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Giapo's Willy Wonka of ice cream

Giapo's Gianpaolo Grazioli sees sustainability and cold confection going hand in hand. (So do we!)

Giapo's Gianpaolo Grazioli sees sustainability and cold confection going hand in hand. (So do we!)

giapo business storyWe eat more ice cream per capita than any other country in the world – except the US. That’s according to one widely reported, impossible-to-verify and probably made-up statistic. But there’s no denying that the sweet, creamy stuff features prominently in our summers, freezers, childhoods and late-night snacks. And maybe it’s because of this that we also think of it as a bit, well, ordinary. Something that belongs more inb a barefoot afternoon than a fancy dinner out.

Italian export and freshly minted Aucklander Gianpaolo Grazioli is determined to change all that. He wants to see ice cream taken as seriously as pork belly, polenta chips, oysters and other staples of haute cuisine. He doesn’t see his Auckland store, Giapo, as an ice cream parlour, but as a restaurant and research kitchen – where he’s the head chef. And for him, revamping ice cream’s image isn’t so much a goal as a divine calling.

“I’m in a continuous search to create the most perfect ice cream,” he says. “The one that is the closest thing to the one you have in your dream.”

But Grazioli’s success has come from creating flavours that you’ve never dreamed of: strawberry and manuka honey, chocolate and blue cheese, hazelnut meringue, sauvignon blanc sorbet. And it’s a visual feast, too – each ice cream comes topped with extras such as homespun candyfloss, edible flowers or handmade chocolates.

“We just bought a $20,000 chocolate machine to make our own little pralines,” Grazioli says.

Then there are the ‘celebrity flavours’, based on personalities who’ve piqued Grazioli’s interest: Len Brownie was a bit of a hit, Colin Mathura Jeffree featured macadamia nuts, Kim Dotcom has just asked for one of his own. (Grazioli thinks it will involve bananas.) Until recently, Giapo was closed one day a week for ‘research and development’ – not surprising for a kitchen that creates around 1,200 different flavours a year.

Making it all happen sustainably goes hand-in-hand with creating a top-quality product for Grazioli. Spurred on by a desire for the freshest ingredients, he began contacting local farmers for organic produce – then realised that many of his own customers had ingredients growing in their own backyards. In 2008, Grazioli launched a local produce co-op, which has resulted in a constant, if random, supply of fresh produce.

“People know they can drop in any sort of fruit in exchange for Giapo vouchers.”

The co-op grew thanks to Grazioli’s formidable social media presence and now there are around 120 regulars from Henderson to Remuera who drop off what they’ve harvested recently. It’s not just fruit that’s delivered but vegetables, herbs, nuts – even eggs.

“We get around 100kg per month from the neighbourhood,” Grazioli says fondly.

Ice cream is made in small batches every morning depending on what’s in season – one reason Grazioli is determined not to open Giapos in every corner of Auckland, despite the success of his Queen St store.

“When you franchise, you want one recipe – and you do it to scale. For anything to scale, the quality goes down. The amazingness will go. You cannot produce as many wows for 20 stores. The wows will go.”

Making ice cream is “transcendental from making money” for Grazioli. What’s important to him is keeping his customers surprised, delighted – and included in the conversation.

He’d stop to chat with every single one if he could, but instead he uses Twitter and Facebook (he’s got more than 25,000 followers on both) to canvass opinions, announce new flavours and show off his gastronomic experiments. When it comes to the future, he’s got ideas for creating a multi-sensory restaurant experience using scents or even music to enhance the flavours of his ice cream.

But for now? He’s taking a rest from invention – sort of.

“We are working on the beautification of what we have achieved so far.”