One of the most inspiring parts of being a blogger and working in the food industry is meeting passionate Artisans, Chefs, Managers, etc who strive for the best. This rings true for James of Bella Gelateria. I was invited through work to preview his Gelato 101 class which he is launching next week. During this hour and a half session, we not only had a hands on experience in gelato making, but also a lesson in the rich history and an insider look into the Gelato-making world.
James recalled his story about being in Gelato University in Italy (yes, there is a school for gelato making!) and how he was curious what ingredients went into this ‘mix’ for gelato. He went as far as to dig the bags out of the garbage cans after class and was shocked to see all the fillers and additives going into this ‘instant’ mix. He wanted to make gelato that would be unadulterated from chemicals, made with quality ingredients.
James walked us through some rules he’s put forth – including the fact that all the gelato is covered up and not displayed. His logic? “Would you put a glass of milk or a salad in the fridge uncovered?” – all the aromas, bacteria, even the temperature could change the taste of the product. I agree wholeheartedly. At Bella Gelateria, they do not add any fillers/additives, add less air to ‘fluff up’ their gelato and use real fat (although gelato contains far less fat than ice cream). This means the gelato you get at Bella Gelateria is fresh and melts faster (as opposed to using chemicals to keep it from melting).
We went through some different chocolates – starting off with white chocolate, all the way down to 99% dark chocolate and also single origin chocolates. What was surprising was this particular 99% chocolate was not bitter or smokey like many dark chocolates you may have tried. Also there is a difference between alkaline and non-alkaline chocolate – Bella Gelateria uses non-alkaline. The single origin chocolates we sampled had a subtle yet distinct flavour to each one.
James uses three different bases to start off his gelato making, as he explains that depending on the ingredients/flavour he is making, it will need chemical balancing. The three different bases are fat, sugar and chocolate. Most bases take several hours to make. After making the base, it needs to be heated until it reaches an optimal temperature before it is combined with the ingredient. Tonight’s ingredient? 99% dark chocolate.
The dark chocolate is melted and then added to the base and stirred. After this, James uses a Turbo Mixer to whip it quickly. It is then put into a machine that cuts with a giant blade to churn and ‘freeze’ the gelato. If you come during the time James or one of the employees are scooping out the gelato from this machine, you’re in for a treat. A giant paddle is used, scooping the delicious gelato out and into one of the stainless steel containers where it’ll either be stored or used right away.
Bella Gelateria has a lot planned in the next year including talks of expansion into Yaletown and Kitsilano and also possibly in Dubai and Manila. With James as reigning Gelato Maestro, it is no surprise that Bella Gelateria is taking off at the speed of light. With his dedication to his craft and building a community that loves gelato – most don’t mind the wait (even if it’s out the door) for perfection. What also surprised me was that – even though Bella Gelateria is surrounded by what most consider a tourist hub (the Convention Centre, the Pacific Rim, Waterfront Station) – he says almost 80% of his customers are locals who drive down to enjoy this spot. There’s no problem there, considering he’s built an extremely loyal fan base and will continue to expand world wide.
I’d like to thank James for the great Gelato making class, which was very hands on and very informative!
At the moment, all the classes are sold out, however James informed us that he has plans for future classes. Check out the Event Page to keep up to date!