The ice cream man cometh

Gelato master (and part-time leatherman) Jack Duke is one cool character

A SURE BET | In Italy, being a gelato maker is a respected but not-unusual profession, but here Jack Duke is ice cream royalty, as one of a few dozen true gelato masters in the entire U.S. (Arnold Wayne Jones)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor

When Jack Duke first moved to the U.S. in 2005, the captain of his volleyball team predicted — accurately, it turns out — that lot of guys would ask him out. And from a food standpoint, almost every one was a disaster.

“Every single date I went on, they took me to an Italian restaurant,” Duke sighs. Or rather, one they considered Italian: Spaghetti Warehouse, Macaroni Grill, Olive Garden. “They were just trying to make me comfortable,” he says with generosity. “But, like, Alfredo sauce? We don’t really have that in Italy.”

Duke hails from the north of Italy between Milan and Venice — “Near Verona, where Romeo and Juliet are from. I didn’t know them personally, but there is a statue of Juliet and it’s good luck to touch her boobs,” he laughs.

As an authentic Italian, faux Americanized versions of classics he grew up on didn’t impress him much. Especially since Duke is a chef in his own right.

Duke’s culinary roots are hereditary. “My dad is in the food business as well, doing prosciutto. In Italy, it is a small group of people who can really carve the prosciutto. And I grew up having good food anyway — my mom always cooked.”

And while he cooks a lot at home (he’s happily partnered now), Duke’s particular skills in the kitchen run cooler than his hot Latin blood would suggest: Duke is a gelato master — one of only about two dozen in the U.S. And while that’s impressive here, it is slightly less so back home.

“Gelato is way more diffuse in Italy — they say, one gelateria for every 3,000 people. So there’s a lot. Gelato masters go to school and there are several different schools Italy, but a lot of people grow up in it and you can be very good without school. But in America it’s different because we are so few — you get more status.”

(One potential downside of being multinational: “When I fly back and forth to Italy, I have to fill out that white[customs/immigration] card. Under ‘What do you do for business?’ I tell them ‘gelato master’ but he did not understand, so he just wrote ‘master.’ I thought: I can be that, too,” says the former Mr. Texas Leather, who came in third at IML last year.)

Modesty aside, Duke’s skills with frozen treats keep him busy, traveling the country and teaching restaurateurs and chefs how to make gelato, ice cream and sorbetto.

“Frozen dessert in general,” he says,  up to and including mousses, frozen yogurt and tiramisu. “In Italy there is no distinction. Sorbetto is something different — what you use in between meals — but they are all considered gelato: some made with water [what we could call sorbet], some with milk.”

There is, however, a big difference in Italian ice creams versus American.

“Gelato is made with whole milk, ice cream with heavy cream, sorbetto with water,” he explains. “Gelato has 4 to 8 percent fat; ice cream is 14 percent. And Haagen Dazs is 32 percent! Look at the label. There’s also more air in ice cream – 60 percent is air, where gelato is less than 30 percent air.”

If this also sounds esoteric — more chemistry than culinary — welcome to the wonderful world of the dessert chef.

“All frozen desserts have a base that is similar: Liquids and solids. Balancing those is how you create unique flavors,” Duke says. “The solids are the same: You have a stabilizer, or emulsifier, often a gum; it used to be eggs but not any more because of risk of salmonella. Then come the sugars, which are the major part of the solids.  The amount of sugar dictates how it melts. If it melts too quickly that’s because there’s too much sugar — sugar is not just a flavor, it’s an antifreeze.”

The kind of sugar you use — sucrose, dextrose, inverted sugar, corn syrup — also affects the consistency as well as the sweetness. And because fat molecules “grab” bubbles of air to make gelato fluffier, adding components like nuts (high in fat) alters the recipe … not that Duke is sharing any of his recipes.

Duke designed one of the most remarkable desserts I’ve ever tasted: A chocolate sorbet (made with water, mind you) at Cibus in NorthPark Center. How did he achieve such authentic richness? That’s for him to know…

“Most gelato stores try to keep their recipes secretive,” is all he’ll say. “We maintain a big hush-hush on the recipes.”

He has some favorites of his own creation, including a pistachio gelato that was salty and sweet. “I just got a machine that makes soft serve gelato or yogurt, so I made this mascarpone soft serve,” he says. “One I am most proud of was probably the Shiner Bock gelato: Red beans, goat cheese, basil, saffron and rosewater. I did a good job with a cucumber yogurt once. I just got a phone call for maple gelato. I’ve never done that before, but I’ll figure it out.”

If some of those concepts sound scary and unusual, that’s part of the fun of his job, Duke says — though sometime it leads to disasters.

“The worst one I ever tasted was in New Orleans: eggs and bacon. I’ve tasted good eggs and bacon in Michigan but there it was gross.”

He tries new things at home as well now, including one brand new recipe that will debut this weekend.

“For Pride, I am gonna make some pink grapefruit sorbet and a sangria dessert,” he says. “I’ve already tried it; it’s good.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.


—  Michael Stephens

Hollywood notes: Groff returns to the stage, Knight returns to TV

When a gay white male playwright poses as an African-American female in order to pen a story about an alcoholic black mother, only to be discovered in that lie, the consequences aren’t going to be the stuff of fluffy musical theater. So when the non-musical drama The Submission opens Off Broadway this fall, audiences can expect to see a side of Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening/Glee) they might not have experienced before. The Tony nominee will be joined by True Blood star Rutina Wesley (as a woman who becomes involved in Groff’s hoax) as well as by Eddie Kaye Thomas (American Pie) as Groff’s boyfriend, with directing duties handled by Tony winner Walter Bobbie. So if you’re planning a New York theater trip this fall, put it at the top of your to-see list; serious drama — especially serious drama about touchy issues like race — never sticks around as long as the ones with catchy songs and cat costumes.

It’s been about two years since Grey’s Anatomy star T.R. Knight quit that show amidst conflict with fellow actor Isaiah Washington. He’s kept busy in the theater world in the meantime, including taking a starring role in the 2010 Broadway show A Life In The Theatre, opposite Patrick Stewart. But Hollywood called again, so now he’s coming back to work in front of the cameras on an upcoming episode of Law & Order: SVU. The episode in question — currently in production — finds Knight playing a suspected serial rapist, so that’s an interesting out-of-the-box step for the actor, a role worlds away from the nice-guy character he portrayed on Grey’s.  Maybe he can parlay it into meaty villain roles and become the next Joan Collins. There’s no airdate for the SVU episode just yet, so keep a close watch on your DVR.

Rocket Pictures, the movie producing arm of the empire run by Elton John (pictured), scored a solid hit with this spring’s Gnomeo & Juliet, an animated reworking of Romeo and Juliet featuring talking, singing garden gnomes. Filled to the brim with John’s classic hit singles, the film made almost $200 million worldwide. And because it’s a short leap from gnomes to trolls, that’s where Rocket’s going next. Will Gallows and the Snake-Bellied Troll, a mixed liveaction/CGI-animated feature based on the first in a series of kid-aimed books by author Derek Keilty, is already in production with Gnomeo’s writer/director Kelly Asbury. The story combines elements of Wild West cowboy adventure and, well, trolls from a fantasy universe. There’s no voice cast set up just yet, but it’s safe to expect that John will contribute in some way to the film’s score. No gay troll jokes please.

— Romeo San Vicente

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

House panel hears bills to remove ‘homosexual conduct’ law, add trans hate crimes protections

Daniel Williams

By DANIEL WILLIAMS | Legislative Queery

Four bills that would improve the lives of LGBT Texans were heard by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Tuesday. The Committee is responsible for making recommendations to the state House of Representatives on bills that effect the Texas Penal Code. The first step in that process is to hold a public hearing. Any member of the public may testify for, or against, a bill during the hearing.

The first bill, House Bill 1909 by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, amends the state’s law against “indecency with a child” to provide LGBT teens with the same protections as straight teens. Currently, the law contains a provisions that allows consensual sexual contact between a person under the age of 17 and a person who is no more than three years older. Dubbed the “Romeo and Juliet” rule, the exception recognizes that teenagers engage in sexual behavior with their boyfriends/girlfriends and that prosecuting “heavy petting” by high school sweethearts serves no purpose.

However, there’s a catch! When the Romeo and Juliet rule was created in 1973, “homosexual conduct” was still an enforceable crime in Texas. The authors of the exception were very careful that it only apply to couples “of the opposite sex.” Coleman’s bill removes the opposite sex requirement to give “Juliet & Juliet” the same protections as their straight contemporaries. Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, testified in favor of the bill. There was no opposition.

Next, the committee heard House Bill 2227, also by Coleman. Texas law allows prosecutors to seek tougher sentences for crimes committed due to the perpetrator’s bias against people with specific attributes, including “race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference.” HB 2227 would add “gender identity and expression” to that list.

—  admin