A couple of years back when Two Fat Men Catering's Ed Riley began to envision a new dish to offer customers, the immediate notion that popped into his head proved cool and sweet: homemade ice cream.
"If you are in the food business you want to make people happy, so the ice cream is something else we put into our arsenal. Just good ole homemade ice cream. You can't beat it, 'specially with local ingredients," said Riley, who moved to Lebanon in 1993.
"You want to better yourself. Cooking is such a wide spectrum. I'm always looking for things to do," said the cook. "I already knew I could make ice cream, but I didn't know or understand the science."
Thus in January 2014, he enrolled in an intensive eight-day course at Penn State's Ice Cream College, a program that dates back to 1892.
There he found himself with 121 other folks serious about the craft of making great ice cream. His classmates came from 32 states and 35 countries and included other chefs and cooks but also a nuclear submarine captain and a neurosurgeon from the Mayo Clinic.
"You don't make any ice cream in this class. It's all the science of making ice cream: microbiology, physics and so," he said. "They give you all your commercial layout, how to set up the facilities.
"You do labs and test ice cream. We went at it in the morning and were not back to our rooms until 10 or 11 at night. You're always in class at least 12 hours, very intense. You couldn't use any computers. They make you learn the old-fashioned way with a pencil in your hand."
But then Riley is all about old-fashioned when it comes to his current passion.
Two Fat Men Ice Cream Company
Ed Riley's wide variety of scrumptious flavors of homemade ice, starring fresh local ingredients, are available for carry-out from his Mo'Cara restaurant at 1331 West Main St. in Lebanon. Cost is $8 per pint. For more info about Riley's Two Fat Men Group, which also includes Two Fat Men Catering Company and Music City Picnic Co., call 443-4007 or go online to twofatmencatering.com or mocarasouth.com.
"My memories of childhood are all at the table with family. It all revolves around food. It was a very rare treat to have ice cream. I'm always trying to pursue making ice cream the way I remember it tasting."
That begs the question: So, has he captured that flavor he remembers from his boyhood when he and his seven siblings sat around the wooden ice cream freezer sharing the work of turning the crank?
"I think so," he confesses. "The reactions I get from customers is the same response I got when I tasted it--childhood memories. I guess it's like you can taste your soul," said the Lebanon Ice Cream Man.
Riley is particularly proud that his delectable dessert is created from all-natural ingredients: milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, eggs and extracts; and that he uses practically all local ingredients including Wilson County strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.
"We get our milk and cream from the Middle Tennessee State University dairy department, and our eggs are all local. We make our own mix in a 30-gallon pasteurizer."
The Two Fat Men Ice Cream Company typically offer 10 to 12 flavors on the menu, but Riley produces a wider variety of ice creams depending on the time of year, customer demands and his own whims.
"Our flavors are endless," he smiles. "We're always thinking about what the next flavor is going to be. I do a loaded banana pudding with white chocolate, black walnuts and cream vanilla wafers, and we do a salty pecan and a sassy lassy [a combo of Irish cream and coffee]. For Christmas we did a cherry pomegranate habanero ice cream. It sold very well. Our No. 1 best-seller is salty caramel."
When asked to pick his favorite flavor, it proves an impossible task for Riley. He answers, "I like 'em all. They're like your babies."
Riley began serving the ice cream at his Mo'Cara restaurant last year and then began offering it to brides for their wedding receptions. And in May he hit the road with a Two Fat Men Ice Cream truck, which can be rented by businesses or that sets up at special events such as a recent Jammin' With the General concert in downtown Lebanon.
It also is available for carry-out from Mo'Cara at 1331 West Main St. in Lebanon. The price is $8 a pint.
Riley continually whips up special desserts built around his ice creams. One worth mentioning is his Mississippi Mud Slide, a gargantuan dish of brownie, marshmallow, chocolate icing, whipped cream and cherries surrounded by ice cream, and this majestic mouthful is available from the truck.
One other sweet something is a throwback to his childhood, an homage to a neighbor lady who gave out homemade black walnut fudge candy to the kids at Halloween. Naming it Edna's Fudge Ice Cream, this flavor combines black walnuts, corn syrup, butter and evaporated milk.
As a testimony to his sweet concoctions, Riley notes that Lebanon's Crossroads Community Church gave a pint of his ice cream to every mom on Mother's Day. The church also gave every dad some of his chocolate-covered bacon on Father's Day, but that's another story.
The best part of his new culinary adventure, he says, is watching kids eat it up.
"I took the ice cream truck to Cedars Preparatory Academy a while back, and it was the most fun I've had in two or three years," said the Pickett County native, who operated a pawn shop in Cookeville for 18 years.
Riley, who served in Coast Guard for 5½ years and as a Murfreesboro policeman for five years, started his catering company about 13 or 14 years ago with partner Jimmy Piercy, who had been a Tennessee state trooper.
"When we started we were smoking pork butts and drinking beer. We did that part-time as a hobby and the hobby turned into what it is today," recalled Riley, who bought his partner out about 10 years ago.
He opened Mo'Cara restaurant in 2012, but the main thrust of his business is Two Fat Men Catering, which can feed a few hundred to several thousand at one time. It handles weddings, corporate events, festivals, holiday parties, theme parties, retreats, reunions, banquets, intimate dinners and special events in Music City. Riley has 10 full-time employees, but when the catering is going full boom, he may use 60 to 70 part-time helpers.
"Last Tuesday I started out in Indianapolis, Ind., with the CSX Railroad for lunch, and Wednesday and Thursday I fed 5,000 in Franklin," he said.
Riley and his wife Glenda, who also own Lebanon Pawn and G.G.'s Jewelry & Gifts next door to the restaurant, have three children and nine grandchildren. He says it was "sort of natural" as to how he got into the catering and restaurant business for a living.
"I began cooking with my mother and my grandmother. It's sort of like an artist and his painting, it comes to you naturally and you fine tune it."
Riley's Two Fat Man Group includes Two Fat Men Catering Company, Two Fat Men Ice Cream Company, Mo'Cara and Music City Picnic Co. His company motto is "never trust a skinny cook."
As for hobbies, the Ice Cream Man responds with a boisterous laugh, "My hobby used to be cooking."
Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.