Emma Nicholas is one of those people who would be at the top of the list of who you would invite to dinner. She has an infectious joie de vivre and talking to her about Miinot Gelato and the community aspect of running a small neighbourhood shop, you start thinking that gelato really should be used as an international band aid to problems.
What was the path that lead you to making gelato in Pascoe Vale?
It was a long road. My parents have a gelataria. They started that about 15 or 16 years ago. I used to work in restaurants in England. When I first went there I was 23, I was always front of house, waiter then maître d’. The last job I had before I left England was at a place called Cigala, a Spanish restaurant in Bloomsbury and they used to make all their own ice cream there and I remember thinking that it was interesting because they only had a little bench top freezer. So I had a little bit of an idea watching them and then mum and dad had their gelataria.
Do they have a background in food, or are they Italian?
No, not at all. It was just the fashion to get a gelataria. [laughs] They used to go to Europe twice a year because they had a fashion accessory company and they’d go to Italy all the time so when it got closer to their retirement, they didn’t want to retire and just thought they’d do something else. They loved Italy and gelato. So my mum did a course and got trained in gelato making and that was it.
So then I used to fly over from England and help her and I learned it all from her. I did a little job when I was young; it was my first part-time job, at Brunetti’s, it still makes me laugh, so I’ve come full circle.
Maybe you were Italian in a past life.
Maybe. Who knows?
So now you and your husband run the company?
Yes we do.
Miinot Gelato has an ever-evolving menu of gelato flavours. How do you come up with those?
Lots of phone calls to my mum. But also from eating out; whenever you’re out you see things, then whatever is in season. At the moment we’ve got figs coming out our ears. We have a little lady in the neighbourhood that supplies a lot of our fruit. We use whatever people have as well, like the other day someone brought in two crates of pears. Customers just bring us stuff. We know that feijoas are on the go, so we’ve been waiting to get our hands on those and that will give us lots of inspiration. Then we just think about things that will go with those things, e do a bit of research. It’s a lot of trial and error.
There must be some things that are a little tricky to use and you can’t just plonk them in the gelato, you’d have to work out the best way to bring out their flavour.
Yes, the other day I got a whole lot of herbs. We had a whole lot of Vietnamese mint and I put that in with some strawberries and I also had a big bunch of sage, so I steeped all that and made a reduction so I’ll probably put that through mixed with raspberries. That can be quite medicinal so you have to watch quantities and so on and keep tasting and testing.
I guess you have to see what’s popular as well. Are there some flavours you always have to have?
Yes. Lemon, chocolate and vanilla. We have those every day. The rest will change. People would like us to have pistachio every day, they’re obsessed by it, but it’s so expensive to make it. You buy the pure pistachio paste and it’s a $100 a kilo. There really should have a surcharge on it. [laughs] It’s gorgeous but we can only do that every other week. I did do it at the weekend and then I’ll do it again next weekend. We have so many requests for it. And anything with caramel people love and then we do lots of stuff through it. So I’ve got a girl who supplies me with bits and bobs. I know from the restaurant world and she left at the same time I did to have a child. She does all her baking form home and supplies cafes around town and I can ring her and say I need fresh honeycomb this week or meringues, whatever I want, she’ll just do it, brownies, apple strudel, and then I’ll just work with that.
I love that. I remember a few Christmases ago I was on dessert duty and I thought wouldn’t it be good to incorporate Christmas pudding with brandy butter into ice cream. So I did that, but it was just with shop bought vanilla ice cream and you’re doing it all from scratch. So yeah. Not really the same thing. anyway, how long have you had the gelateria?
Two and a half years. It’s a random spot.
It IS a random spot. It’s hard to get a car park. But that’s not stopping anyone. Look at these queues.
Well yes but we’re by a tram stop and that’s pretty good.
I wanted to say, what I really loved about seeing you on the ad, was your complete joie de vivre and passion for what you’re doing. You said that you love it because gelato brings people happiness, do you think that a gelataria rather than any other food shop does that?
It depends. A little neighbourhood bakery would probably do it. It’s about knowing what you’re doing. A chocolate shop would be great. If you’re small and niche like we are, you have more of a connection with the neighbourhood and people want to be part of it and they say, that’s mine or I gave them this, and they tell all their friends about it and I think it works well for us.
So I have a girlfriend and I put her on Instagram and she works at a spice shop, Gewûrzhaus, and we just saw her last night randomly in the street and her photo was out there for best stall in the street and we go there now and get all our spices from there. It’s all the little connections you make.
71 Melville Road, Pascoe Vale South
Mon, Wed, Thurs 1 – 8pm pm
Fri 1 – 9pm
Sat 12 – 9pm
Sun 12 – 7pm