The gelato MasterChef of Waiheke Island

Duncan Innes Duncan Innes Duncan Innes Duncan Innes Duncan Innes Duncan Innes

ON THE JOB: Geoff and Ana ready for business at the Island Gelato Co.

SWEET TREATS: Ana’s secret sauces and flavours are created and cooked in a tiny factory where she drizzles salted caramel into one of her most popular gelatos

VIEW FROM ABOVE: The upstairs balcony leads to four bedrooms and a family bathroom and looks down to the long French dining table which Ana saved up to buy from The Vitrine antiques store in Grey Lynn.

LIGHT & BRIGHT: Jai and Ana at the long breakfast bar in the kitchen which has side-by-side Bosch ovens, shelves of cookbooks and plenty of bench space.

GREEN FINGERS: Siena helps to collect eggs from their own chooks. Yellow courgettes and red chillis from the garden boxes Geoff built and ripe figs from a neighbour: “Now we know what we’re having for dinner.”

ISLAND LIFE: The family, together with Ana’s mother Molly, loves to barbecue at Onetangi Beach just down the road.

1  of  6
« Previous « Previous Next » Next »

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.

The container’s internal fit-out was done by Ana’s brother, Evan Schwarz of Shoreditch Interiors, who jig-sawed the ...
Duncan Innes

The container’s internal fit-out was done by Ana’s brother, Evan Schwarz of Shoreditch Interiors, who jig-sawed the fridges, Italian espresso machine, bagel grill, serving counters and storage room into the six-metre space.

Set just below the rim of a north-facing hill and down a long right of way that keeps the children well off the road, it was built to a tight budget but has enough room for the family of five plus an au pair.  

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 hoists open the big side doors of their customised shipping container at 8am seven days a week and the first customers arrive soon after. People sneak up to score Ana's salted caramel gelato before breakfast. "It's a funny little island," says Geoff. "People pour in at radical rates, then business drops off like it's the end of the world in July and August."

Patricia Scarles brings a smile to customers’ faces with a cone of double deliciousness.
Duncan Innes

Patricia Scarles brings a smile to customers’ faces with a cone of double deliciousness.

All of which works well for this creative couple who see work-life balance as a top priority. Geoff, who interrupted a paddle-boarding session for our interview, talks about the importance of relaxation and holidays. The family spent a month surfing in Bali last winter. Next year they hope to go for longer. But during summer it's crazy. 

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.

The only one missing from this family group is Mali, the brown lab.
Duncan Innes

The only one missing from this family group is Mali, the brown lab.

"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 quiet but I also love plunging myself into crazy ideas and along the way I found my entrepreneurial drive and got drawn into the coffee bean roasting side of the business." 

Ad Feedback

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 sell for big prices. Her mother, Molly Schwarz, is an interior designer with a passion for architecture.

In 2001 Molly moved to Waiheke and opened The Long House, a purpose-built cooking school, and Ana, her brothers Paul, Evan and Jason and little sister Joanna lived with her on and off. "I used to see Geoff on the island. He was living in a caravan by himself," says Ana. "We'd occasionally meet at parties but at the time I was with somebody else."

Jai’s bedroom sports a trestle table with a plywood top made by Geoff and legs constructed by Ana.
Duncan Innes

Jai’s bedroom sports a trestle table with a plywood top made by Geoff and legs constructed by Ana.

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 Fanshaw Street. From the start Geoff had a business formula. "Small footprint, maximum volume has been our mantra all the way through," he says. "That gives us low overheads." He was the barista; Ana, who was busy looking after baby Mia and soon Jai too, dreamed up a range of fresh Turkish bread sandwiches.

"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."

Spread out on hand-woven mats from Fiji, the picnic includes a favourite salad of peaches, prosciutto, rocket and soft ...
Duncan Innes

Spread out on hand-woven mats from Fiji, the picnic includes a favourite salad of peaches, prosciutto, rocket and soft blue cheese.

But although overheads were low the space didn't provide enough customers to excite Geoff and when an opportunity arose at the Sylvia Park Mall, which opened in 2006, he grabbed it. "It was a bigger animal, a bigger step."

"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 coffee franchise chains made it more interesting still. However, business was good and Ana's menu added "light and heart" to the cabinet food. 

NZ Life & Leisure, January/February 2015. Latest issue in store now.
Jane Ussher

NZ Life & Leisure, January/February 2015. Latest issue in store now.

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 in a proposal and got back a letter: 'You've got an audition'. We thought, 'Can we do this?'" she says. "Anyhow, I went to the interview."

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

This article first featured in the January/February 2015 issue of NZ Life & Leisure. For more like this, visit  nzlifeandleisure  .co.nz or subscribe at mags4gifts.co.nz.

Head to our Facebook page for more from Stuff Life & Style

 - NZ Life & Leisure

Comments

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback