Dorset magazine meets Bournemouths Italian Ice cream Expert Luigi Bray
PUBLISHED: 11:44 20 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:45 20 February 2013
Jeremy Miles meets Luigi Bray who has brought his family's authentic Italian gelato recipes from Alezio to Bournemouth
A little lick of Italy
Jeremy Miles meets Luigi Bray who has brought his familys authentic Italian gelato recipes from Alezio to Bournemouth
When Luigi Bray was growing up in sun-baked southern Italy, his mother ran an ice cream parlour; its tastebud-tickling gelatos were the talk of the ancient town of Alezio. My home town is located in the region of Puglia and the whole area is blessed with sunshine all year round. Growing up in this wonderful area with my five brothers and sisters, ice cream was a way of life for us, says Luigi with a smile. Children, adults and grandparents regularly visited their favourite ice cream parlour at least once a week and in the summer it becomes a daily ritual.
More than 30 years later, Luigi (known as Giggi to his many friends) has brought his mothers secret recipes to Dorset and is offering an authentic taste of traditional Italian ice cream at his own parlour in Bournemouth. Taking ice cream to the seaside might sound like a distinctly coals to Newcastle manoeuvre, but Luigi is adamant that what he offers is so far removed from the average 99 with a flake experience that there can be no comparison.
Luigi first came to Bournemouth five years ago when he accompanied a friend to a funeral. It was a hot summer day, and looking around for an ice cream afterwards, Luigi realised that there was little to satisfy his rather particular Italian palate. More to the point, he saw a business opportunity. There seemed to be no proper ice cream at all in Bournemouth. In a seaside town that seemed unbelievable! I immediately thought Wow this is the place to continue my family business.
At the time Luigi was living in London and working as a trainer for Pizza Hut. He didnt waste any time putting his plan into action. He returned to Italy and asked his mother for her old recipes and enrolled in the famous Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna an international ice cream university dedicated to training entrepreneurs who want to enter the gelato business or wish to improve their abilities in creating fabulous ices. I didnt need to learn to make ice cream, says Luigi. I already knew that; I come from an ice cream family, and until I was nine or ten I was surrounded by ice cream, but going to Carpigiani was a way of giving myself a refresher course.
A year later he was back in Bournemouth and, initially with help from his younger brother Andrea, set up the Giggi Gelateria in the Burlington Arcadeoff Old Christchurch Road, Bournemouths main shopping street. Atfirst it wasnt easy. We had to let people know we were there but once we got them through the door and they tasted our ice cream word of mouth did the rest.
Word spread and now there is a steady stream of customers some stay to enjoy an ice cream at one of the booths, others swing by for a cone or take home a tub of their favourite flavours. Luigi even makes ice cream wedding and celebration cakes where you can combine your favourite ice creams into one unique and delicious chilled creation which can be decorated to suit the occasion.
Luigi is a big fan of Bournemouth and considers it one of the best towns to live and work in. It has beautiful beaches, friendly people, just about everything you could wish for. Hes also fallen in love with Dorset. I had never been to the county before I came to Bournemouth, but now I spend my days off exploring the coast and countryside. Its fantastic.
The rapid success of Luigis business, since it opened in May 2008, has been remarkable. Last year The Times named Giggi Gelateria as one of the top ice cream parlours in Britain. Luigi now has three staff Luca, Dalila and Filippo (all Italians) and a growing number of both regular and passing customers. I get people returning again and again. Some people think its too fattening to eat ice cream on a regular basis, but I tell them this is very good quality and surprisingly low in fat.
As we chat my eyes are drawn to the mouth-watering display of ice creams featuring flavours ranging from strawberry, vanilla and mint chocolate crisp to green tea, peanut butter and tiramisu, and Luigis own signature Giggi ice cream. Theres also an impressive range of sorbets including Kiba, a combination of kiwi and banana, and an orange sorbet with dark chocolate running through it.
It is clear that Luigis customers enjoy his front of house banter almost as much as the ice cream passers-by wave to the cheery Italian, customers come up to shake him by the hand and one elderly lady, having finished her coffee and ice cream, came up and planted a big kiss on his cheek. He is absolutely first class, she announced.
Luigi is currently expanding his empire and supplying a number of coffee shops and restaurants. He is also planning to find some wholesale outlets. Upstairs he shows me how the ice cream is made in five-litre batches, blended in a huge ice cream maker before being chilled to -25Ëš in a blast-freezer. Currently we have 22 flavours to choose from but we are always testing out new creations alongside our traditional flavour combinations. These include amarena, a traditional Italian ice cream made with milk laced with black cherries, and zuppa Inglese based on a classic English trifle. We Italians take food very serious, and ice cream is no different. We make our ice cream and sorbets every day on the premises using local milk and cream and local seasonal fruit, as well as carefully sourced flavours from around the world, he says while stirring the ingredients for a batch of pistachio ice cream.
Using a massive industrial-sized electric hand-whisk, Luigi amalgamates the cream, milk, sugar, a special pre-gel additive and a generous 350g slug of pure concentrate made from the best pistachios in Sicily. At240 for a six kilo can, this stuff does not come cheap, but Luigi insists on the finest ingredients. Of course if you run a business you have to make a profit, but for me this is about so much more than money. I love doing it. Ice cream is my life.
For all his success, Luigis proudest moment came two years ago when his then 70-year-old mother Concetta made her first ever trip outside Italy to visit him in Bournemouth. She was so impressed, he tells me. Our parlour is very modern, quite different from her simple traditional family business, but it owes everything to what I learned from her while I was growing up in Alezio. She was so proud of what I had achieved. Itwas wonderful. n
Giggi Gelateria, 10Burlington Arcade, Bournemouth BH1 2HZ or visit giggigelateria.co.uk.