A sommelier of frozen cream, a barista of sorbet, Vince Misceo of La Casa Gelato will scoop you off your feet with his 218 flavours of handmade ice cream. His shop is a bright pink eyesore stationed in the most unlikely of places - the industrial section of Vancouver, blocks away from the Downtown Eastside. But for those with a hankering for an exotic sugar fix, the store is a destination no matter the distance. Tourists from Hong Kong will stop by to order 5 litres of durian gelato to take on their flights back as a souvenir. Australians can feel at home with Vegemite ice cream. The Persian community empties the store with buckets of akbar mashti – a mixture of saffron, rosewater and pistachio. For the health nut indulging in guilty pleasures there is wild fennel and dandelion root. At the moment he and his children – true to the Italian culinary legacy of a family recipe passed through the generations – are working on Filipino garju, a fish dish served with green mango.
“I come up with things that never existed before but then sometimes you get customers in from whatever place they're coming from and the first thing they say is, 'Misceo, you've got everything but you don't have what I have in my country,'” he says.
He then makes it his saccharine mission to come up with a taste that parallels what his customers are looking for.
The recipes are simple – cream, eggs, white sugar a bit of lemon to sharpen the taste other.
“I can do it, you can do it, anybody can do it,” he claims.
But beyond this, Misceo is as secret as Willy Wonky about what goes on in his workshop behind the store. When Martha Stewart filmed his show for The Learning Channel she was barred from seeing where the magic happens. For a while, even his wife wasn't allowed a peek.
The inventions are made with real fruit, no extracts or colouring. They adjust the sugar levels depending on which fruit they are using in the base. If the concoction is too sweet, it won't freeze, he explains. Some flavours like the highly sought after cherimoya is only available when in season.
When Misceo started the business in 1982, he used his children as guinea pigs. “I would look at their faces to see whether it was good or bad or otherwise,” he said.
While some flavours don't make it to the shelf, Misceo gambles with flavours that pass the initial taste test of his kids. Then it goes to the store where six or seven employees hustle like stock brokers behind the counter scooping small spoons of curry and garlic for curious and adventurous customers to palette.
“You come and you try it if you like it we'll keep it on the shelf and if you don't we put it aside,” he said.
Misceo is equally as secretive about which flavour he has a soft spot for.
“People say 'What's your favourite' and I say, 'What's my favourite and what's your favourite are two different things,'” he said.
You'll just have to have a lick for yourself. Discretionary advice: allow ample time for determining whether a scoop of Guiness would best accompany a scoop of wasabi or basil.