From rural England to the Central Coast - the story of an award-winning gelato
From the fields of rural England to the bright lights of Sydney and finally the shores of the Central Coast, chef Dan Hughes has been slowly but surely realising his dream of producing rich, creamy gelato. Twenty years in the making, the man behind Mr Goaty Gelato says his childhood influenced his career in food, which ultimately led to a life of gelato.
“I always think back to the times when I was younger and what flavours I loved,” Dan says.
“Fresh raspberries and strawberries, fresh lemonade, baked banana, caramel and vanilla ice-cream; such simple influences have shaped my style and philosophy on food.”
The former Three Blue Ducks chef recalls a childhood spent playing in fields and woodland after school in England, before moving to a Greek island and living in a mountain village at age nine. There, everyone grew and made the majority of the food they ate, and older villagers taught Dan how to make goat feta from their own goats. It was here, on Zakynthos, that Dan tried goat’s milk – straight from the goat – for the first time. It was fresh and light, he recalls.
“Living in Greece was such an amazing experience and played a huge part in my passion for fresh produce,” he says.
“Back then, trucks would drive around the village honking their horns with fresh fruit and bread in the back for sale.”
In his teenage years, Dan returned to a small English town that was home to three Michelin-star restaurants. This was where, in his late teens, he began his career as a chef. What followed was several years working in Michelin-star restaurants and as a private chef in Europe, before he moved to Sydney. While juggling long nights at work and family life, Dan churned gelato in his home kitchen at Bronte Beach. A few months down the track, he started selling Mr Goaty Gelato at Bondi Markets. But he craved a slower life, so in 2016, Dan and his family moved to the Central Coast and with him came Mr Goaty Gelato.
Based at Distillery Botanica in Erina, Dan has access to fresh ingredients such as turmeric, ginger, lemongrass, geranium, lemon verbena and cinnamon myrtle. “There is so much growing in the garden and the herbs and flowers are so fresh and potent that you don’t need much of anything,” he says.
As often as possible, Dan sources local fruit, including lemons, oranges and limes, from Mangrove Mountain, and whatever he can’t get on the Coast he buys fresh from markets, and then preps and churns that same day. As for the main ingredients, the jersey milk is from northern New South Wales while the goat’s milk is from Victoria. “The milk is really fresh and has actually won gold medals at a few recent competitions,” he says.
When it comes to gelato flavours, all the classics, and more, are covered. Of the Jersey cow milk gelato, the biggest sellers are salted caramel, vanilla bean and roasted hazelnut, as well as mango passion in summer. In the goat’s milk range, banana cinnamon, and honeycomb and lavender are the most popular. The banana cinnamon caramel has even won a gold medal at the Sydney Cheese and Dairy Produce competition. There are plenty of intriguing flavours, too, and they include turmeric and orange, the honeycomb and lavender, and myrtle macadamia. “All these flavours have one common ingredient and are combined with something a little out there,” Dan says.
For example, people love honeycomb so that’s enough to convince them to try it mixed with lavender. Kids also enjoy the off-beat creations, and because the flavours are natural, simple and “clean”, Mr Goaty Gelato is child-friendly.
Weddings and corporate events make up about 60 percent of Mr Goaty Gelato’s business, while the rest is from markets and festivals. The business is clearly reaping the benefits from the move north.
“The community up here is incredible and so supportive,” Dan says of the Central Coast.
“It’s a really exciting time to be on the Coast. The food scene is really growing and the Coast is becoming a food destination, and we are stoked to be a part of that.”
In comparison to fine dining, the working environment at Mr Goaty Gelato is always a happy one, Dan says. “I love making the gelato and playing around with flavours but most of all being at an event, serving the gelato to people and making them happy is so rewarding.”
Making gelato is a great way to capture a flavour and texture combination, he adds, while with high-end food “there is an extremely small window for perfection”.
“Once plated, the plate of food was to be taken to the table within 30 seconds,” Dan recalls of his restaurant days. “Dessert plates would not be finished unless the waiter was standing over the plate ready to run to the table.” Understandably, it was a stressful environment.
“So gelato for me is so much more chilled, excuse the pun,” he laughs.
“I can still create wonderful food but, once made, the gelato's fresh flavour and texture can be saved for later.”
Dan's latest venture is the opening of Bar Botanica with wife Julia. Located on the grounds of Distillery Botanica, the cafe bar is one of the Central Coasts newest and exciting food destinations. Think along the lines of delicious coffee, garden to plate dishes and of course the award-winning gelato.
For more information about Mr Goaty Gelato.
For more information about Bar Botanica.