Before setting up gelato shop Momolato at the Singapore Management University last year, Ms Sharon Tay was an investment banker for eight years.
"Once, I was at my desk for 72 hours straight, working on a proposal for a bond issuance we were doing for Vietnam. I thought that if I was working so hard, I may as well be my own boss," the 35-year-old, who is single, says.
It took a leap of faith, but she has proven that she is as good at creating gelato flavours as convincing corporate clients to issue bonds.
Her gelato, Good Ol' Days, beat 15 other finalists to come in tops in the Asia-Pacific leg of the second edition of the Gelato World Tour. It was held at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre last weekend. The event featured 16 gelato flavours and six were from Singapore. The other finalists came from countries such as Australia and Vietnam.
The competition, organised by the Carpigiani Gelato University near Bologna, Italy, together with Italian confection and baked goods exhibition, Sigep, was first held in 2013.
Coming in second was Roasted Walnut And Honey Crunch, a gelato made of roasted walnuts blended with honey by David Lamprell, Michael and Brian O'Donnell of 48 Flavours in Adelaide. In third place was Vanilla Of The East, a pandan gelato with vanilla beans, basil seeds and salted gula melaka by Ong Kee Win and Ong Seow Huan of Cielo Dolci in Kuala Lumpur.
These winners will represent Asia Pacific in the grand finals in Rimini, Italy, in 2017.
Ms Tay's gelato is made of gula melaka, fresh milk and coconut milk. It is enfolded with ribbons of sweet and salty gula melaka caramel and topped with crispy beancurd skin caramelised with raw honey.
One of the judges, chef Christopher Christie, executive chef of Marina Bay Sands, says: "Sharon's gelato was a winner because it's got an old-school yet refreshing taste, with hints of sweetness and saltiness. The extremely creamy and smooth texture topped it off."
She had created the gelato to commemorate Singapore's 50th birthday and it took about a month to get right.
Her mother, 63, is a relief teacher, and her father, also 63, is a supervisor at the Port of Singapore Authority. She has a sister, 25, who works in marketing.
Momolato serves flavourful gelato with natural ingredients. A scoop of its gelato or a fruit sorbet popsicle costs $3 for students and $3.50 for others.
It also offers gelato macarons ($7 each) and cakes ($15 each) which are available for private orders or corporate events. The macarons are kept frozen to keep the shells from turning soggy.
Where did you first taste gelato, and what struck you about it?
I first had gelato at Grom in Florence, Italy, three years ago, when I was studying at the Apicius International School of Hospitality to hone my baking skills. I've always been interested in baking, having watched my mother make moist, fluffy pandan chiffon cakes.
The pistachio gelato had such an excellent texture and flavour that I enrolled in the Carpigiani Gelato University later that year to learn to make it.
How did your family react when you quit your banking job?
Initially, they were quite taken aback, but did not stop me. My father also came to the competition to sample my gelato.
Why the name Momolato?
It means "more and more gelato". Hopefully, customers will return time and again.
What were some challenges you faced in setting up and running Momolato?
On the second week of operations, our freezers broke down and we had to replace an entire batch of products. My father was diagnosed with a brain tumour shortly after we opened, so I was shuttling between the shop and the hospital for a few months. He has since recovered.
What are some tricky gelato flavours to make?
Dark chocolate, as we want to convey its bitterness without the chocolate taste being overwhelming. For floral flavours like lavender and osmanthus, we need to ensure that they're not too perfumey.
What are some no-gos for gelato?
There cannot be ice crystals in it. There also cannot be artificial colouring in it. We use natural colouring, such as beetroot for red and butterfly pea flower for blue. Finally, as pistachios are quite costly, some gelato makers mix them with almonds, but it definitely doesn't taste as good.
Did you make frozen desserts as a child?
When I was 10, I used to freeze popsicles made of Ribena, with strawberry slices and blueberries in them. I also made Milo and Ovaltine popsicles.
What is a typical work day like for you now?
I wake up at around 6am to buy ingredients. Pasir Panjang Wholesale Market is great for fruit and Geylang Serai Market has good gula melaka and fresh coconut milk.
I churn the gelato before the shop opens at 11am and make deliveries while my co-worker mans the store. After our store closes at 9pm, I'll still be answering e-mail until about 11pm. The hours may be long, but my work is fulfilling.
What are some of your favourite frozen dessert places here and in Italy?
I like Milk & Honey Artisan Yogurt and Dessert Bar at One KM and City Square Mall for their mango sorbet. I also like Vivoli and Grom in Florence. My favourite gelato flavour is pistachio - it's the quintessential, classic gelato flavour.
What are some of your favourite eating places here?
Ming Kee Live Seafood in MacPherson Road for its garlic prawns and Swa Garden Restaurant, also in MacPherson Road, for its juicy, tender braised duck.
If you could pick someone to have a meal with, who would it be and why?
It would be my late grandmother, who died suddenly of a stroke a few years back. She took care of me when I was young, and I would have liked to learn how to make orh nee (Teochew yam paste) from her.
This article was first published on Mar 29, 2015.
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