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Humphry Slocombe and the Reinvention of Ice Cream

06.12.09
This San Francisco shop offers offbeat flavors from foie gras to “government cheese.”
humphry slocombe

On a quiet corner in San Francisco’s Mission District, completely reasonable adults are flocking to an ice cream parlor for flavors that would disenchant almost any child: bourbon-cornflake; strawberry-jalapeño; kumquat–poppy seed; prosciutto.

As far as owner Jake Godby is concerned, the scoops at Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream are not for tots. And he doesn’t understand why more ice cream joints don’t incorporate savory ingredients: “There’s a whole world beyond chocolate, strawberry, vanilla. Why can’t you make peanut butter–curry ice cream?” His answer, of course, is that you can, and his strikingly delicious version marries the innocence of crunchy peanut butter with the unplaceable quality of French-Indian vadouvan curry.

It’s the kind of thing you’d be much more likely to find on a high-end restaurant menu than in a humble creamery, but Godby—a former pastry chef at San Francisco’s Coi who had free reign there to come up with unusual desserts—sells his singular creations at fairly average prices (single scoops are $3.25; pints are $7.50). That’s not to say he’s out to please the masses: Many of the offerings in his revolving lineup seem calculated to offend All-American tastes. “The last flavor I would ever make is cookies and cream,” he says. “Everyone asks me how I come up with my flavors. I don’t know what to say—they just don’t seem that off-the-wall to me. I have a heavy hand with salt and I use spices and herbs liberally. I approach it by going to the market and seeing what’s available and what other people have on their menus.”

Earthy beet and hibiscus sorbet is inspired by a gelée that he had at Corton in New York City (the treat was served with foie gras, which is now another of Godby’s ice cream flavors). Prosciutto ice cream came about when Bay Area pig-parts sage Chris Cosentino dropped off a bag of prosciutto bones: Godby roasted them, steeped them for several days in milk, added fennel seeds and black pepper, and adjusted the flavor to make sure it was not “too piggy.” The finished product is a porky, smoky, salty dessert with just a hint of sweetness (after all, it is still ice cream). “I thought it was going to be a one-time-only thing,” he says, but it has been popular enough to keep in the rotating cast.

Another, less tangible influence on Godby’s craft is the vintage British sitcom Are You Being Served?, a favorite of his during his years as a student at Ohio State University (his shop’s name is inspired by characters from the show). “The way I explain it is that Chez Panisse is named after a highbrow French movie, [and] we are named after a lowbrow English farce,” he says.

Lowbrow or not, customers queue for the ice cream like holy water, including the two friends who insisted on taking me there. As I sampled flavors from metal spoons, a customer ordered a pint of the sublime Blue Bottle Vietnamese iced coffee ice cream for his pregnant wife, then left with two pints. There was the customer who Godby says ordered a pint of salty-sweet malted dulce de leche to share with her cat, a last meal before the pet was put to sleep the next day. Even Godby knows the cult status of his product is a little crazy: “Would this work in Ohio? I don’t know.”

Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream, 2790A Harrison St., San Francisco (humphryslocombe.com; 415-550-6971)

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