Winning 11 International and North American Gelato competitions and Industry Awards took time. It did not happen overnight, but through a life of learning, challenging, growing, hard work and pushing himself. Here is part of his journey to become one of the most decorated gelato makers in the world, and better yet, he is just getting started and very excited about the future . . .
THE EARLY DAYS
Born in Ottawa, Canada, Maestro James was raised in a military family, the R.C.A.F. (Royal Canadian Air Force,) who along with his parents and three brothers lived in military quarters in Canada and Germany.
While his Dad would become his best friend, passing away in 2005 he taught James strong lessons on trying and never giving up. His Mom was James' biggest motivator in the kitchen where she taught him about tastes, flavours and trusting his own palate. These lessons and all the time helping her in the kitchen were the foundation of his culinary path with food and his eventual adventure into the gelato world.
ICE CREAM TO GELATO
James was fortunate that his parents, both working multiple jobs, always found time for family movie nights where they often indulged in bowls and bowls of ice cream. Those fond memories of gallon pails of butterscotch ripple, neapolitan and orange sherbet we're happy moments as a child growing up within a loving family.
His father served in the Air Force where the family travelled the world stationed at different military airbases. When the family was stationed in Zweibruken, Germany James as a young boy had his first taste of gelato and he never forgot it.
Then in 2003, on a trip back to Europe, while in Italy James became fascinate and marvelled at all the gelato shops in Rome, Venice and Sorrento. Gelato on every street corner, in every city, the Italian's love of gelato was everywhere and James quickly fell in love with their passion and food culture. Little did he know that those fond memories of eating gelato 3 - 4 times a day would come back 6 years later and he would go to a Gelato University.
MOUNTAINS WE CLIMB, ONE STEP AT A TIME...
James on the Summit of Mount Logan, highest mountain in Canada.
Outdoors was always a way of life for James as his parents and brothers would go family camping growing up in Canada and while living in Europe.
When James was in high school he fell in love with rock climbing having taken a climbing class and getting on a rope in Murin Park just outside of Squamish, British Columbia. The memories of hiking to glacier filled lakes, reaching mountain tops, climbs with his friends, it quickly became his place for finding balance in his life.
Then in 2002 on a trip to Africa, he knew he wanted to push himself so he thought why not try to climb to the top of Africa - Mount Kilimanjaro. On that climb, step after step, breathe after breathe, James continued to find peace and happiness using his natural high energy and positive attitude all the way to the top. On the top of Africa, he knew he discovered another level challenge himself both mentally and physically. It was from climbing to the top of the African continent that he decided to try to climb to the top of 3 other continents; South America (Aconcagua), North America (Denali,) and Europe (Elbrus). It was there when he solo climbed Mount Elbrus in Russia and talked to strangers about Canada, that he knew he rediscovered a deep pride in Canada and thought about climbing in his home country.
So in 2005 he started 'Summits of Canada' an educational program to teach children around the world about Canada and it's diverse geography by climbing, canoeing and hiking to the top of each of Canada's 13 Provinces and Territories. After a failed attempt in 2007 to reach the top of Canada on Mount Logan, James and his then climbing partner Len returned the following year and 9:08 pm on June 3 they stood on top of Canada. It took 28 days to get to the top of Canada and every step, every day he absorbed the lessons the mountain taught him. It was only in 2009 after summitting Mount Fairweather (British Columbia's highest mountain), and having his son born just before his scheduled trip that James knew he needed to redirect his energy and passion to his greater new responsibility - Jett, his son.
He continued his climbing until his adventure into gelato in late 2009. Then in 2012, the Royal Canadian Geographic Society honoured James by appointing him a Fellow of the Society for his promotion of climbing Canada's Provincial and Territorial high points to geographic education. In 2016, James was named by Canadian Geographic as one of Canada's top 100 Explorers .
"Everyone gets 86,400 seconds a day.
What you do with the time you are blessed with is yours to decide.
Find the courage to take that first step towards your dream,
you might surprise yourself."
- Maestro James Coleridge
James in Gelato University during class....cool drawing.
With his love of ice cream, a visit to Italy and being on glaciers, it seems natural for his curiosity to want to learn more about ice cream or gelato. So in August, 2009 James' very first step was taking an on-line gelato class. He then began to visit gelato shops in Vancouver, Victoria and even Tofino. Watching, learning, making notes James' curiosity and amazement of gelato continued to grow.
In September he decided to attend the Italian Culinary Institute's gelato program in Calabria, Italy.
He met with Italian Champion Palmiro Bruschi and even helped serve his gelato in Tuscany the same month at an event.
Then in October he attended the world famous Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna, Italy. He sat through his classes in amazement of the balance between science and passion.
It was here his teachers gave him the foundation of information which he translated into his personal style and direction for his gelato.
THE BELLA YEARS
Bella Gelateria's first week with staff and Rony (a friend from Europe there studying with James).
2012 after James won the Florence Gelato Festival - the start of his signature #1 pose.
There are times and moments when someone, some stranger who looks at you and they make a decision which changes your life. For James one of those moments was when world renowned International Vancouver developer and City Builder Ian Gillespie agreed to meet with James and gave him 15 minutes to present his vision and dream. James stood there and talked about wanting to be the best, respecting Italian culture, using only the best ingredients and wanting to make the best gelato in Vancouver. Forty five minutes later Mr. Gillespie shook James' hand and told him, the space was his. Then Mr. Gillespie called his Project Manger who was just finishing building the 5-Star Fairmont Pacific Hotel, to 'Do what ever it takes and get him open before the summer'. Which was only 3 months away! Bella Gelateria was formed with James and his former partner owning 50% each.
Then in June James invited one of his teachers from Carpigiani Gelato University, Maestro Roberto Lobrano, to come to Vancouver and help him open. Even with the equipment arriving and getting uncrated, James never imagined what his gelato career would transform into. He just wanted to make gelato his way. Then on Friday June 25, 2010 with everything ready James was told that the business license could be picked up on Monday. James not being able to hold back any longer, opened the Friday 3 days early. It was new and it was quiet in that area in 2010 and even the residents in the building wondered why would Gillespie let a gelato shop on that corner as no way it would never survive. Little did they know or saw what Gillespie saw in James. So on that corner in Vancouver in a prime spot in 2010, no one knowing James with no awards at the time, James said to himself, "What would Gordon Ramsay tell him to do?" So for the next week he and his 3 staff stood on the corner giving away samples and walking into office buildings in the area giving the gelato away to promote the new business because James believed his gelato was pretty good!
From 2010 to 2017, James built Bella Gelateria, sacrificed everything to make it a world class brand. He often slept on the floor as he was too tired to drive the 45 minutes to his home in Langley and then back again early in the morning. He was known to be there constantly talking to customers, showing them the ingredients, smiling for pictures and flashing his signature #1 holding his finger in the air pose.
Then in 2017, seven years after opening, the sole Director of the Company and owner of the other 50% of the company for her own reasons acted without any consultation with James, put the company assets up for sale. He actually learned this was happening one morning when a friend called him and told him that the company assets were being sold.
On August 28, 2017 Bella Gelateria and all it's assets were sold by the Director and James was officially gone from Bella Gelateria the company he co-founded.
The new owner of Bella Gelateria, who James respects, has built the business, renovated it and developed his own vision for the company and it's gelato. To this day James continues to wish him well and every time he walks by he never forgets that first Gelateria he co-founded, helping it to get built, the thousands of conversations with customers and even the times he slept on the floor on bubble wrap, air mattresses and a sleeping bag. Bella Gelateria has it's own gelato, it's own gelato makers, it's own plans for the future, but the past will always be a fond memory for James.
A NEW CHAPTER
The sale of Bella could have been a very dark place for James when it was suddenly forced upon him. Losing what was then his future, what he had personally invested years of his heart and soul into. But in that moment, James dug deep recalling his time climbing mountains, facing storms to find a new courage to move past what was done to him. He also had two young children as a single Dad that he now had to find a solution not just for his future, but for theirs.
This is where James actually found a relief and rainbow from the storm that just cleared his path. He dug down and found a new more positive environment to dedicate himself towards his gelato. He spent time talking with family and friends, studying the world for new ingredients, new processes and learning new culinary techniques from Chef's he respected and trusted. He even took time to help an investor group start a gelato business in Vancouver. Successful in their financial world and familiar with James' success with Bella Gelateria this group hired James to design the gelato making process, select the gelato making equipment, assisted in the branding and used his gelato celebrity status to launch their business. He also provided them with 25 recipes for their staff to make and wished them well hoping that the staff would continue with the detailed processes and techniques which some of the steps to try and replicated James' gelato.
People around the world would often ask James what made him different, why was his gelato so good, why was he able to win so many awards and competitions around the world. Most say it is passion, but everyone has passion when they start making gelato or on any new adventure in their life. What moved James in making gelato and in life was his desire to get better, an attitude to never give up and a courage to stand up for what he believed in.
And since 2010, when he first wrote this quote in his gelato school notebook, it has always been something that reminded him that he could make gelato his way:
Gelato by James' is a third chapter in James' journey in the world of gelato. Now after 10 years, since he first thought about opening a gelato shop he is finally putting his name to a brand which truly reflects his style, his personality, his innovations in techniques and mostly ingredients that are the best locally and from around the world.
This next chapter will be written with you in James' adventures to creating delicious gelato. Stay tuned he is just getting started and is excited about the future.
“A recipe has no soul,
you as the cook must bring the soul to the recipe.”
- Chef Thomas Keller
James Beard Winner
Best California Chef Winner
Chef and founder - French Laundry, Napa Valley
"Recipes and ingredients do not make gelato by themselves.
Gelato is more than a recipe, it is a window to your soul.
“Ricette ed Ingredienti non fanno il gelato.
Il Gelato è più di una ricetta; è una finestra sull’anima"
-Maestro James Coleridge