Bella Gelateria’s James Coleridge
We’re big fans of Bella Gelateria. In part it’s because we never know what the extraordinarily talented James Coleridge will get up to next. Another reason: if you walk by his always-busy storefront at the corner of Vancouver’s Burrard and Cordova, no matter what time of day it is, chances are he’ll be there, working at his latest creations. Through and through a true artisan, he’s one of the most hands-on business people I know.
Oh. And did I mention he’s quite passionate? The other day I was walking by and he came running out, so excited he could hardly contain himself. Have a look at this and you’ll see what I mean…
In case you missed it, James has been named as one of just 20 Canadian artisans chosen by Ace Bakery’s Artisan Incubator. In June the Bella Gelateria founder will join his fellow artisans from across the country to exchange ideas and present a series of workshops as part of Ace Bakery’s 20th anniversary.
Bella Gelateria—plus a strong BC Contingent
With him from BC will be Shana Miller (Upper Bench Winery & Creamery); Andrew Shepherd (Vancouver Island Sea Salt); and Marilyn, Giorgio and Michelle Venturi (Venturi-Schulze Ltd.) There’s an interesting bakery connection to this latest honour (which comes in the wake of winning Technical and People’s Choice at last year’s Florence Gelato Festival): Before embarking on Bella Gelato, James was at the vanguard of the Lower Mainland’s artisan bread movement. He opened Fieldstone Bakery in South Surrey, back in the 1990s. That led eventually to a deal with Capers. But when that finished, he turned his hand to gelato.
Time to head to Italy
“I’d grown up with classic ice cream from the local store. But gelato became a passion for me, a place I just had to go. I decided to travel to Italy to go school and achieve the academic background,” he said to me in an interview when he first opened.
After extensive academic studies in Italy at the Italian Culinary Institute, and later at Bologna’s Gelato University, Coleridge followed mentorships with Italian luminaries in the fields of sorbet, gelato and chocolate. Only then did he decide to bring “old world” style gelato to Vancouver—and open Bella Gelato, along with the best technology available.
Doing it right first time
He uses a vertical batch freezer, which accounts for the creamier, more dense mouthfeel and texture, in part because it injects less air than typical commercial machines.
For storage, Coleridge turned to Pozzetti’s state-of-the-art counter system, where small batches of different flavours are stored in covered containers. Coleridge makes only what he estimates he needs for the day.
“Gelato on display,” he explains, “is literally struggling for survival, as it deteriorates with oxygen and has to be stabilized with triglycerides and other agents. At Bella Gelato we’re far more interested in what it tastes like than what it looks like.”
Initially, he was concerned Vancouver customers might need to “eat with their eyes.” But response to his old- style gelato has been overwhelming. (Just check the line-up on a sunny (or even a cold) day…
One of Bella Gelato’s keys is purity of ingredients, about which Coleridge is fanatical. He uses only Avalon organic milk, and works with several other Vancouver artisan producers. They include Granville Island Sake maker Masa Shiroke, who supplies him with sake used in the creamy Kasu gelato. And Coleridge makes another firm fave to which we can attest: XoXolat chili-chocolate bacon “breakfast” gelato.
Always up for a challenge
James is a real master who doesn’t shy away from a good challenge. The very first of Bella Gelato’s creations I ever tasted was an Ilieach Cask Aged Scotch and chocolate gelato. It was extraordinary, not to mention a real technical challenge, marvelously peaty, velvet textured with the whisky flavours and chocolate in perfect balance.
Since then I’ve been amazed by many more of Coleridge’s remarkable tastes, from his Akbar Mashti (rosewater saffron gelato) to salted caramel, to mention but a couple. In short, in you haven’t been and tasted, you don’t know what you’re missing.
James has the last word…
“What you see at Bella Gelato is classic gelato. The product is as close to a genuine Italian and old world style as you can find in North America. It separates itself very clearly from the traditional commercial industrial style which are now made just about everywhere…
“I merely consider myself a messenger for a process that’s quickly losing ground to an industrial method. It has respect for the past and I’m trying to bring it forward.
“We really are guardians of the process. It’s the style. It’s how we present it and what we use for ingredients. We need to make sure that we maintain the quality of what we do at all costs.
“We have to respect the old world style.”