Last week, I was invited to visit behind-the-scenes with Gianpaolo Grazioli at his quuintessential gelato shop, Giapo on Queen Street (Edit: since 2017, Giapo has moved to 12 Gore Street, Auckland). Giapo is the name his mother called him and therefore Gianpaolo = Giapo.
Giapo has just one location and has carved a niche for very fine ice cream, gelato and yoghurt and most of their flavours are organic using locally sourced ingredients. This newly renovated institution is much more than an your average ice cream parlour.
Not a single store-bought rainbow sprinkle, pink wafer or Snickers in sight, the flavours they do have are smart, original and very good. While I was there I sampled a range of gelato, ice cream and yoghurt flavours such as dark chocolate brownie, vanilla cardamom and eggplant, banana yoghurt, hazelnut chocolate, tiramisu, finishing off with a classic digestive: green tea ice cream.
I was impressed to learn that everything was made on site daily. The stainless steel kitchen was small and spotless and Gianpaolo and his expert crew efficiently make everything from scratch including waffle cones, ladyfingers for tiramisu ice cream, green tea macarons for the green tea ice cream, brownies for their dark chocolate brownie flavour. None of these toppings are garnishes are store-bought.
We chatted about creativity, process, palates, foodie bucket lists, mad science and 3 hours later I left feeling giddy like I’d participated in a sweet edition of competitive eating.
- What is your favourite flavour? Simple flavours. Lemon.
- Name something on your foodie bucket list? This is hard to answer. If I want to do something, I do it.
- Who would you love to walk in the door? Ferran Adrià.
- Do you have any plans for more stores? No.
- Favourite cuisine? Italian…and French
Giapo are closed on Mondays for research and development. This immediately reminded me of the regular development periods where chef Ferran Adrià and his chefs devoted time exploring and researching at the now closed elBulli.
New inventions are nothing new here and I was delighted to sample one of Giapo’s chouxaron. A chocolate choux pastry injected with chocolate buttercream cemented with chocolate ganache to a chocolate macaron, topped with more chocolate and gold dusted walnuts. Shut up and take my money!
No stranger to experimenting in the kitchen, Gianpaolo estimates he has developed around 6000 flavours in Giapo’s history. If you were to try a different flavour each day, you best set aside 16 and a half years to taste his archives. If after 16 and a half years, you were still enthusiastic, there might be another 6000 or more to test into your retirement. Luckily they do not offer every flavour ever imagined, instead opting for just shy of 20 varieties. Still, this amount can overwhelm the average dessert lover, which is one reason that Giapo’s signature process works.
The process at Giapo is more like a classic restaurant, less like Subway. No, you can’t have it your own way. Gianpaolo has very carefully designed toppings for each of the flavours. No Ma’am, you can’t have bacon with green tea. Bacon goes with hokey pokey and green tea goes with walnut. This ensures a high level of quality and control and innovation is kept in the kitchen, rather than handed over to the fans.
The magic all happens in a pristine stainless steel kitchen. Small but efficient, everything is made from scratch every day and by the time Giapo opens at noon, the chefs have already worked an 8 hour shift.
Gianpaolo prefers to work with seasonal ingredients and the current flavours reflect this. There wasn’t much in the way of fresh produce since most fruit hibernates in winter, though I did get to taste flavours with banana, beetroot and eggplant.
Gianpaolo and I talked about palates. I would venture to say I have a good, though untrained palate. I can taste and identify flavours better than any other non-chef I know. Gianpaolo admitted that he preferred to introduce flavours that he liked. Present what you love and hope others will agree. This is the way I cook and the way I choose to design. Though in recent years, I try to expand my skills by aiming to please others. I guess it is a balance.
Foodie Bucket Lists
My foodie bucket list question was really no match for Gianpaolo who expressed that he didn’t really keep such a list. If he wanted to try something, he went for it. No stranger to savoury ice creams or even meat and fish ice creams, it seems that nothing is out of bounds here.
The newest flavour on the menu is Vanilla cardamom and eggplant in white chocolate. Heilana vanilla simmered with milk and infused with cardamon. The aroma was sensual and intoxicating. Add to that, eggplant jam and slices of dehydrated eggplant dipped in white chocolate and you have a unique kind of genius. Not something that you might request but interesting enough to give a whirl. What did it taste like? The vanilla and cardmon were fragrant and lovely and though I’m not a fan of eggplant, it wasn’t really discernible to me.
They were working on a new flavour during my visit. I won’t spill the beans since it’s hasn’t been served up yet but let’s say that it would be a great fuel injection or a late night pick me up. I look forward to seeing how this one pans out.
Like any high production gastronomy food laboratory, Giapo use sometimes unconventional means to get the job done. Though more science than Willy Wonka, there is still a big element of creative thinking involved.
Things I found inspiring:
- Angle grinder used to cut hokey pokey
- Titanium dioxide coated walnuts
- Beetroot sugar
- Buttercream injected choux
- White chocolate dipped eggplant
I couldn’t fit in one of their hot “ice cream” desserts but I plan to go back with The Koala in tow. I would harp on about how you should give Giapo a whirl next time you’re in town but somehow I feel like story is more along the lines of “Shut up and take my money!”.
Unusual flavours past and present:
- Hokey Pokey and Bacon
- White chocolate and caviar
- Organic dark chocolate and hot smoked salmon
- Asparagus, White Chocolate , Parmesan, Olive Oil, Fresh Mint.
- Stilton blue cheese and chocolate
Images are a combination of supplied photos and photos I took during my visit.