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Editor's note: Dairy Foods' sister publication Prepared Foods talks with the executive chef of gelato processor Ciao Bella.
Meet Danilo Zecchin , Executive Chef, Ciao Bella
Education / background: Danilo Zecchin (Ze-keen) grew up in Torino, Italy, a
region known for epicurean delights. Spurred by the vibrant energy of the local culinary scene, Danilo pursued his passion for cooking and enrolled in 1978 in Torino’s local Hotel and Restaurant School.
Prepared Foods: Please tell us a little about yourself. How did you become a chef?
PF: You co-authored a book, the Ciao Bella Book of Gelato & Sorbetto. What was fun about that project? What was most challenging?
Zecchin: The book was an amazing adventure. It was like translating the Ciao Bella experience to an everyday table, keeping it simple without compromising the flavor profile and company philosophy.
I remember working five or six hours (on the book) after 12- to 15-hour days at the plant. It was like that every day, for almost a year but it was priceless to see the new baby take form every day, to leave a little foot print and spread the joy.
PF: If we ran into you in front of a supermarket’s frozen novelties section, what would we see?
Zecchin: You’d probably find me in a grocery store checking Ciao Bella pints for condition, expiration date, rotation, freezer temperature. After that, I’d just be looking around for innovation and creativity.
PF: Who inspires you?
Zecchin: My family and friends and many generous, talented people that share knowledge and passion with me.
PF: What inspires you?
Zecchin: This incredible world that never ceases to amaze me, the mystery of life that changes constantly.
PF: Where are you inspired?
Zecchin: My homeland. Torino left an early impression. It gave me a superior, intimate knowledge of what things are and a sensibility that drives me to see what they can become. Italy gave me my start. The rest of my career continues to be a journey with so much to learn and understand.
PF: Ciao Bella’s 2013 Fancy Food Show product debut was your Sea Salt Caramel Gelato Squares. What can you tell us about creating that item?
Zecchin: We see many salted caramel products in the market but this one is unique. The caramel has a liquor-coffee note with a good balance and clean finish; the salted variegation is mild and blends well with the chocolate.
The biggest challenge was reaching a balance between the sugary and salted elements, but I’m very happy with the result.
PF: Ciao Bella has expanded its retail products push. What are a few things you’ve learned about working with food scientists and operations to carry your flavors, texture, etc., through to a retail packaged product?
Zecchin: The challenge entering into the industrial world—involves standardizing and simplifying without losing quality. It depends on the product. Sometimes there were only minor changes. Others require more attention and time.
Also, working with a co-packer requires full-time supervision, which is very demanding of my schedule.
PF: Tell us a little about Ciao Bella’s Adonia Greek frozen yogurt line. What was most fun or the most challenging about developing that project?
Zecchin: Adonia was a challenge for me but I had worked with Labne a few years earlier (on our Lebanese Yogurt Gelato) and I really enjoyed the experience.
In this case, we went with a fat-free Greek yogurt containing 9g of protein, which was a complete game-changer in the Greek frozen yogurt category. We hoped it would be something to help differentiate us from competing brands.
After two months and countless small batches in my lab, we finally found the right balance. At the end of the day, it was a completely new experience for me but I’m pleased with the result.
PF: Have you lived in Oregon long enough to become a fan of the Ducks or Beavers?
Zecchin: I like both, mostly because I’m a casual fan when it comes to America sports teams. I’m still a big soccer fan. Football is a pleasure for me to watch, but it hasn’t won my heart just yet!
PF: Fair enough. But what if we asked you to develop an “Oregon Duck” gelato or an “Oregon State Beaver” gelato? What flavors, colors would you choose?
Zecchin: For the Ducks, it needs to be green and yellow, maybe yellow peaches and kiwi sorbet. For the Beavers, something dark orange and black… so perhaps a pumpkin and licorice gelato.