Wednesday, April 23, 2008

BEST OF: Not-so-Iron-Chefs' ice-cream duel

When neighbors get together in Cambria, it’s often to share a meal.

We and two sets of our Marine Terrace neighbors added a twist to that equation, sharing a holiday weekend night as we made up quarts and quarts of homemade vanilla ice cream in a duel to determine who has the best ice-cream making machine.

The official competitors and their choice of weaponry were:

• Richard Greek, (then the county’s personnel director and former ag commissioner), with a wood-bucket, hand-crank, uses-salt-and-ice model ice-cream maker;

• Superior Court Judge Martin Tangeman, with an electrified version of the Greeks’ machine; and

• Richard Tanner, retired baker-caterer and former pit boss for Harrah’s Club, Reno, with a self-contained, no-salt/no-ice, commercial-style electric ice-cream freezer.

The Greeks paid close to retail for their model. We got our machine on super sale/closeout/slight scratches/discontinued model and they couldn’t even find the original box. And the Tangemans got their ice-cream maker at a rummage sale for $5.

Serious competition? Of course not. Hilarious? You bet. Competitive? Oh, definitely. We’re talking some major A-type personalities here, and each was devoutly convinced that his machine was the best on the block, literally.

We all live within a few houses of each other, even one of our official judges Joan Wedbush, who doesn’t have an ice-cream machine, but is a former caterer.

That Sunday proved to be ideal in every way but one: the weather, which was cold, foggy and London-like. Not exactly ideal ice-cream weather, but I guess ice cream is a hit in any environment.

While the idea was strictly for fun, we did have to do things correctly, we agreed. To make sure nobody hyped their own mix to make it special, we made up a giant batch of rich vanilla ice cream, and ladled it into the side-by-side containers right before the machines started their magic.

There were the three contestants, three judges and eight ice-cream groupies in the bunch, ranging in age from 3 to 76. The “duel” was a hoot. Good fun and dessert were the only real goals. We all laughed so hard, our sides and cheeks hurt.

Marty made a big play of stretching his arms behind his head and saying over and over, “See how hard I’m working, checking the ice cream,” while Richard, Christine and son Kris Greek took turns churning the crank on their low-tech device.

Marty made sure he or his wife, Carol Tangeman, stood guard at all times over their machine, to protect against insidious industrial espionage, I suppose.

The Greeks kept needling Marty, noting the noise factor from the Tangemans’ machine. “It’s so loud. You’re drowning out the ocean,” Richard Greek said. “And what if the power goes out?”

“You should have solar panels just for this,” Marty countered to my husband.

In turn, my Richard raised his hands above his head, looked up into the dense, drippy fog and said, “And just what good what that do you? Or us … remember, our machine is electric, too.”

When challenged over his demand for a handicap because he’d been “forced” to use the Greeks’ salt and ice, Judge Tangeman said he’d review the legal precedents … until one of us asked if there’d be any ice cream left by the time he’d get around to handing down his ruling.

This went on all night long.

We’d set up a wine-style blind tasting, complete with official judging forms and palate-cleansing glasses of water. And were those judges meticulous! “All contestants clear the area,” said Wedbush. “Let’s not have any undue pressure.”

The judges studiously nibbled and sipped, rolled the ice creams around on their tongues and slowly filled in their judging forms — much to the consternation of the youngsters waiting to dig into the leftovers.

Then we all sampled the three ice creams, eventually adding fresh strawberries or blueberries, caramel sauce or my Richard’s truffle topper, nuts, M&Ms or sprinkles. In some of the kids’ dishes, it was hard to find the ice cream among the add-ons. Memories of ice-cream-parlor “suicide sundaes” come to mind.

There were distinct differences between the three ice creams. One was soft and smooth, another slightly grainy and homemade style, another firm, icy-cold and silky.

Who won?

The Tanner’s commercial machine took the honors, I think partially because the self-refrigeration unit got the mixture so cold, so fast.

Finally, the sated contestants and judges staggered home, grateful to the end that neighbors could enjoy such a fierce competition, and each other, so much.

Summer’s coming. Anyone for a rematch?

This column ran first in The Cambrian on September 19, 2002.


Anonymous said...

How much money do these people have? I think we need to know that...

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