Local Vegan Wants to Set New Standards for Gelato

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Berkeley vegan chef Barry Schenker has a metaphorical bone to pick with commercial producers of vegan gelato.

Most of them use a soy base infused with hydrogenated oils and additives, which the purist in him reviles. Ex-chiropractor Schenker, who with his wife Diana Rebman cohosts the monthly meatless marathon gourmet cooking lesson/feasts known as Marketplace Dinners at Berkeley's Hillside Club, has been developing his own line of vegan gelatos. They're not for sale — yet — but he's experimenting with ingredients and flavors while researching a vegan-frozen-desserts cookbook he plans to write.

For his subtle pistachio-saffron, snappy rosewater-ginger, lush strawberry-rosewater, frostingy-rich cherry-almond, earthy double espresso, complicated vanilla-chai, eye-poppingly intense mango, and other flavors, Schenker buys fresh organic ingredients locally — mainly at the Berkeley Bowl and, in the case of the coffee, at the French Hotel. As much as a pound of fruit packed into every quart produces dense flavors augmenting a velvety texture achieved not via soy products or artificial thickeners but via large quantities of tree nuts pulverized in a highly specialized machine.

"You need some technology to do this right," Schenker said. "You can't do it with your mother's Waring blender."

He boxes his gelatos under the name Genuto, which he chose for its Italian sound and because it contains the word "nut." But he was delighted when a relative pointed out that the word is also an anagram for "tongue."

While researching his book, "I recently obtained the soy-based ingredient list from the largest Italian supplier of gelato products. When you see soy-based gelato at most gelaterias, this is the 'mother source,'" Schenker told me in an email, providing the list:

09408 NEUTRAL SOYA BASE
Ingredients: fructose, maltodextrins, alimentary fibres, hydrogenated soya fat, starch, emulsifier: E 471 mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, E 472b lactic acid esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, E 477 propane-1,2-diol esters of fatty acids, stabilizer: E 410 locust bean gum, E 466 carboxymethylcellulose, E 412 guar gum, soya proteins, flavours

"With all the hype over Slow Food, the Italians are great proponents of chemically processed foods," Schenker concluded grimly.

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