Ciao gelato! Say hello to your American connoisseurs

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Margot Durfee

Adriana Tinto had recently divorced and needed to find a job to support her and her son. “I didn’t want a desk job. I wanted to do something very creative. I realized that there is almost no gelato here in the United States… so I said, ‘okay! Let’s try it,’” said Tinto, a gelato chef who competed in the Gelato Festival of America.

When I first heard about the Gelato Festival, I thought, ‘A chance to eat tons of gelato? I’m in!’ What I didn’t know was the story behind each chef who showed up. The National Gelato Festival is held in cities all around the country, including Chicago and San Francisco. The main attraction of the event is a gelato flavor contest. Gelato chefs from around the country come and show off their most distinctive or unique flavor in hopes of winning the contest. The festival is open to all who buy a ticket to sample each flavor from the chefs.

Among attractions like a gelato-eating contest and gelato-making demonstration, the gelato tasting was the star of the show. Despite the chill of the day, my friend Emma and I delightedly went to each station and tried a cupful of each flavor, served by the chefs themselves.

Tinto’s flavor “American Dream” was a combination of salted peanut paste swirled with Coca-Cola reduction and honey-roasted peanuts. The main difference between gelato and ice cream is instead of being served frozen, gelato is stored closer to room temperature, causing it to be much smoother in your mouth. The creamy texture worked well with the peanut and cola taste and reminded me of the movies. The crunchy honey-roasted peanuts added another dimension to the gelato.

“I tried to come up with something original… that could appeal to the American public. It’s unique,” Tinto explained. Coca-Cola reduction, the syrup produced from boiling the soda, is a relatively uncommon ingredient in the gelato world.

Another flavor I found interesting was Blue Majik. Created by Philadelphia based chef Sierra Georgia, Blue Majik “is a pineapple-ginger-apple cold-pressed juice that I blended with fresh pineapples and [into] an all-natural, vegan sorbet,” Georgia said.

From the first taste, the flavor stood out. Algae from the same plant family as spirulina called Blue Majik is responsible for the aqua blue color of the sorbet, a rare example of a bright blue food that is actually natural. The taste itself caught me by surprise, and the amount of flavor packed into each bite was impressive. The combination of pineapple and apple came through powerfully, creating a tangy-sweet taste, while the ginger added an extra kick to it.

At this point, I had eaten a lot of gelato, the cold wind had picked up, and it was getting dark. I decided to try one last flavor: Trinacrium, referring to the triangular shape of the island Sicily, where Chef Maria Liliana Biondo and her husband Hugo are from.

“We chose three ingredients from the island: the main nuts—pistachio and almond—and the orange because it is the fruit that goes perfectly with those nuts,” Hugo said.

The gelato consists of three layers, with pistachio on the bottom, then almond and orange. What initially drew me to this flavor was the extra thought put into each scoop of gelato. Not only was the gelato carefully scooped into a cup, but roasted pistachio was then sprinkled on top and spritzed with the oil from the orange zest.

Every bite I took was delicious and had a different creamy combination of orange, almond, and pistachio, which all tasted amazing together. The orange and pistachio were definitely the stronger flavors, but the small hint of almond made all the difference. The orange oil was also an extraordinary touch, and in my eyes transformed the scoop from regular gelato into one complex and endless flavor.

“My wife, who is the chef, her dad is a [gelato maker] as well, so she has been involved in this since she was a little girl… it was always her dream to start a business in this country so we finally have [a] store in Miami,” Hugo said. “She decided to try this flavor to [honor] our roots [as] Sicilians.”

Going to the Gelato Festival was not only a great opportunity to eat gelato, but gaining insight on the stories behind the individual chefs and learning how hard they have worked to achieve their dreams made it even sweeter.

When I asked Chef Georgia why she makes gelato, she said, “I started making gelato because I like making people happy and I love to make people smile… gelato makes people feel good.”