, and, erm, ice cream makers. But it was a competition nonetheless, so without further ado:
Judges' Runners Up
3rd: Loreal Monreau, Indian Summer (coconut chile ice cream)
2nd: Adrian Ashby, Brown Sugar and Apple
1st: Siobhan Fagin, Absinthe Chocolate Chip
3rd: Mike O'Neill, Strawberry Basil
2nd: Erica Brenner, Iced Toddy (Earl Grey ice cream with whiskey caramel and shortbread crumbs)
1st: Ben Mims, Pavlovian Response (vanilla and lemon curd ice cream with coconut meringue and chunks of kiwi and strawberry)
3rd: Kathryn Moïse, Gingermon (ginger and vanilla ice cream with rum caramel and candied ginger chunks)
2nd: Anthony Santoro, Chocolate Amaretto
1st: Tony Santoro, Caprese Freezee (layered tomato, marscapone, and basil ice creams)
Notice anything about those last two names? Yup, turns out father and son went head to head in this Takedown, with Dad coming out on top. Their embrace on the winner's stage said everything that needed to be said about the beauty of events like these: it's not just the food that we're celebrating, but the story behind it.