Europe. The old country. The land of cobbled streets, mysterious castles, dark histories, and of course, gelato. Tins of the creamy treat fill shop windows. Beckoning us with vaguely familiar names like Stracciatella, Bacio and Zabaione. And the colors! Vibrant shades of yellow, pink, and blue. It’s food art, and now there’s a new artist on the scene doing things in a very different way. Her name is Marta Rito Bezerra and her “studio” is Pappa Lab located just behind the cathedral in her hometown or Braga, Portugal.
Something very different
Growing up around her family’s pastry business you could say food was in her genes. But while the bakery may have been in Marta’s blood, it wasn’t in her heart. After high school, she attended journalism school, but writing wasn’t her passion either. For years she drifted between jobs, even trying her hand at teaching, but nothing brought joy. Then while vacationing with friends in Lisbon, fate intervened when they decided to get some gelato. It only took one bite. Sure, she’d had gelato before, but this creamy concoction was unique! Instantly, she knew what she wanted to do.
Returning to Braga, Marta enrolled in A Escola do Gelado. School taught her the mechanics but not the art. Frustrated, she returned to Lisbon and the gelataria that had changed her life. Befriending the owner, she began her apprenticeship. After a year, she was ready to come home.
It would take several months of additional study and research, but on September 6th, 2019 Pappa Lab was open for business. It wasn’t the best timing to launch a gelataria. Tourist season had just ended, and winter was around the corner. But Marta had a feeling. “Gelato makes people happy. And people will come to be happy.” She was right. Despite the chill and the rain, she always has guests. “If the weather is bad,” she tells me with a laugh. “It’s usually just tourist. The Portuguese won’t leave their homes when it is raining.”
What makes Marta’s gelato worth a walk in the rain? In a word, freshness! Pappa Lab creates Gelados Artesanais de Inspiração Sazonal – Seasonally inspired artisanal gelato. “All the other gelataria’s use pre-made bases and artificial flavors,” Marta explains. “This is the method I learned in school. But I wanted the gelato I tasted in Lisbon. Everything I use is fresh. The milk, the cream, the fruit and only the best ingredients.” And as it turns out, that’s particularly relevant in making gelato. Because of the lower fat content, (half that of ice cream) the flavors are more intense. They aren’t diluted by the fat. Combine that little piece of science with a big chunk of her imagination, and Marta creates magic!
- Fresh mint leave steeped in hot milk yields a gelato so fresh you’ll swear you are chewing on the leaves.
- She uses that same hot milk technique with one of her grandmother’s renowned rabanada, to create a remarkably accurate gelato version of the holiday treat.
- Not even the Braga Christmas Eve tradition of bananas and Moscatel wine is safe from Marta’s creativity.
Sorbets are the lactose-free version of gelato. Marts calls them “water-based”, but whatever you call them, they owe their amazing flavor to the same source. Hours of peeling and pureeing fresh fruit!
- The mangos taste like you’re eating fresh mangos.
- The strawberry tastes like fresh strawberries.
- The snozzberry tastes like fresh snozzberries!
“Cheaper than your ex!”
Marta’s commitment to quality doesn’t come cheap. Farm-fresh milk, whole-bean vanilla, and Belgian chocolate certainly warrant a higher sales price. But she knows that charging even a little more would cost her business. She understands that hers is a commodity trade. So how else does she stand above the crowd? By offering free extras, of course! Fresh whipped cream, fresh ground cinnamon, ground cocoa, all at no extra charge. She even has fresh water and treats for her canine customers.
“If my store does well, I will know that it is because I did the best that I could do. I do not want anything to fail because of me. I want the best gelato at the best price in the most beautiful gelataria in the best location. If I fail, it will not be because of me.”
In an era where Millennials are unfairly labeled as lazy and entitled, this 26-year old shatters that stereotype. Nothing was handed to her. She fought to get it, and she works hard to keep it. But she does it with a gleam in her eye. “I’m going places, ”, she tells me with a knowing smile. “Don’t tell me that the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon.” Come for the gelato, stay for the lesson.