Piccolina Gelateria Founder Sandra Foti launched her very first gelato collaboration with Scott Pickett in 2020. The duo created three Thai-inspired flavours: caramelised banana gelato with roasted peanuts and lemon sorbet infused with lemongrass; ginger and Thai basil gelato; and caramelised palm sugar gelato with palm sugar caramel and honeycomb. It was an experience that would spark the launch of The Piccolina Gelato Project.
“I was fascinated by the way a chef approached gelato compared to how I was trained,” says Foti. “I simply wanted to be around them to watch how they worked and see what they would invent, so I created a project that allowed me to do
Each annual season of The Piccolina Gelato Project runs for eight weeks, with a
different chef creating three flavours that are available for one week at a time. The program has seen many hospitality figures try their hand at gelato including Serai’s
Ross Magnaye, Hope St Radio’s Ellie Bouhadana, and Etta’s Rosheen Kaul.
When it comes to selecting collaborators, it’s all about inspiration. “We gravitate towards chefs who are doing new and interesting things,” says Foti. “There are no real rules on how we choose the people … we have had some new, up-and-coming chefs and also worked with some who are award-winning and quite established.”
Experience making gelato is not a requirement; the project is a chance for both Foti and the chefs to learn from each other. “It’s lots of fun to have the opportunity to teach these incredibly creative individuals something new,” she says. “Sharing knowledge is one of the most inspiring aspects of the project and is personally
Once chosen, chefs sit down with Foti and her team to start working on flavours. There’s no real brief besides trying something new. “We ask each chef to throw away the rule book and to reimagine all that gelato could be,” says Foti. “The whole basis of the project is to allow chefs the opportunity to be as creative as possible, and to try things they don’t necessarily get to try in their own restaurants.” It’s a hands-on process finalising the flavours with Foti’s team, with lots of trial and error before the products are locked in.
Nagesh Seethiah of Melbourne’s Manzé participated in the project earlier this year and jumped at the chance after being approached by Foti. “[I was told] to keep it fun, engaging, and to get people excited about a different take on gelato — to not hold back,” he says.
Seethiah had never made gelato before and was able to add a new skill to his repertoire. “I got to learn gelato. Sandra and Head Chef Simon Colacino are doing a great job of keeping it contemporary while keeping tradition alive.”
Seethiah drew upon the flavours and ingredients of his childhood in Mauritius for his gelatos — think marzipan gelato with quince jelly, basil seeds, and evaporated milk syrup; coconut gelato with lightly roasted grapes, creamed cornbread, and toasted coconut; and Mauritian vanilla bean gelato with pineapple jam, toasted coconut flakes, and spiced rum syrup.
“The quince alouda [Mauritian milk drink] was a reflection on adopting a childhood favourite into a gelato sundae with quince,” says the chef. “The vanilla gelato with
pineapple jam was influenced by the decades-old ice cream brand in Mauritius called Vona Corona.” His advice for future chefs taking part? Get inventive. “Don’t be afraid to be as creative as you can be, Simon and Sandra will help you achieve the gelato of your dreams.”
The Piccolina Gelato Project has not only been a successful and enjoyable exercise for Foti and her team, but its patrons who are always eager to try the new gelatos. “It’s been amazing — many of our loyal customers ask us about when the next series is launching,” says Foti. “This year, we had some flavours that would have tested people’s tastebuds, but I think it is one thing customers really enjoy about the project and it’s all part of the fun.”
If you’re wondering when you can get your hands on the next gelato cups, Foti says The Piccolina Gelato Project will return in 2024. “We’re always looking at ways to innovate, so next year may take on a different form — watch this space!”