The last King of Italy!
The eyes of Sergio Dondoli still sparkle when he remembers that meeting that was so unique, so spontaneous, so regal!
What does it feel like to be called the most famous gelato artisan in the world?
I am amazed by the enormous popularity that I have enjoyed in recent years, a bit all over the world. I also feel a lot of responsibility towards the “profession” that I represent on every occasion. I always try to give my best, in the name of a fantastic trade. I’ve been doing this work for 30 years. For me the work has never been a cross to bear, but rather a passion! A few days ago a couple from Finland asked to take a selfie with me, because they say that I am very famous in their country. In Finland? Unbelievable…
All this success comes from what, how did it happen?
I think people perceive that in my gelato there is a part of myself, it’s almost physical, a relationship of infinite love. My gelato is so personal that customers find me in the product! Like Santa Fina Cream (PDO Saffron from San Gimignano, pralined pine nuts from Pisa, vanilla bean) – pure poetry! Or Rosemary Baby sorbet (raspberry and rosemary), or perhaps Black Venus (blackberry sorbet with lavender), a wonderful marriage.
What was your big break on an international level?
For sure when I met Tony Blair, at the time the British Prime Minister. A true friendship. When he was in Italy and I had the pleasure of eating with him and his family, the Italian and foreign media went crazy. They described me as “Sergio Dondoli, Tony Blair’s personal gelatiere.” Then my popularity grew gradually through an increasing number of contacts with people from the world of entertainment and sports.
We understand that today Gelateria Dondoli is the supplier of several high-ranking families and even European royalty?
True. We supply many nobles and various royal families. But don’t ask me which ones. But I can tell you an anecdote from a few years ago. When the Queen came into the gelato shop and asked me, “How are you, Sergio?” my first instinct was to run over to her and give her a hug! Then I stopped at the door of the shop and realized that she had 25 people behind her, including relatives and an entourage. Well, she asked me for a cone of gelato for each of them, choosing herself the flavours for each person.
So I asked her how she managed to know and decide what everybody wanted and her answer was: “I’m the Queen, I decide!”
Your experience over the course of many editions of the Gelato World Cup, of which you are one of the organizers, has given you a chance to see the way different countries work. What has struck you the most?
The different schools of thought. The many facets that each team brought as professional growth. For example: France’s search for detail and beauty, Spain’s wonderful cuisine, especially Basque and Catalan, and how it was transferred to gelato. The Argentine school, wonderful, with a very high quality gelato, maybe the best in the world today.
What is the most important professional insight of your career?
Having had the insight to work right away with great chefs. Understanding recipes with their thousand unique characteristics. Feeling myself to be a “Savory Gelato Artisan” lent to the magic world of sweets. I feel like a pioneer, something awoke inside me, showed me the way.
The biggest regret of your career?
Honestly I don’t think I have any big regrets. But this trade has occupied a great deal of my time, which means that I spent a lot less time with my family. Now I have to make up. What I failed to do as a father I’ve got to do as a grandfather!
The Dondoli gelato shop is located in San Gimignano, one of the most beautiful Italian cities. Often tourist guides list your shop as one of the things that can’t be missed during a visit to the city. That’s pretty unusual, isn’t it?
It’s true, there are many tours that show up here with coach buses. Floods of tourists arrive who want our gelato, and, if possible, to see the gelato artisan, the famous one… It’s funny, but it makes us hugely popular and provides us a lot of work. So we have been added as a tourist attraction to several national and international guides.
What does the future hold for gelato?
I see a future with a few shadows but many opportunities. Especially for international development. I myself, with some distinguished colleagues, participated in the establishment of a foundation aimed at supporting and developing the quality of gelato around the world. Everyone must do their part, make an effort so that the concept of total quality is “exported.” I firmly believe that quality will always win, and mediocrity is destined to disappear.
What advice would you give to a young person approaching the gelato business?
Take some serious gelato courses. Do not settle for anything. Understand exactly what is behind and inside artisanal gelato. Invest in culture, invest money, because a quality education costs. Then you need a desire to do, to experiment. Finally the awareness that you have to devote a lot of time to the job. The most beautiful job in the world.
Last question: in your career you have received many awards and accolades. Do you want to mention some of them?
In 2016 I was really proud to receive the MAM award (Master of Art and Craft), comparable to the French Maitre D’Art and the Japanese Living National Treasure. Another award that I am particularly proud of is the 2015 Communication Ambassador award, received as part of the prestigious Comunicando Award. In any case, I am sure that the best reward of all I will receive tomorrow morning when I open my shop and find a smiling face waiting for me to open the door. My next customer friend.