Kelowna's QB Gelato is known for it's hand-made artisan gelato in many delicious flavours — and now offers specialty dinners featuring gelato with every course.
By CINDA CHAVICH
The table is set at QB Gelato in Kelowna, eight adventurous diners ready for a multi-course dinner that will stretch their culinary imagination.
As the plates begin to arrive, it’s clear that this meal is something special — ahi tuna tartare with shabu-shabu gelato, pumpkin ravioli and burnt sage gelato, leek ash marbled pork medallions with organic vegetables and white garlic gelato, all matched with natural wines from a local boutique winery.
While modern chefs like to explore the contrasts of sweet and savoury, crunchy and silky, hot and cold on the plate, six savoury gelato-paired courses is bold, even in Italy where this cool confection is rooted.
And at QB Gelato, Victor Laderoute and partner Kevin Bojda are definitely pushing the boundaries of what gelato can be.
“People are amazed,” says Laderoute who is the creative menu developer and cook behind their ongoing series of QB Supper Club dinners, featuring an innovative scoop with every course.
“I ask people to close their eyes after we put the plates down, and let your palate do the work,” he says. “The idea is that you’re meant to be surprised.”
A PASSION FOR GELATO
It’s been just four years since Laderoute and Bojda ditched their Vancouver careers and urban lifestyle to dive into the world of gelato.
With catering experience in major hotels and a love of fine food, they’ve turned their passion project into a local destination — their small batch, artisan gelato winning Best in Kelowna year after year, and becoming the toast of this wine-centric Okanagan community.
It was a visit with friends in Toronto, and their stylish Hotel Gelato and espresso bar, that first inspired Laderoute. He began researching the idea of making gelato and discovered that the most celebrated artisan gelaterias, whether in Vancouver, New York or Dubai, had a common denominator. All of these gelato entrepreneurs learned the secrets of gelato-making at the Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna, Italy.
So, they packed their bags and spent a month studying in the intensive program, sampling gelato everywhere along the way.
“Florence, Venice, Rome — we tasted gelato,” says Laderoute. “There are 40,000 gelato shops in Italy, it’s a big business.”
Laderoute says the professional gelato course was tough —almost overwhelming with its scientific focus on base mixes, the freezing power of various sugars, stabilizing analysis and formulating balanced recipes — but back home in Canada, they decided to take the plunge. They opened their small, stylish shop in Kelowna’s new tech/business park, The Landmark District, complete with a tasting bar featuring a sleek Pozzetti refrigeration unit, their artisan gelato protected from air, light and temperature variations in shiny, covered stainless steel tubs. Snowy white subway tiles stretch to the high ceiling and there’s an open kitchen behind glass, where you can watch the gelato-maker in action.
“We wanted to engage with people, invite them to taste, be part of the educational process,” he says.
But sampling and chatting at the gelato/espresso bar came to an abrupt halt when COVID-19 arrived in 2020.
The prospect of keeping a seasonal, tourist-fuelled business afloat when most of the 4,000 office workers in the surrounding buildings were working from home, sent the pair into survival mode.
QB GELATO & BAKERY
Even before the pandemic hit, fresh baking and savoury foods were on the gelato-makers’ menu. QB offered daily soup and sandwich specials, along with their gourmet gelato, serving a captive lunch crowd in the busy business district.
“Kevin and I have continued to recreate the business within the parameters of working in a really small space,” says Laderoute, describing cooking his homestyle soups on portable induction plates and using their waffle irons for grilled cheese. “That helped us move forward, especially in the colder months, and when COVID came we decided to provide more food to go.”
They added frozen soups and mac and cheese to the take-out menu, all available to order online through a new improved website. Holiday dinner boxes, including classic tourtiere from a family recipe, cookies and brunch waffle kits kept local customers coming.
“That did quite well, it helped us get through the first summer and we didn’t have to lay anyone off,” says Laderoute. “We’ve been pretty adamant about keeping everyone safe but we needed to keep the business open. It was a matter of survival — for us to close our doors at any point would be the end of us.”
This year they rebranded as a gelateria and bakery, hiring pastry chef Natasha Ruiz to produce a wide variety of baked goods, from sourdough breads and cookies to individual tartes, mini gelato cakes, sour cream waffles and gelato sandwiches. Crunchy Roman-style “pizza tiles”, inspired by the pair’s visits to Italy, are now on the daily menu, too.
“We felt QB Gelato & Bakery was a better reflection of what we’ve become and where we’re heading,” says Bojda. “It’s our promise to our customers and fans that we will continue to evolve and grow, to bring the very best flavours the Okanagan has to offer in more ways than one.”
But gelato — from their signature Green Goddess (pistachio) and Holy Cacao (dairy-free chocolate) to salted caramel, mint chip, milk chocolate, and rotating seasonal inspirations — is still QB’s core business, and available in the shop (or to order online for local delivery) along with other cool treats.
You may also find QB Gelato on the menu at the Kelowna Yacht Club, Matadora Tapas, or in beer floats at Trading Post Brewing in Osoyoos.
“We still see ourselves as Kelowna’s best gelato makers, first and foremost,” says gelato master Laderoute, “and we will continue to experiment with high quality real ingredients to create irresistibly great gelato flavours.”
FROM SPARKLE TO SUPPER CLUBS
It was a conversation with one of his regular customers, over a QB gelato affogato, that started Laderoute down the path of savoury gelato and supper clubs.
Eric von Krosigk — a legendary winemaker in the valley — was intrigued by Laderoute’s idea to pair gelato with local wines in a multi-course dinner. They teamed up in December of 2018 for the first Sparkle dinner, with each course including a savoury gelato paired with an Okanagan sparkling wine. That sold-out event was the inspiration for the ongoing Supper Club concept.
“Eric likes innovation and with his encouragement we did a second Sparkle dinner in 2019, with another planned this year,” says Laderoute. “He’s a mentor 100% — every single Supper Club, I bring out a menu and we talk about it.”
Laderoute approached the idea of savoury gelato simply at first, a fresh strawberry gelato seasoned with black pepper like the Italian summer specialty, or a palate cleanser of green apple sorbet with fresh thyme.
But then things started to get a little crazy. Both the diners and the local winemakers who partnered with QB Gelato for their dinners wanted more.
For the Liquidity Wines dinner, the antipasti was a waffle cone filled with ahi tuna tartare with chive oil and coconut cilantro sorbet. Arrowleaf served their 2016 Archive Reserve red alongside Victor’s tea-smoked lamb chop and nasu miso (Japanese grilled eggplant) gelato. Kitsch paired their chardonnay with a plate of pistachio fettuccine, a dollop of meaty mortadella gelato melting over the top.
A grazing vegan dinner started with a warm pretzel with pickled red onion and grainy mustard sorbet, followed by polenta fries with salsa verde sorbet, beet latkes with turmeric carrot sorbet, and farro and lentils with tahini lemon gelato, fried onion and raisins. Wiseacre No. 4 pink peppercorn gin, cucumber, basil and mint sorbet cleansed the palate between savoury and sweet courses.
And at the latest holiday Sparkle dinner, featuring bubbles curated by Von Krosigk, now winemaker at Frind Estate, the crispy duck arrived with charred parsnip gelato, and asparagus potato risotto came topped with porcini gelato.
Though not a trained chef, Laderoute is a keen, self-taught cook and approaches his Supper Club events, for just 8 guests, like a sophisticated dinner party. With the help of Ruiz and other staff, the prix fixe menus are refined and presented to the participating partners who choose beverages to pair with the food.
“It’s a real collaboration and always evolving as we think about balancing the overall menu,” he says. “Sometimes we start with a gelato and then decide it would work better as a sorbet, or turn the sauce into a gelato. We don’t want to be constricted by norms but we want to keep it approachable, yet still surprising.”
While traditional gelato relies on sugar and milk for its dense, creamy texture, savoury gelato starts with the sugars from yellow onions, extracted with salt.
“Sugar is important in gelato — it acts as the antifreeze — and a lot of our savoury recipes begin with a magic ingredient that happens to be onion,” says Laderoute, explaining how the natural sugars develop the desired structure.
The savoury gelatos are prepared in ultra-small batches, pre-formed in quenelles or molds, frozen, and then plated with hot foods just before service. Because it’s denser than ice cream — with less air or “overrun” churned into the mixture — gelato has the advantage of being slower to melt.
“We have so much fun, we talk with the guests about the pairings and interact with each course,” says Laderoute.
“Overall, you’re going to experience textures and flavours and temperatures on each plate that are designed to delight.”
At the end of each evening, diners are asked to choose their favourite course or pairing and Laderoute says his veal tartare with anchovy butter gelato is always a hit.
GELATO DINNERS AND MORE
Gelato tours, tastings and supper clubs are just getting more popular at QB Gelato, and this fall will expand to include three or four successive nights for each themed dinner, including the popular Vegan Supper Club.
In 2022, Laderoute plans to revive their educational port, gin and whisky tasting events, paired with small plates and gelato. And there will be more behind-the-scenes gelato education evenings, too.
While gelato with garlic and burnt sage, goat cheese or wild mushrooms is breaking new ground, Laderoute says as more urbanites arrive in the Okanagan Valley, the demographic is evolving, with more adventurous eaters and innovative entrepreneurs.
The tagline on their logo is “Brightly Imaginative Great Food” and Laderoute explains the QB comes from the Italian “quanto basta”, heard in a professional kitchen when a plate is up and ready for service, or when a grandmother urges you to enjoy everything at her table.
“Take as much as you want, no more, no less,” he says. “It’s our mantra for life.”
QB Gelato Supper Club dinners and educational tasting events continue throughout the winter months with dinners for eight running on consecutive nights. The annual Sparkle supper club (holiday edition with bubblies) runs Nov. 24,25, 26 and 27, with port, gin and whisky tastings, with tapas and gelato menus, in the new year. Book on line to secure a spot.