Marco D'Ambrosio stands at the entrance of his gelato shop an hour before it opens.
Gelateria brings a sample of Italy to Ballard
Marco D’Ambrosio left the wine industry to go into the gelato business. But, he insists that his new investment in a quintessential Italian dessert is not all that different from his previous career with wine.
“I consider myself to have always worked in the fine food industry because wine, for me, is a food product; it’s not an alcoholic beverage," said the owner of D'Ambrosio Gelato on Ballard Avenue. "That’s what it’s considered in Europe. And, gelato at this level is a fine food as well. So I didn’t really move much.”
D’Ambrosio moved to Seattle nearly six years ago to work in the wine industry but later decided to go into business with his father, who had spent years making gelato in Italy. After six months of remodeling a small shop space in Ballard, D’Amrbosio’s gelateria opened in May.
“I’m convinced that Ballard Avenue is the most beautiful street in this city," D'Ambrosio said. "It has a very old Europe feeling. There’s a farmers market all year round, there’s people walking. It’s just the perfect place to open an artisan gelato shop. [Ballard] is very diverse in its offering of foods and has had great establishments in the last few years. So, it’s a street that in food offerings is getting better and better.”
Gelato, explained D’Ambrosio, differs from ice cream in its consistency and lower temperatures. Using milk, sugar, cream and dry ingredients from Italy, the gelato is made fresh every morning, although he admits that business has been so successful in recent months he has often had to make several batches in a single day.
“The process is the same; the technique is the same; the recipes are of course our own learned in Italy," he said. "And, the products we use are part of the reason why gelato is so authentic. We resource fresh ingredients from here of course. Anything that has to be fresh we buy here—the fruit and ricotta, our yogurt flavor. And then whatever has to be true to the Italian taste, we import from Italy. That assures that our product is the same as a gelatarian in Italy.”
While the gelato freezes, it is slowly turned until the final product contains about 30 percent air. The high percentage can often be the difference between a quality product and a cheaper brand.
“We do experiment, but in Italian cuisine we think [that] after many years of cooking, hundreds of years in the case of gelato, the recipes [and flavors] have already been perfected,” said D’Ambrosio. “I appreciate the ego in trying to reinvent the wheel, but there is no need because the classics will be good in 50, even 100 years. That’s why we use very traditional flavors.”
Those classics include pistachio, coffee, Stracciatella and chocolate, among others.
“The art is in the balance,” he said. “In any food product, the quality of a meal is given by the quality of ingredients and the balance among the different ingredients. I take this from my experience in wine. If you don’t have the right balance between acidity, sugars and minerals, then the taste will be perceived as wrong. The art in making gelato is in having the perfect balance of ingredients. And I know it sounds easy, but it really is chemistry as far as what exact percentage of solids, sugars, liquids and fats [are used].”
D’Ambrosio said in Italy, gelatarians are seasonal businesses, usually opening in the summer and closing down in the colder months. Gelato, he added, is a social behavior, not just a dessert item. Many Italians will enjoy it for an afternoon snack because of its nutritional value. The sugar is believed to boost energy and the fruit sorbets are low in fat.
D’Ambrosio said in recent years, American food has taken a shortcut, favoring accessibility over quality. He hopes that his authentic, handmade product will help reintroduce the pleasure and art behind fine cuisine.
“There has been a phase where shortcuts were taken and food was [mainly] fast food [and] frozen meals, he said. "And now, there is a rediscovery of artisan products. You see this not just in gelato but everywhere. You see this in buying local, using fresh products, making things from scratch. It's moving away from mass production and moving toward small handmade batches. And, that’s why gelato fits perfectly in that category.”