In an unassuming commercial building up on Colby Drive in Waterloo, Chris Parent is making the best damned gelato and sorbet that I’ve ever tasted. I (DW) found this out first-hand last week after a chance conversation at my bi-weekly breakfast club. Chris rolled in late to our gathering at the Checkerboard Restaurant, and upon seeing my Maker Expo sticker exclaimed “What is this Maker Expo? I’m seeing this everywhere now. I make gelato. Can I join in?” Said I, “You absolutely can apply, and if you’re serious I’ll come and shoot you right now for the blog.” Deal.
Before I take you into that story: there is one day left to apply as an exhibiting maker for Maker Expo. I strongly encourage you to get your application in today, even if it isn’t fully complete. Think of the application as the start of a conversation with us. Don’t overthink it. You will find us to be incredibly supportive and open to any idea you have. We also have a bunch of ideas of our own that we need to hand off to others to run. Agnes mentioned a Cardboard Construction Zone and also a Great Roundup of Yarn-based Creators. First step is to connect with us.
Let’s get back to Chris of Christopher’s Gelato. I asked him if there was one takeaway from this post for the people, what would it be: “Know what you’re eating.” Chris said it’s important to read the labels and buy quality food. I come from a frozen-treat background of whatever is on sale at the grocery store, so I was blown away when I sampled Chris’ gelato fresh from the mixer. He noted “The fresher the better, and it doesn’t get any fresher than this.” Flavour explosion. So good.
Coincidentally, Arden and I had some of Chris’ gelato at Matter of Taste earlier in the week after our shoot with blacksmith Sandra Dunn. I know you can also find this top quality product at Vincenzo’s and several other places around Waterloo Region. Small world, indeed. Read on for a completely unreasonable number of photos.
It may be that you’ve already sampled Chris’ product. He owned Whole Lot-A Gelata in Uptown Waterloo for 9 years after running some health food stores. He scaled back from retail and throttled up production as a maker and wholesaler. Above, the gigantic delivery coolers are unloaded from the gelato wagon.
As a one-man-show myself with makebright, I can appreciate the hustle required in the roles as maker, marketer, sales, delivery, and accounts receivable that Chris shoulders.
There is a serious sign-in/out protocol in the facility. It’s all about food safety, regulated and regularly inspected monthly by the provincial OMAFRA department. I donned booties and hairnet, filled out a screening survey, and logged my entry time. First food production shoot for me, I think.
I love hand-written signs.
Inside the unit in this building is a whole other self-contained room.
Behold the land of stainless steel, super-clean-everything, and cold sweet awesomeness.
Chris’ happy place, in this room. “Nobody bothers me in here. No problems. I just make product.” This windowless room is fully air-conditioned, super HEPA filtered for air quality, positive-air-pressure like an air lock. The concrete floor is specially treated to resist all liquids and is curved up along the walls so there are no contaminant-accumulating corners. With the built-in walk-in freezers and refrigerators, we’re looking at a $100K room. Add on another $150K of manufacturing/cleaning/logging equipment and you’ve got a state of the art food production facility.
First up today is a strawberry basil sorbet.
Now if you’re under-informed like me, it might be news that sorbet is simply fruit and flavour chilled and turned to a delicious consistency. Me: “Basil? Like the herb?” Chris: “Trust me.”
need to clean…
the machine. Those paddles turn around a horizontal axis while heat gets sucked out of the liquid fruit mixture and dumped out of the cooling fins on the back of the rig.
Out of the fridge comes the marinating mash of strawberry and basil, which…
straight into the hopper of the chiller-mixer.
There are non-stop cycles of cleaning going on here, as you might imagine.
So many flavours.
Chris giving me the rundown on what all this gear does.
Did you know that gelato is simply milk, cream, sugar, and flavour elements? This rig features some serious temperature probes as that is critical to both food quality and safety.
Here’s the sort of stuff that goes into the product. Looks very familiar from my fresh-fruit-eating household.
I find the scale-up of commercial food making interesting: bigger spatulas, spoons, whisks, and inputs.
These temperature log graphs are required by law.
Logging happens on this very expensive thermometer…
and the output graphs are annotated with product batch numbers. All auditable.
Just a few more minutes for that sorbet in the chiller-mixer, so it was time…
to start prepping…
the raspberry-lime product coming up next.
straight into a 4L container.
Well, probably 4.5L by the time you fill it straight up. After the lid went on, I got to sample a bit of sorbet. Wow. I am now swayed completely to quality over quantity.
More fruit mix in for the…
More cleaning. Always cleaning.
Peeked into the freezer where more product is ready to go. These are the big trays of gelato that retailers put straight into their display case, all decked out to attract hungry customers.
Catching up on urgent email.
Aaand more cleaning.
I know from our breakfast meetups that Chris is a natural speed-talker.
So all I had to do on this gig was listen.
Specially-treated floor dries in minutes.
Bird’s eye view.
Branding. And, yes, I got a sticker for myself.
Not only does the gear get cleaned…
the entire room is cleansed monthly…
with this acid solution. Walls and all.
Temperature probe check.
Spectacular colours awaiting delivery.
Raspberry-lime sorbet (did I get that right, Chris?)
All styled up for presentation.
Food-safe plastic paddles and…
blades. Just enough for a spoon-sized sample for a curious photographer.
Chris said “Ok, for Maker Expo I know exactly what I’ll make…”
“I’ll take this hot-plate…”
“heat up some sorbitol…”
“and maple syrup and make molded maple syrup suckers to give away.” Wicked!
Ok, it’s delivery time!
Check the list and then out of the inner sanctum we go.
It’s like the International Space Station out here.
After a quick laptop check, Chris was loading up product for delivery…
and I was heading out for my next shoot.
Thanks for letting me into your world, Chris. Respect! And thanks for applying to exhibit at Maker Expo. Only one more day to apply y’all, so get those applications in.
We are all makers.