by Paige Atkinson, Claire Bontempo,
Olivia Leitch and Savannah Williams
When gelato dreams become a reality
February 25, 2015
Narrative by Savannah Williams
What would prompt a man to walk away from a six-figure income? Winning the lottery? Or receiving a massive inheritance from a distance uncle? For Brent Petersen, it all started with a trip to Italy more than a decade ago.
Petersen earned his business administration degree from the University of Illinois and quickly began a career in radio broadcasting. He wanted to strike the perfect balance between practicality and creativity, and this combination worked well for him for a while after graduation.
Fifteen years later, it was time for a change. Petersen used the money he’d saved while working in radio and decided to buy a plot of land in rural Rhode Island. He quickly established One Love Farm and began growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to sell at nearby farmers markets (including one he started himself).
So he quit his job, sold his farm and moved to Texas to make gelato and sorbet year-round.
In Petersen’s eyes, Austin was the perfect locale for his dream business--warm weather, a large local food supply and customers with enough buying power to keep the business afloat year round.
“From strawberries in Marble Falls to peaches in Stonewall and Fredericksburg to blueberries in East Texas to citrus in the valley, I'm always excited with the upcoming seasonal fruit. Also, the dairy products (mainly milk) are outstanding,” Petersen said.
With booths at the Cedar Park, Mueller Park and Dripping Springs Farmers Markets, Petersen spends his weekdays in a state of gelato zen. Whether he’s picking fruits and herbs himself at nearby farms, receiving produce deliveries, juicing or mixing his perfected recipes, his job as a gelatiere is definitely full time.
Even restaurants have started to take notice of Petersen’s gelatos and sorbets. North By Northwest, a local restaurant and brewhouse, has established a partnership with New World Gelato. Most recently, Skinny Limits started buying Petersen’s sorbet for their smoothies.
After his own gelato and sorbet machine experienced sudden equipment failure, North By Northwest Executive Chef George Powell had to scramble to find a place to source his dessert.
“I didn’t want to use a commercial product or something like that,” Powell said. “One day, I saw Brent’s van somewhere and I thought, ‘Wow, I wonder if this guy can help me out.’ So I took down his number and we set up an appointment to check out his facility. He was so passionate about having everything fresh. That’s what drew me to him.”
Petersen’s insistence on high quality, local ingredients without additional additives (like food coloring and preservatives) seems to be setting him apart from his corporate competition. With a food network as extensive as Texas’, he doesn’t see a reason to “dirty” his product in the interest of shelf life.
“For me, it is very important that I work with restaurants who understand the product and its perishable nature. I've had customers store the product in a refrigerator during meal service for convenience and then try to put it back in the freezer to refreeze it. Of course, that doesn't work,” Petersen said. “If I can expand into other restaurants that are willing to work with me and can promote and store the gelato properly, I will look forward to that since it will be productive for both of us.”
From radio broadcasting to telecommunications technology to gelato and sorbet making, Petersen’s journey has been a unique one. But he’s staying humble. He wants to continue expanding his partnerships with local farms, businesses and restaurants and educating his customers about not only gelato and sorbet, but the love that goes into creating every aspect of his product.
“While most people would probably want to grow their business into a huge organization countrywide or perhaps worldwide, I am much more interested in making sure that I can make the best quality product possible,” said Petersen. “If that means that I am selling at farmers markets 10 years from now, that is fine as long as people still smile when they taste my gelato.”
Petersen says dessert is just as important as the rest of the meal--a portion that should never be forsaken.
“All over Italy, the passegiata, or evening stroll, is often undertaken with a cone of gelato,” Petersen said. “After dinner, take a walk, chat with the neighbors or strangers you come across and stop in for a gelato. You'll live longer, or at least enjoy the time you have more!”
Chef's perspective: Sarah Prieto
Pastry Chef Sarah Prieto sheds light on the surprising complexities that coat the world of frozen treats. The terms "gelato," "sorbet" and "ice cream" are often used interchangeably, but they all very different! Each one is composed of particular ingredients and produced using specific techniques that lend to three very different products. Listen in now to hear Sarah skim the surface on the art of frozen desserts.
Sarah Prieto received a Grand Diploma of Pastry Arts at the French Culinary Institute at the International Culinary Center in San Jose, California. Prieto now works at the restaurant Cover 3. 5. VII. in Austin.
Podcast by Claire Bontempo
Photo courtesy of Sarah Prieto
Videography by Olivia Leitch, Savannah Williams and Claire Bontempo
Editing by Claire Bontempo
However, due to unreliable sales and patchy growing seasons throughout the year, Petersen picked up a job with a technology firm that specialized in fixed wireless internet service. In his spare time (with his big new paycheck), he and his girlfriend began vacationing in Italy as frequently as their work schedules would allow.
A New England native, Petersen was no stranger to delicious gelatos and sorbets made throughout the east coast. Coming from a region with a large Italian population, there was lots to choose from, both good and bad.
Having spent so much time on his farm growing and harvesting crops, he appreciated the natural, non-processed flavors offered by localized gelato and sorbet makers. In his opinion, desserts shouldn’t come with a laundry list of hard-to-pronounce ingredients. That’s what sparked his next big idea: making his own gelatos and sorbets with his own fruits and spices.
Reading the New York Times one morning, Petersen happened upon an article about Gelato University, a week-long ‘crash course’ (in Italy, of course) on the ins and outs of making your own gelato and sorbet.
“Having just returned from a trip to Italy, we decided to go for it and took the course. We loved learning about gelato making and I decided spend a small fortune importing gelato equipment from Italy,” Petersen said. “I was always looking for a way to express my creativity and I think I have found one way to do that in gelato making.”
Rhode Island suffers some pretty harsh winter weather, so you could imagine that many customers weren’t jumping at the opportunity to devour their next dish of frozen dessert. Despite virtually everyone knowing about Petersen’s homemade, homegrown gelato, many weren’t interested in traveling long distances to farmers markets to pick up desserts that were arguably warmer than the outside air.
After ten years growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables, making gelato, and working in the tech field all at the same time, something still didn’t feel quite right. Creating gelato was starting to take a backseat to Petersen’s busy life in the tech world, and he found himself feeling stifled and hungry for change.