Ripe for the Picking

Interview by Charlene Chan
Photography by Jovian Lim

Nestled in the shadows thrown by an overhead bridge in the late afternoon sunlight, the entrance to Birds of Paradise (BoP) gelato boutique would not be immediately apparent to the uninitiated, if not for a chalkboard declaring “botanical inspired gelato” in cursive script. It’s a fitting welcome to a shop that prides itself on crafting finely-balanced, nuanced flavour combinations like strawberry basil, white chrysanthemum and lemongrass ginger—tastes and aromas that aren’t easily discernible by those who taste them.

The smell of freshly made cones hits you as you step through the doorway, though it’s clear that there’s something quite different about the cones in this shop: they’re infused with thyme, the herb’s fragrance perfuming the room. Between making gelato, dealing with admin matters and experimenting with new flavours, Edwin takes some time to recount the ice cream experience that set everything in motion.

birds of paradise gelato

Hi Edwin, how has the response been since BoP opened?

Very good, I would say. The response to the product, the concept and the shop design has been very positive. Some people are very surprised that there aren’t seats, but I figure—at least for the range of products that we are offering—it’s not something that you need to sit down to enjoy. Maybe people are not very comfortable to go to a café and not have seats, but once they get used to this concept I think it’s okay.

You use a lot of natural ingredients in your gelato, so the ingredients themselves must present a lot of variances in quality. How do you try and manage that?

Honestly, it’s difficult. Just last week, for example, we had a different supplier of basil because our usual supplier ran out. And it was the same basil, the same Italian basil in general, but it was a lot stronger in flavour. We didn’t realise until after we made it that the basil taste was much stronger than usual. But we learn along the way.

And you make everything in-house?

Yeah, we make everything here. We have kitchen help, but I’m here for every production.

How long does it take to make a fresh batch of gelato?

It goes in stages. First, what we do is we make the base. That is very important; one analogy is tea. You have water and then you steep your tea bag in the water. The water is [like] the base—it [consists of] milk, sugars, and all that. That, I believe, is what makes our gelato refreshing, because we know how to make it and balance it.

After that, we flavour [the base], whether it’s with fruits, flowers, or herbs. The third step is to churn it. In a normal production, this is usually done over two days. Our production starts on day one: we make a base, then let it age so the flavours can be absorbed. On the second day, we churn it and by the end of the day, it’s ready. We usually try to make enough for the week.

Read more in The U Press N˚14 (Singapore edition).