10 Questions: Henry J. Gentry

Everyone in the world of ice cream knows his name. Many of the local restaurateurs do, as well, for Gentry's Plano-based company Henry's Homemade Ice Cream deals with many of the city's upscale venues.

Since moving his company to Texas from Philadelphia, he's racked up dozens of awards, including first place at the national competition for nut flavor in 2006, holiday flavor (wedding cake) in 2004 and your basic all-natural vanilla a year before that.

That's not a bad record. You can sample his product at Taste of Addison this weekend. But if you happen to be a certain woman from Maine, watch out...

1. Will it ever be sunny enough to eat ice cream again?
Yes, sure. The weather is supposed to be nice. We're making 300 gallons for Taste of Addison, and we have to sell it.

2. How hard is it for an independent to break into the ice cream market?
We serve the best. We have 16 percent butterfat. That's better than Haagen Dazs, better than Ben & Jerry's. Our ice cream is made within five days of when it's served. We make it for over 500 restaurants and hotels. But it's hard, you're right. You just have to create a niche.

3. How many flavors do we really need?
Good question. Just one--you're favorite. But we make about 1,000 different ones a year. We make ice cream seven days a week, 364 days a year--just take Christmas off.

4. What's the most unusual flavor you've made?
Edible? We've made mango basil. The inedible ones, let's see...beer ice cream--and trust me, those two don't go together. We've made strawberry jalapeno. People would taste it, but they wouldn't buy it. Cayenne. It was hot and the color was disgusting. But we do what the chefs ask us to do.

5. How did you manage beer ice cream?
We had to experiment. We tasted ales and stouts. That was a good research project to be involved in. But it was horrible ice cream.

6. Is there a packaged ice cream you like?
I don't eat the national brands anymore, because I've tasted them all. But when I travel, I stop and taste whatever they have.

7. What's the secret to good ice cream?
Using the best ingredients. It's amazing how many companies out there make strawberry ice cream without strawberries. You can't skimp on ingredients.

8. So how does one judge the 'best' ice cream?
There's a national competition every year. It seems like we've been stuck at second place for a long time now. That damn lady in Maine keeps beating me. The competition is in Phoenix this year. It's always in November and they declare a year in advance if it's a nut, vanilla, holiday flavor, whatever. Taste is only five percent of your grade. They judge on butterfat, air, the pH in the water--it's a bunch of scientists doing the judging.

9. Doesn't science take the fun out of it?
It's true, but taste is subjective. Science takes the subjectivity out of it.

10. So why do Taste of Addison?
The diversity is incredible. There are people from all over the world, because Addison has so many different restaurants: Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Thai...and the one American ice cream guy. I've done every one since '94. We only had 20 restaurants then. There must be 100,000 people who come through now. It's so much fun. And it's like a giant buffet for me.

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