Day 1, 4:00am Coffee. Avocado on sourdough. One more coffee. It’s still dark outside and …
Flavours. Sounds. Colours. Scents.
Walking into Festitalia all five senses are sent into overdrive. The arena is packed with people vying for delectable treats and a shaded spot to watch the Gelato eating competition at the 11th annual Italian festival.
First held in 2006, Festitalia was originally created by the Festitalia Association Inc to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Italian Republic. Held originally in New Farm park, the celebration saw the collaboration of many Italian community-based organisations and businesses and was attended by over 30,000 participants. throughout its 10-year existence, the festival has held a premier position as a not-for-profit community event that is aimed at Australians from all walks of life.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been curious about the vendors at festivals like this. Who are they? What’s their story? Was selling delectable gelato or creating glorious pastries always their goal? And can I get two servings of that cannoli, because it smells divine. So, I decided to have a chat with a couple of the vendors at Festitalia to get to know them and find out what their stories were.
Meet Matteo Zini of La Marcelleria (meaning the Butchery) – one of owners and founders of Brisbane’s most authentic Italian gelato experience. Don’t be fooled by the name; their first store in Bologna Italy was built in a historical butchery, and the name stuck from then on.
Matteo began his career in economics and holds a master’s degree in marketing. However, the economical struggle in Italy led him out of the corporate industry and into gelato – luckily for us! Matteo’s motivation to join the world of gelato was two-fold: a close friend was already in the gelato business so Matteo was intrigued, and Matteo possessed a natural Italian love for gelato. “You are creating something from scratch all by yourself,” he said, “You create the gelato…it has a piece of you in it.”
After studying the art of gelato in the “gelato capital of the world” – Bologna – he opened his first store, also called La Marcelleria with fellow gelato fanatic – Matteo C. Matteo had always planned to bring gelato to Australia, but Bologna was a perfect training and testing ground. “It was part of the training…it was a way to get feedback from Bologna people who are pretty snobby when we are talking about food. Obviously, that helped us to improve and increase the quality [of our gelati] to the level that we want,” Matteo explained. In 2012 Matteo and his partner felt confident in their gelati skills and made the move to Brisbane.
Now four years later, La Marcelleria proudly boasts two stores in the Brisbane area – one in West End (for those of us South of the river) and one in Teneriffe (for those on the North side). Both offer a variety of tantalising flavours, sourced from local products, and made fresh from scratch every morning in-store. Matteo described the difference in flavours, and how cultures influence them, saying their flavours are adapted according to the market. “Salted caramel, white chocolate with macadamia – all flavours made with our technique and background, but obviously more Australian flavours. Same when I go to Japan I do matcha (green tea powder), black sesame, yuzu (bitter citrus fruit). So, I think these clash between local and craft of the gelato making is very important.” La Marcelleria also shows the influence Australia’s coffee culture has on their flavours, offering more than four coffee-flavoured options.
Finally, I asked Matteo why he wanted to be involved with Festitalia. “You have to be there. It’s the only Italian festival in Brisbane,” he said, “As an Italian, and part of the community… you have to be there representing gelato and Italy.”
For my quintessential Italian experience, I also had the privilege of catching up with Simone Gerbino of Gerbino’s Pasticceria. Her husband, Salvatore, bakes and runs the kitchen component of the bakery with his brothers, and Simone conducts the business side of things. Very much a family business, with their three kids working weekends, and the in-laws involved in the kitchen.
Born and bred in Brisbane, Simone started her career in accounting, and had dreams of sailing the Galapagos Islands while home-schooling her future children on a yacht. This plan was unexpectedly changed course when she met Salvatore in Vanuatu while she was on a holiday and he was working for Princess Cruises.
Salvatore was apprenticed in Sicily by the local pastry chef in his town. The pastry chef had only daughters, so he agreed to apprentice Salvatore and his seven siblings. For five years every day after school, Salvatore learned the craft of pastry and its traditional ways. At the age of 19, Salvatore began work on the Princess Cruise line as a pastry chef. He continued to learn from all the other Italian cooks on board, and was taught the authentic ways of cooking Italian foods and desserts. “He’s learnt all the fundamental, all the traditional recipes and he’s quite passionate about keeping those traditions,” Simone said. “For example, we have a machine that crushes the almonds instead of just buying almond meal. So, they [Gerbino’s chefs] make the paste themselves, and they boil the nuts themselves, and they do all the steps.” The difference is apparently clear to the seasoned almond eater – factory bought almond meal is drier than the homemade. “Because it keeps all the almond oil when you crush them,” Simone explained.
Together, this power couple moved to Brisbane, with Simone working corporately and Salvatore working in the Treasury Casino. It didn’t take long to be welcomed into Brisbane’s Italian community, and soon the couple was being encouraged to open their own Italian authentic bakery. “He [Salvatore] was just talking to other migrants and other Italians and they’re all like, ‘Why don’t you open something?’. There wasn’t really much here, and a lot of the old Italian places were all in the Valley and they, you know, people have retired and no one had reopened.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Gerbino’s Pasticceria quickly outgrew its original home in New Farm, and was expanded to Ashgrove. What was clear when I visited their Ashgrove store, was the sense of community and family. As soon as I walked in, people I had never met and did not know me smiled and said, “good morning” – and these were the patrons. “When we first opened it was really only the Italians eating cannoli or if people had been to Rome or Italy they knew about it, but now everyone eats and knows about cannoli,” Simone said. “We’ve kind of adopted a fusion of the Sicilian and then obviously the Aussie meat pies and lamingtons,” she explained.
They opened in 2003 and have never looked back, except to regret the busyness of the bakery. Simone shared with me that owning the business has been challenging because of the hours – 4am starts and 6pm finishes – and having young children. The time commitment demanded by the business kept Salvatore away from his family in the early days, and he unfortunately missed out many things as their children grew up. Despite this, Simone would not trade her life as it is for anything.
Finally, Simone explained their passion for Festitalia, saying that it is important to them to share a taste of Italy with this corner of the world, and that Salvatore is on the board the organises and runs the festival. What else could they do but attend?