The gelato MasterChef of Waiheke Island
The last time most of us saw Ana Schwarz, she was standing by her multi-level trifle, tears streaming down her face, after losing TV One's 2012 MasterChef crown. But, says Ana now, it worked out well in the end.
Certainly the self-possessed young woman who meets me on the Waiheke Island wharf is happy, energetic and fired-up by never-ending ideas. Her life on the island is blooming. Nothing sits still for long. Her three children are growing fast. Sienna, who was a baby when they were filming MasterChef, is four now and Mia and Jai are 11 and 10.
The section that Ana and her partner Geoff Tippett bought together when she was auditioning for MasterChef now sports a simple, contemporary barn they designed themselves. With charcoal-coloured, long-run-iron walls, doors that open as wide as small rivers and stained wooden slats that add elegance as well as circulating air night and day, it is a masterpiece.
Set just below the rim of a north-facing hill and down
Best of all, their year-old gelato business is flourishing. Within weeks of opening, Ana's skill with flavours, together with their Italian machinery's ability to produce some of the silkiest gelatos in the world, had Waiheke in a whirl. This is an island where news travels like wildfire and where everyone is up for a new sensation.
From September to June, Geoff
All of which works well for this creative couple who see work-life balance as a top
Ana, now 42, arrives at her tiny factory after she drops the kids at school and stays there until 6pm when Geoff, 44, closes the shop. "Over at the container we have three or four girls scooping," she says. "Then there's Geoff on coffee and someone else grilling the Ugly Bagels."
The Island Gelato Co is just one step in this entrepreneurial couple's history. Geoff spent his early days surfing at Takapuna.
"Then in my late teens and early 20s I took a spiritual path. I was into yoga, massage and meditation and wandered around teaching yoga which was how I ended up working as a barista. Cafes were cool places where people congregated to shoot the breeze, talk about ideas, play fast and loose – and they weren't bars. Coffee gave me a lot of skills, especially social skills. I like my peace and
Ana, who comes from a very creative family, was always attracted to design, particularly interiors and art and stylish food. Her father, Rudy Schwarz, is a well-known furniture designer whose beautifully proportioned pieces still
It wasn't until she and Joanna moved to Grey Lynn and invited Geoff to flat with them that she came to know him better. By then he was roasting coffee for city-based Allpress Espresso and wanting to leave the island. "We've been together ever since," says Ana with a wide smile. "And we've created things too, especially children!"
First up was Solo, their lobby espresso bar in the Tower Insurance building in
"My philosophy has always been to do everything from scratch and put love in the food," she says. "Our Turkish pide was delivered fresh every morning and I filled it with roasted capsicum, poached thyme chicken, rocket and lots more."
But although overheads were low the space didn't provide enough customers to
"We also went to a brand strategist," he continues. "We wanted a brand that was not just a logo but had a personality born out of surfing on the wild west coast where I spent my teenage years: here's a coffee with a keen and wild edge. Jandals in the city!"
Injecting the west coast into Sylvia Park was a challenge in itself, but being independent in a mall full of
Somewhere along the line they moved back to Waiheke, meaning Geoff was commuting seven days a week to Sylvia Park while Ana became fascinated by MasterChef. She had watched the first two series, particularly loved the Australian version and wanted to be part of the drama of it all. "I sent
All contestants had to make a signature dish, meaning she had to carry her own equipment on the ferry across to Auckland then drive to the Ellerslie Racecourse. Her gypsy snapper served on a red quinoa salad with a Eurasian salad on top won three yeses and she was in, and hooked. A friend with an au pair offered them 20 to 30 hours of childcare a week and Ana started her excruciating journey to the grand finals.
Remembers Geoff: "Ana went to MasterChef for 10 weeks and we were flatting. We had a useless nanny, a rambunctious dog, a 10-month-old child and I had a job in the city." In many ways it must have been a relief she didn't win.
Meanwhile Geoff had had enough. "After six years I was becoming disillusioned. The regulated culture of Sylvia Park stifled my passion for West Coast Coffee." He sold the business in 2013 "for a handful of magic beans" and looked around for something else to do.
They bought the section of their dreams in Seaview Road at Onetangi which Ana had been looking at for ages. "I really, really loved it, but it seemed out of reach." Then suddenly they found they could afford it.
The following winter they begged and borrowed two caravans, moved them onto their site and pitched in to help their home take shape. Today it's set among maturing olive trees which gave them 15 litres of virgin oil last year.
On a trip to Sydney to recover from the MasterChef debacle, Ana and Geoff fell in love with the gelato idea.
"We had only four days without the kids and it was a bit of a whirl," remembers Geoff. "Then my Uncle Bart took us to Gelato Messina in Surry Hills. There were queues down the street and the gelato was amazing."
Back home they decided the gelato idea was a goer and booked into "gelato university" in Sydney. "And the guy who owned that gelato shop in Surry Hills turned out to be the tutor."
Although Ana, who didn't like sweet food, had to pinch herself to believe she was becoming involved with a gelato bar, the idea made perfect sense for Waiheke with its huge summer tourist trade.
And things fell into place so smoothly it seemed meant. Geoff found the exact Italian gelato machine he wanted on Trade Me and pitched his idea of moving a converted shipping container onto a scarce patch of spare land in Oneroa village. The owners loved the idea. He cleared the scrub, had the main engineering of the container completed in the city and painted it black.
"People hate it when the container's shut," he says. "It looks so stealthy and nondescript. Then when we open it up it's bright and inviting." Meanwhile Ana did a deal with Al Brown's Ugly Bagels, created her unique gelato flavours from a tiny commercial kitchen 50 metres up the road and changed her mind about sweet food. "I do everything from scratch. In seven hours I can make 20 different flavours."
So, for a while at least, the family is relatively settled. "It's been really good to get a great business going," says Ana. "We're doing something for ourselves, creating some roots. After seven moves in the past few years the kids – and the dog – love it here. We eat from our vegetable garden almost all year. We're home. And we love running a small business in which we can involve the kids."
But simmering in that creative brain of hers are many more ideas: a cookbook based on Waiheke flavours; new website recipes; catering for more children's parties and island events. And for Geoff, the big ambition is an Island Gelato shop over the water in Auckland.
"But it won't be a franchise," he says. "We want this to be a family business."
HOW WE LIVE
"We work seven days a week to produce the very best gelato, coffee and bagels in the world, while at home we try to maintain interesting meals, live off our vegetable garden and create a vibrant, close family and social life."
While most week nights their au pair Signey cooks dinner, come weekends, even after a hard day at the shop, it's time for family and friends from around the island to join them.
"We believe good relationships are fundamental to our personal lives and our business which thrives on connections," says Ana. "We love nothing more than shared dinners with our friends and their kids. Food is my passion. I'm into abundance, not into cutting corners, but being generous in everything we do."
THE ITALIAN CONNECTION
Ana and Geoff are mightily impressed with Italian food and drink and the machines the Italians have invented to perfect them.
"These Italian machines have a churn/freeze rate that gives a silky, chewy texture," says Geoff. "Gelato contains only 15 to 20 per
cent air. Ice cream, on the other hand, has more air and needs a lot more sugar and fat to stabilise it. Basically the Italians have refined the ice cream experience in every way."
"There are no eggs or gluten in gelato," says Ana, whose dairy-free gelatos are made with coconut cream that makes them at least as creamy as the regular varieties. Hot favourite is salted coconut with saffron-infused passionfruit.
Gluten-free eaters can savour the whole range, from classic Italian flavours such as cherry compote and amaretto to 70 different fruit versions in high summer, when the local fruit shop supplies Ana with over-ripe fruit which, with its high sugar content, works best for gelato.
"We have apricots, peaches, figs and plums when they're in season. Last year we tested a black boy peach gelato and it was hugely popular." Even Island-style Ugly Bagels come with Ana's gourmet fillings. islandgelato.co.nz
- NZ Life & Leisure