Yesterday, we spoke with Ample Hills Creamery’s Brian Smith about ice cream, his past career writing “monster-of-the-week movies” for the Sci Fi Channel, and his plans to open his own ice cream shop, preferably in Park Slope or Fort Greene. In Part 2 of the interview, he talks about directing Obama, the fulfillment of spending 12 hours on his feet, and the surprising utility of using Anthony Bourdain as an internal critic.
How did you get involved with Lucas Fine Foods?
Through my daughter — a parent at my daughter’s day care in Park Slope is a close friend of Misty [Kurpier], who owns Lucas. She [the parent] had my ice cream and knew what I was wanting to do and said I had to talk to Misty. We talked in February and opened in May, so it was very whirlwind.
What’s a typical production day like for you?
[Laughs.] I have a friend who works with me, and we keep calling it “time to make the doughnuts.” I’m usually there by 9-9:30. I spend about one day cooking the base, and the next day churning it in the ice cream maker and mixing in ingredients. The creation of the pops is incredibly time-consuming because it uses molds, which are hand-filled, leveled off, put in a blast freezer at negative-20 degrees, and then unmolded and hand-dipped in chocolate, depending on the flavor. And then they’re bagged and tagged. So it’s a very labor-intensive process. But each day is a little different, and that keeps it interesting. Celebrate Brooklyn days [where Smith has an ice cream cart] are long days. But it’s fun for me. When I’m screenwriting or producing audio plays, it’s sedentary, I’m sitting at a desk or directing an actor. It’s an intellectual pursuit and rewarding, but here I’m standing up all day long, 12 hours a day. I find it invigorating in a way that I never got to experience sitting and writing. It suits my personality more, and I also find fulfillment in accomplishing a finished task. You can spend all day working on sentences and not knowing qualitatively if they’re any good or not. At the end of the day, I know if I made a good batch of ice cream. I find that to be a refreshing change.
In your previous career, you directed Obama reading the audiobook version of Dreams From My Father. What was he like to direct?
It was great. He was a senator, but it was before he was running for president but everyone was begging him to run. My co-producer and I went to Chicago to work with him and he was great. I found him to be as personable and as friendly as he appears. I had a 30- to 40-minute conversation with him at lunch about radio drama — he wanted to know about it and talk about it, unlike some actors who will talk more about themselves. I suppose you could say he was being a politician, but he wasn’t running for anything; he was just talking to me like a human being.
I also got to direct the entire cast of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. That was a trip. And Richard Gere reading one of the Dalai Lama’s books, and actors like Paul Giamatti, Steve Buscemi, and John Turturro.
Buscemi and Turturro both live in Park Slope — maybe you’ll end up selling them ice cream.
[Laughs.] I keep waiting for them to pop into the store.
You advertise your ice cream as being made largely with local ingredients. Which farms do you use?
Most of our stuff is from Farm to Chef, a group that basically works with area farms to get local produce to restaurants. We get our milk from Battenkill Valley Creamery, our cream from Seven Stars, a biodynamic organic farm, and we’re getting eggs from Feather Ridge Farm. We’re definitely getting everything we can get from close by — obviously not Madagascar vanilla, but we do as much as we can.
Sounds like you keep yourself to some high standards, given that you’re also making everything from scratch.
It may sound silly, but I love watching Anthony Bourdain’s show, No Reservations. I often use him as my internal critic, like he’s sitting on my shoulder. I ask, Would he approve of this and come and visit my store if I was buying this or that product as opposed to making it myself? It’s not always the most cost-effective way. You can make money, just not as much money as Baskin-Robbins. But hopefully you’re making a better product and creating a following.
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