To me, gelato is heaven in a tiny cup and spoon, the ultimate summer indulgence. Not to be confused with its fattier, fluffier counterpart — ice cream — this Italian specialty is richer and denser, and actually slightly healthier than your average frozen dairy treat. (Compared to ice cream, which is made with cream and has 15 to 18 per cent fat content, gelato is made with milk and contains about five per cent fat.)
Kathryn Shepherd, the owner and operator of Lucia Gelato, is Whistler’s go-to lady when it comes to this sweet treat.
See, Shepherd is something of an expert in the gelato field. This long-time resident actually attended a week-long course at a gelato university in Bologna, Italy a few years ago, after being inspired to make the treat during a trip to Noosa, Australia with her husband.
“There’s this great little gelato place called Massimo’s and we would go there every day, after surfing.”
After about three weeks of scraping their little dishes clean, Shepherd’s husband pointed out that Whistler really didn’t have a similar business. So as soon as they returned home, Shepherd began researching the business of gelato-making.
She launched Lucia Gelato about two years ago, out of the closet of the Beet Root Café.
“It was quite funny, we had a lot of little episodes because I would come after hours and be there until 2, 3 in the morning making gelato and there are all of those front windows, so all the drunk people would be looking in.”
She started out by selling scoops at the Whistler Farmers Market during the first summer, and then partnered with Whistler Blackcomb to use their kitchen and set up a booth at Merlin’s and Garbanzo Bike and Bean the following summer season.
Now, after resolving a few hiccups with licensing issues, Shepherd has really hit her stride, with a regular spot at the Sunday market, and a new location at the Rendezvous on Blackcomb Mountain with a prime location, right across from the Peak 2 Peak terminal — the perfect spot to snag hungry sightseers. Plus, she plans to sell scoops at special events like the Whistler Children’s Festival and Mountain West Music Fest.
Since December, she’s also been packaging and selling 12 flavours of gelato to local grocery stores throughout Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton. You can even get a cup of the good stuff at a range of restaurants around town — Sachi Sushi, Elements, Edgewater, and Riverside Campground, to name a few.
So, to summarize: in the past 16 years, Shepherd has gone from working in the forestry industry to becoming a ski patroller and finally, to the owner/operator of a thriving gelato-making business.
“So I did a five-year degree in forestry… and now I took a one-week course to make gelato, and that’s pretty much how I’ve been defined in Whistler — as the gelato lady,” she said with a laugh.
During the summer, she spends up to six days a week in the kitchen at Base II, working with two employees, Maggie and Jasmine, to create a range of delicious and unique flavours of gelato and sorbet. They range from the tried and true vanilla and chocolate to the more experimental strawberry rhubarb, chili chocolate, and Bombay Surprise, a combination of coconut, grand masala and mango.
“It’s really fun,” she said with a smile.
The secret to her success may be her commitment to using fresh products rather than the packaged mixes that a lot of gelato makers use. Shepherd insists on developing her own recipes, which call for top quality ingredients to get the best-quality gelato.
For example, to produce two batches of Two-Tonys Espresso, which was the flavour she and Maggie happened to be making on Tuesday when I visited the kitchen, Shepherd spent the morning pulling 60 shots of Galileo espresso. And after just one spoonful of the fresh gelato, I can attest that you can practically taste the crema.
“So I don’t use any of the syrups,” she said. “I use a little bit of stabilizer and emulsifier, because it’s a commercial product.”
Her sorbets are made from sugar, water, and fresh fruit.
“When I started doing research about companies to distribute from, they were saying I was really in a field all my own if I’m not going to use the compounds and create my own recipes,” Shepherd said.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll be on the lookout for the Lucia Gelato sign at just about every event I attend in Whistler this summer. I wonder what new recipes Shepherd has up her sleeve…