Richard J. Levinson

How lucky can one guy get?Not only does Arnold Carbone, Ben & Jerry's Conductor of Bizarre and D, get paid to consume a lifetime supply of delicious ice cream but he's also sent to far-flung locales in search of the next best flavor. Though Carbone wasn't born with a silver spoon in hand, he sure has made up for lost time, eating his way through Europe, Africa, Mexico, and America. Carbone recently took time between bites to discuss where he's found the most unusual frozen treats, what's next from the infamous ice cream duo, and what his unorthodox title really means.

1. Where are you now?
Planet Earth, Vermont (God's country), at the dentist.

2. How often do you travel? Is it usually for business or pleasure?
Too often during the summer months in Vermont. Travel is usually for business—mostly exotic locations like Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Fort Wayne, Indiana, but sometimes for product research we'll venture out to Miami's South Beach or a city known for exciting cuisine. For pleasure travel—my front porch, someplace hot and quiet, or, of course, a city where I can find a wide array of ethnic food.

3. How did you go from managing a retail Ben & Jerry's store to being Conductor of Bizarre and D?What does your job entail?
By doing what everyone else doesn't want to do and by being very resourceful. Conductor of Bizarre & D entails leading a group of very talented product musicians through a complex symphony of flavors to a grand rousing finale of the next great ice cream flavor.

4. You have created many of Ben & Jerry's most popular flavors: Wavy Gravy, Phish Food, Chubby Hubby. Where do you find the inspiration? How does traveling influence your creative palate?
The inspiration for great flavors come from the "black hole" known as the "interplanetary flavor cosmos"—more commonly referred to as my mouth. I eat a lot of great food, am around people who eat great food. I'm always talking about great food, reading about great food... you get the idea. I can eat anything you put in front of me, from the eye to the tail, from spicy grilled fish in Tokyo to fried grasshopper tacos in Mexico. When I'm evaluating differences between flavors, I go in with clean taste buds, but when I'm looking for new flavors, it's party time for the "buds."

5. Where in the world serves the best ice cream, aside from Ben & Jerry's of course. Is there any particular vendor worth calling out?
That's a tough one. I eat a lot of ice cream on the road. I usually check with the locals for where the best local "mom & pop" homemade ice cream store is. Sometimes I find an interesting flavor (usually icy or under-flavored). Some of the best classic ice cream I've had in the past, if they are still around, is Bassetts from Pennsylvania Dutch country. Of course, there is a small gelateria in Florence, Italy, called La Antigua Gelateria, which I believe translates to "old style gelato"... killer gelato!

6. What was the most unusual flavor of ice cream you discovered in all your travels?
Black sesame ice cream in Tokyo and sweet corn ice cream in New York City (I believe at the Gramercy Tavern). Usually our ice cream flavors come from food we have experienced rather than from other ice cream flavors. One Sweet Whirled was conceived from my love for a strong short macchiato laced with caramel syrup.

7. Do you travel in search of specific ingredients?Where are your favorite destinations for finding new additions?
The Flavor Development Group regularly ventures out of Vermont in search of ideas and trends. We once traveled from Napa Valley to Ensenada, Mexico in six days. Three flavor guys ate over 150 desserts and lived to tell about it. If we told you about the new flavors we're working on we'd have to... you know the rest.

8. The vanilla bean is essential for all ice cream. Where do you get your beans from?Is there a difference between vanilla beans harvested in South America and those in Africa?What about cocoa beans?
Mom was right: you get what you pay for. We span the globe for the best the market has to offer. What sets Ben & Jerry's apart from the competition is that our Social Mission Director is along for the ride—meeting with NGOs in places like Sumatra, Bali, and West Africa to make sure we're sourcing ingredients that have meaningful and positive social impact. The result: flavors like our new For A Change line that support small-scale farms, community development, and sustainable agriculture. So when you dig into a pint of our Vanilla For A Change, yeah, you're getting a particularly flavorful vanilla blend. But if you read the back of the pint, you'll learn that you just forked over $3.50 for a vanilla made from beans grown and harvested by small-scale farmers in Indonesia. They're members of local farmer associations that support sustainable farming practices. The premiums we pay for their quality vanilla help them reinvest in their families and communities for a positive change. The way I look at it, food is all about giving. I could make great ice cream anywhere. But I came to Ben & Jerry's because I was looking for a way to give back.

9. Can you give us any hints on the new Ben & Jerry flavors coming out this year?
For 2003 we just released Uncanny Cashew (sweet-cream ice cream with caramel-coated cashew pieces & swirls of caramel), Brownie Batter (brownie-batter ice cream with a rich brownie batter swirl), and two limited batch flavors: Oatmeal Cookie Chunk (sweet-cream cinnamon ice cream with chunks of oatmeal cookie and fudge) and coming later in the year, Chocolate Chocolate Cookie (chocolate ice cream with chocolate-sandwich cookies and ribbons of fudge).

10. What equipment do you travel with that is essential for discovering the perfect flavor?
A spoon and a toothbrush.

Interviewed by Hillary Geronemus