Anything But Plain Vanilla
Brie Mazurek, CUESA Staff
November 3, 2011
“Not having strawberry ice cream in the winter probably causes the most crying among children,” says Jake Godby, chef and co-owner of the Mission-based ice cream shop Humphry Slocombe. It’s hard to tell if he’s joking. “I didn’t think I’d have to explain it as much as I have, but we just don’t make it when strawberries aren’t available.”
Strawberry-fixated children aside, Humphry Slocombe has been making ice cream enthusiasts smile since opening its doors in December 2008, with seasonally inspired, eccentric, and sometimes challenging flavors like Chocolate and Smoked Sea Salt, Balsamic Caramel, and Hibiscus Beet. Stretching imaginations and palates, the ice cream maker has made an offbeat name for itself, with a cult-like Twitter following and coverage in publications like The New York Times. Recently, world-renowned Catalan chef Ferran Adrià visited the shop to sample their much-talked-about menu.
You can now find Humphry Slocombe at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Tuesdays, selling exotic half-pints, popsicles, brittles, and caramels. They’re also planning to offer ice cream floats in the future, collaborating with Ferry Plaza neighbor SodaCraft, another recent addition to the market.
Originally from Ohio, Godby worked his way through the San Francisco restaurant scene for 10 years as a pastry chef before turning his focus to ice cream. At the restaurant Tartare, he met Sean Vahey, who was waiting tables, and the two discovered that they shared similar interests, tastes, and senses of humor. (The name Humphry Slocombe is inspired by characters from the British sitcom Are You Being Served?, a mutual favorite.)
When Godby’s father passed away, leaving him a modest inheritance, Godby decided to open his own establishment. He wanted to start simple, and he’d developed a fondness for ice cream making through his work as a pastry chef. He enlisted Vahey to bring front-of-the-house marketing savvy to the business. From their Mission shop, they now serve 12 ice cream flavors a day from an ever-expanding repertoire of more than 100, with signature hits like Secret Breakfast (bourbon and corn flakes) on frequent rotation.
Like the two-headed calf mounted above the bar of their ice cream parlor, sacred meets kitsch at Humphry Slocombe, with flavors like Foie Gras, Government Cheese, and Red Hot Banana (featuring actual Red Hots). “We try to be as organic and local possible, but we aren’t completely dogmatic about it,” says Godby. “We’re playful. We try not to take ourselves too seriously.”
While the sensibility is irreverent, the cream is strictly sustainable. Godby uses organic ice cream base from Straus Family Creamery in the North Bay. Godby and Valey recently enjoyed a tour of the Straus dairy, where they witnessed a calf being born.
For produce, the shop’s primary supplier has been organic distributor Veritable Vegetable, but now that Humphry Slocombe is a permanent fixture at the Tuesday market, Godby is looking forward to doing more shopping at the Ferry Plaza. “Dirty Girl’s strawberries are amazing,” he says.
Forming strong relationships within the local food community is a high priority for Godby. Almost 20 restaurants offer Humphry Slocombe ice cream on their menus, including custom creations such as Spork’s After-School Special (vanilla ice cream, chocolate-covered potato chips, and caramel swirl). For Godby, these collaborations are one of the highlights of running his own ice cream business. “I can feel like I’m still a part of the restaurant industry, which I miss,” he says. “I like restaurant people. I like working with chefs and coming up with new ideas.”
A Scoop for Every Season
Humphry Slocombe is no stranger to the Ferry Building, having created designer ice cream flavors that showcase a number of marketplace fixtures: Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee, Far West Fungi Candy Cap, McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil, and, perhaps most famously, Boccalone Prosciutto (yes, not even pork is off limits). Setting up a stand at the Ferry Plaza was a natural next step for Godby and Vahey.
“I’m thrilled to be at the Ferry Plaza,” says Godby. “I remember when the farmers market used to be down the street, and I’d never seen anything like it, with amazing prepared food and people who are knowledgeable about what they are selling and where it came from. They actually have a relationship to it.”
This winter you can expect a seasonal spread from Humphry Slocombe, including flavors like Caramel Apple, Guinness Gingerbread, White Miso Pear, Pumpkin Five-Spice, and Orange Clove Sorbet. But you’ll have to wait until next spring for Dirty Girl Strawberry.
Top photo by Michael Seidel; second photo courtesy of Humphry Slocombe.