James Coleridge takes gelato, the Italian-style ice cream, very seriously.
As a maestro gelatiere and proprietor of Bella Gelateria, located on the ground floor of Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver, Coleridge sees himself as a caretaker of an old-world process that is quickly disappearing in today’s world of industrialized ice cream.
“We don’t keep things in storage,” he says. “We make everything from scratch right here using only the freshest local ingredients and quality sourced products from around the world.”
The Avalon organic milk used to create his creamy treats comes from nearby dairy farms in Chilliwack, while the cherries that infuse his sorbetti are from the orchard town of Osoyoos in southern British Columbia. And though the Bartlett pears are from the Okanagan, the chocolate is imported from France.
“Michel Cluizel costs four or five times more than typical chocolate,” he says. “But you can’t make five-star gelato with one-star ingredients.”
About every three weeks, Coleridge receives a shipment of Sorrento lemons from Italy, which he transforms into a smooth and delicate sorbetto with a long finish that is out of this world.
His attention to detail also extends to the interior of the gelateria, which harks back to the traditional ice cream parlors of Rome or Naples: striped, cream-colored walls, checkerboard tiles on the floors and custom millwork with Roman arches. On one wall hang black and white photographs from Il Mio Gelato, a book by celebrated master teacher of ice-cream making Donata Panciera, reproduced exclusively for Bella Gelateria.
As Coleridge scoops out spoonfuls of his delectable creations behind the counter, I turn to a customer and ask: “What’s your favorite flavor?”
The man pauses and with a sly smile says: “It changes every week.”
Every day Coleridge creates 24 flavors of gelato and sorbetto from scratch, depending on what’s in season.
Flavors are infused for at least 12 hours then poured in Cattabriga EFFE mixers, which helps craft an extremely smooth and intense gelato where air is almost non-existent. Like a proud papa, he points to the state-of-the-art stainless steel containers that keep gelato out of sight and in a temperature-controlled environment.
He even announces what he’s putting into the mixer on Twitter, so regulars can have first dibs on his new creations.
Coleridge also finds inspiration from the customers he meets at the gelateria.
“This couple came in and raved about the ice cream in India. All I knew about it was the name, Kulfi,” Coleridge says. After a bit of research and many hours of experimentation in the kitchen, Coleridge says he is pleased with his new concoction.
As I take my first lick of Coleridge’s take on Kulfi, I taste the cardamom first and then hints of saffron emerge as the bits of almonds and pistachio roll around in my mouth.
Though I’ve never been to India, I’m immediately transported halfway around the world to a Bollywood set, with the sounds and smells of a crowded Mumbai street enveloping me.
“That’s what we try to do here,” Coleridge says, “recreate that perfect vacation to Italy or that childhood memory of picking raspberries in summer.”