One too many glasses of wine on a vineyard tour in Auckland left me worrying whether my tottering in might be too pale an entry to meet Giapo, of whose unorthodox culinary contribution I have heard aplenty — thick glasses in unsuspecting colours, a cap from a whimsical collection, but most of all, an ever-evolving menu of ice creams that attracts over 1,000 customers a day.
The queue was beginning to spill on to Gore Street. I’m welcomed with hearty hugs from Annarosa Petrucci and Gianpaolo Grazioli (aka Giapo), the creative minds behind Giapo Haute Ice Cream. We walk to the kitchen, on the first floor. “The mad scientist’s lab,” I joke to Petrucci, as she gives me a quick orientation of the assembly line and the 3D printer that shapes the zany ice-cream designs. The soft board above it has pinned little cards, photographs, recipes, notes and a bright red post card with a dinosaur on it.
In the adjacent studio space, I gauge Giapo’s eagerness to observe my reaction on tasting the stuffed-samosa and pani-puri variants. After all, my Indian creds would be a good whetting stone.
For a decade, the locals have been so invested in the brand that when the parlour migrated last year from Queens Street to Gore Street, a couple of tarmac parallels away, the patrons mourned. The Neapolitan duo had begun with a pastry shop, moving on to gelato to provide the Aucklanders with an Italian experience, but soon realised the demand for indigenous flavours, and thus was born Giapo’s “haute” avatar.
The thrill lay in aesthetics and meaningful hooks. The Sky Tower ice cream, a standout addition to the menu, is themed after the iconic Auckland building. The Auckland University of Technology provided the technical inputs needed for every complex creation — breaking down new compositions of yogurts, heating a particular ingredient or working on designs.
Chief chocolatier Amrit walks in with the classic Hot Chips in a Cone. The sweet-saltiness rakes up a riot of flavours in the mouth. Giapo and Petrucci look on with satisfaction at my bewilderment.
The main draw are the bizarre designs and concoctions of the ice creams. From Olympic athlete Caitlyn Jenner’s post gender-reassignment cover photo on Vanity Fair to leak-proof wearable ice-cream for Instagram-obsessed youngsters, the inspirations have been morphed into veritable edible art. Not bound by dogma, it is pure glee and there is something inherently fun about wearing food rather than holding it, says Giapo, as we move towards The Chef’s Table — a curated experience of a 14-course ice-cream meal for 24 people with music in the backdrop. The daily experience is so popular that it has been booked till March 2020.
Amrit reappears, with Colossal Squid — an iconic offering of vanilla with a chocolate exterior — created to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the discovery of the cephalopod in the Te Papa region in 2007. My tummy is full, and though it is packed thoughtfully, I couldn’t resist biting into one of the tentacles.
Before leaving, my eyes drift to the dinosaur on the red postcard with the message which sums up the business: Don’t be normal.