Lisa Valmorbida
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books

When I was growing up I used to daydream about owning my own restaurant. Mum had told me about a place in Melbourne where you could sit at the counter and have ice cream and milkshakes and lollies. I dreamed about owning a place like that one day, but the dream never involved me actually making the ice cream.

As I got older I became more and more obsessed with food and cooking. But working with food as a career still seemed like a dream, or something you’d do as a hobby. Maybe it was because an obsession with food was normal in my family. Lots of us cook. All of us talk obsessively about food. Dad especially trained us about food from very early on, to taste everything and to appreciate everything. I’m still obsessed with new flavours.

After high school, I enrolled in an interior design course but my focus was elsewhere. On cooking shows mainly. I’m sure my brother Jamie is exaggerating when he says I sat in the TV room watching back-to-back cooking shows for months but I do know that I spent so much time watching them that my family started to think there was something wrong with me. But these shows made it clear to me that things had to change. When I told Mum and Dad that I was dropping out of uni for a career in food their faces went white. Jamie was hovering around too. It felt like an intervention. My parents didn’t exactly discourage me but they wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into. I didn’t, but I told them I did because it felt like this was the right path.

I became a gelato maker gradually. Gelato had always been a part of our family life, from eating it at backyard dinners in the summer to going to Massimo’s in Noosa or when we spent time in Vicenza with my Nonna and Nonno, who took us to one of the local gelaterie there. Gelato was always there. It just took me a while to notice it properly.

I completed a year-long cooking course in Sydney and landed a job at a restaurant in Melbourne called Donovans. The kitchen was equipped with a gelato machine and it fascinated me. The idea of specialising had been forming, and I wanted to focus all my energy on one thing. Jamie and I had been talking about doing a business together and one idea involved a gelato truck. I started to think gelato might be the thing.

Jamie convinced me to pursue the idea. So I researched gelato schools and the Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna kept coming up as the best. I wasn’t completely convinced that gelato was it but figured that knowing how to make authentic Italian gelato would be a great skill to have, even if the truck idea didn’t go ahead. I enrolled in the course and flew to Bologna.

Italy changed everything. The Carpigiani Gelato University is at the factory where Carpigiani make their gelato machinery. Everything seemed so cool to me, like I was in exactly the right place. The course was four weeks long, taught by Italians and filled with people from all over the world.

I was immediately surprised at how calculated and specific gelato-making is. Everything is calibrated. When I cooked I didn’t follow recipes, I just chucked stuff in. The challenge of having specific recipes and calibrations was what I’d been looking for.

Italy changed the way I approached gelato. Bologna is a serious foodie town where people take the idea of quality to a different level. I thought I had an understanding of what good gelato was but then I ate at La Sorbetteria Castiglione in Bologna and realised I’d never eaten good gelato before.

After finishing the course I worked at Gelateria Alberto Marchetti, one of the best gelaterias in Turin. I learned to use different machinery and was taught how to scoop gelato properly. It’s a serious art form using the flat paddle. I also grew accustomed to the gelato being stored in pozzetti – the lidded stainless steel containers that traditional gelaterias use to hold and serve the gelato – as well as the accompanying theatre of throwing the lids around. I went to the AmalfiCoast, a prime gelato destination, and I think I went to every gelateria in the region, trying flavours and taking photos – just looking and tasting. I came home with a collection of pizza boxes, tea towels, paper bags, napkins and food wrapping as inspiration. I also had a head full of recipe ideas.

Jamie and I were still thinking of a truck but then a little shop front our family owned on Faraday Street in Carlton became available, so we decided to open a temporary store to test the concept. It was cheaper than the truck but it turned out to be one of the best ideas we had, enabling us to experiment and explore.

The name was tougher. Everything sounded stupid to me. Then my father suggested the name Pidapipó. I didn’t like it at first either.

Pidapipi is an Italian finger game that my Nonno would play with us all whenever we were sitting around the table. It’s kind of like Simon Says. You use your index finger. When you say pidapipi, you point up. Say pidapipó and you point down. The person leading the game tries to trick the players by calling out the wrong word for the gesture. If you follow the finger rather than the word, you lose. The word reminded me of Nonno and people liked the sound of it so Pidapipó it was. I can’t imagine any other name now.

We opened the Pidapipó temporary store in December 2013. It was bare bones – just a neon sign, a mural painted by local artist Esther Stewart and shelves filled with ingredients as décor. We had 12 flavours at any one time and recipes for about 50 others. The biggest expense was the gelato machinery, including the pozzetti. I was nervous about using them because we’d been told that people wanted to see the gelato, to look and point at the mounds in the display case. But the pozzetti seemed right. We were doing everything else traditionally, from using only fresh fruit, nothing frozen, to making everything on premises, and specialising solely in gelato, with no coffee, pastries or anything else, so we went for it. We were the first dedicated gelato store in Melbourne to use them, so it felt brave at the time.

We’d done some publicity and had a great launch so were expecting lines of people waiting when we opened the door. We had all these staff standing around and then … nothing. Our first customer came in about an hour after we opened and we took a photo of her and she left. It wasn’t a great start, though she did become a regular.

About seven months later we closed the temporary store ahead of opening the permanent store in Lygon Street. We celebrated by offering people a free scoop. This time, the line stretched for blocks.

When we opened the permanent Pidapipó in December 2014, we got the queue. It felt good because people knew us now. It was like being accepted as a part of the community. With the temporary store we’d started collaborating with local designers, musicians, DJs, artists, restaurateurs and producers. Music became as essential to the Pidapipó experience as the beautiful 60s-chanelling design by Rabindra Naidoo. Flavours changed all the time, the Nutella fountain flowed, we held events at restaurants and in our shop, got our own rooftop beehives, raised money for causes we cared about, threw a beach party, opened a second shop in Windsor and made a lot of gelato.

Pidapipó isn’t the restaurant I daydreamed about when I was young. The dream’s there though, mixed with childhood memories of gelato, my Nonno’s playfulness, my experiences in Italy, a thousand hours of cooking shows, the collaboration with my brother, my family’s food obsession and my fascination with the technique of gelato-making, its flavours and combinations.

I’m thrilled to be sharing these recipes and flavours that are the foundations of the Pidapipó story. I hope you become as obsessed as I am.

Nonno Carlo

While Pidapipó was named after the game we always played with our Nonno, the reason we chose the name was to honour him – both who he was and what he accomplished.

Carlo Valmorbida emigrated to Australia from Italy in 1949 and his first job was working on a production line making Cherry Ripe chocolate bars. Six years later he and his brothers owned 14 grocery stores across Australia, including one on Lygon Street in Melbourne, the same building where we opened our first store.

Nonno was an entrepreneur and a successful businessman but he also wanted to bring Italian food and culture to Australia. We wanted to carry on his legacy at Pidapipó, which is why we make gelato the traditional Italian way – what we do is more to us than just a business.

While Nonno’s first customers were from the Italian community, he believed the wider Australian community would grow to love the parmesan, tinned tuna and tomatoes, coffee, wine and mineral water that he was importing into the country. He was right.

Nonno became largely immobile after he had a stroke when I was very young and so we don’t really remember what he was like before then. But he was always a very special person in our lives – hilarious, high energy, inspiring and, at times, eccentric.

He loved to shock people. He’d laugh out loud out of the blue or suddenly throw a napkin over someone’s head at the dinner table or make us all line up and perform a song in our awful Italian for the whole family. And then there was pidapipi. It would always come from nowhere. He’d suddenly yell pidapipi and we’d all have to start playing and if you lost, he’d hit you with his walking stick. There was always laughter when Nonno was around.

Just before Nonno died he said to Jamie and me, ‘Take your time, don’t rush.’ We keep that in mind with Pidapipó.

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