A Really Cool Way To Eat Fresh Island Fruit

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - June 30, 2010
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La Gelateria’s Kenwei Chong

When E&O Trading Company closed last year, Kenwei Chong found himself left with, among other things, 30 pounds of black sesame seeds.

“I had all these sesame seeds that I didn’t want to waste, but had I no idea what to do with them,” he says.

His wife suggested sesame seed ice cream, a well-loved treat in Japan, so he headed down to his gelato factory, La Gelateria, to make some.

“It was phenomenal,” says Chong of the dappled gray frozen ice. Intensely nutty with a toasted, sesame flavor, the frozen treat is just one of the more unusual flavors you’ll find at La Gelateria under Chong’s relatively recent ownership. He bought the company from famed Italian gelato maker Maurice Grasso and has continued the tradition of high quality ices made with local fruits.

“Maurice did such a phenomenal job,” says Chong. “So many things have not really changed. But we have come up with some new flavors, and our customers seem very happy with them.”

Chong is just back from a trip to Italy where he attended the largest gelato conference in the world, and he modestly admits that Hawaii’s gelato can stand its ground with the best in the world.

“I tasted dozens of gelato and sorbetto each day,” he says, “and I can honestly say there wasn’t anything better than our own.”

Gelato is considerably lower in fat than ice cream, and what makes the Hawaii versions so flavorful is the use of seasonal Island fruits.

“Everything we use is natural,” says Chong. “There is nothing artificial in our gelato and sorbetto.”

Evidence of that can be seen in the variety of growers and gardeners who turn up at La Gelateria’s Cedar Street parking lot to unload buckets of ripe, locally grown fruits. It’s part of what Chong loves most about the business.

“One day an old lady - maybe in her 80s - pulled into the parking lot,” he says. “In the trunk of her car she has gallons of guava puree harvested by members of her local church. I bought it all.”

When friends call to say their Meyer lemon trees are loaded up with fruit, Chong takes them all, too, along with dragon fruit from the Big Island and mango or lychee from local farmers.

“Flavors like these, along with hazelnut, fresh melon and our black roasted sesame seed, keep us from being just another high-volume company pushing out the same product,” he says.

And while La Gelateria sends most of its creations to specialty restaurants and hotels, Chong and crew are perfectly happy to accommodate customers who walk in off the street.

Cups of Island fruit-flavored gelato and sorbet start at $2, and flavors change seasonally.

“We’re not a traditional ice cream store,” says Chong of the busy little warehouse on Cedar Street, “but we’re perfectly happy to sell gelato to anyone who comes by.”

If you haven’t yet tasted the flavors of Hawaii in softly frozen form, go now, while summer flavors like watermelon, lychee and mango are at their best.

Happy eating!

La Gelateria 819 Cedar St. Honolulu 591-1133

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