Meet Danilo Zecchin , Executive Chef, Ciao Bella

Education / background: Danilo Zecchin (Ze-keen) grew up in Torino, Italy, a

region known for epicurean delights. Spurred by the vibrant energy of the local culinary scene, Danilo pursued his passion for cooking and enrolled in 1978 in Torino’s local Hotel and Restaurant School.

Experience: After graduation, Chef Zecchin joined Torino’s local restaurant scene for several years. Then he opened his first restaurant, The White Buffalo. An avid traveler, Chef Zecchin soon ventured out of Torino and looked for new inspiration. Two restaurants and six years later, he landed in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the famous Queen Restaurant. For nearly 10 years, Chef Zecchin oversaw the restaurant and daily operations. In 1999, Chef Zecchin took the position of Executive Chef at Ciao Bella.

Where you’ll find him: Sigep International Exhibition of Gelato in Rimini, Italy, (“the biggest gelato exhibition in the world”). Specialty Foods Association 2013 Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City.

When he’s online: Chef Zecchin says he follows / belongs to natural, organic and dairy food industry professional groups. He also follows sustainability issues, monitors product development trends (280 Group) and visits Italiani nel Mondo (Italians in the World).



Prepared Foods: Please tell us a little about yourself. How did you become a chef?

Danilo Zecchin: I was born and raised in Torino, Italy. My father was from the Venice area and my mother is from Torino. Originally, I was a graphic designer, but a strange twist of fate led me to become a chef. I see the change as moving from one art to another and both have a surprising amount in common. I don’t have any regrets.

I traveled around the world for many years, looking for magic: new color, flavor and smell. I wanted to build an open mind and a solid balance. I like to be creative but let the ingredients speak and tell their story.

My mother was—and is—a great source of inspiration for me. Her simplicity and fantastic creativity in the kitchen shows me a different world and opens my heart to the joy of cooking and experimenting.

Ciao Bella debuted Sea Salt Caramel Gelato Squares at the 2013 Fancy Food Show in San Francisco.

PF: You live in Oregon now. Is it anything like Italy?

Zecchin: Italy and Oregon are very different; one is a cradle of culture and history the other is a green island full of life.

Personally, I love to spend my day in this part of the world. Some might see Oregon as offering less sophistication and fewer choices than Italy. Yet, I see an explosion of nature, a lot of good, organic fruits and vegetables—and a bunch of great people to live with.

PF: Do you watch any reality cooking shows involving chefs? Any favorites?

Zecchin: I try to not spend too much time watching TV, but sometimes I catch Iron Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, etc. It’s a strange feeling watching these reality cooking shows. It’s almost like "breathing" the kitchen again and re-living the early part of my career, with all the beauty and craziness. For a long time, that was a big part of my life.

I also enjoy shows such as Anthony Bourdain's “No Reservations,” which mixes food with travel and shows different cultures and situations.

PF: What if we asked you to create a new program?

Zecchin: I’d like to be part of a travel food experience, because I value learning more than winning. Life is a short journey. Make every minute count!

PF: What do you do for fun, to clear your mind?

Zecchin: I ride a bike, hike, fish, listen to music, eat good food and enjoy the company of friends.

PF: How do you describe your approach to working with flavors?

Zecchin: Before starting new flavors, I consider the ingredients I want to use and think about how I can add more intensity, balance and authenticity. Then I look all around the world to find the right ingredient for new creations: Matcha green tea from Japan, Dulce de Leche from Argentina, coconut from Dominican Republic, blood orange and lemon from Italy, etc. etc.

One flavor that has a special place in my heart is Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet. It evokes sweet memories of my childhood—when my mother was creating small masterpieces with whatever the land gave at the moment. 

And the Award Goes To … Ciao Bella
Want to make sorbets and gelatos at home? Here’s how. Colorful book—written by Zecchin and Ciao Bella founder F.W. Pearce—includes instructions, inspirations, serving suggestions and more.
Ciao Bella was chosen by the Specialty Foods Association as a 2012 sofi™ Silver Finalist for Ciao Bella’s Grapefruit Campari Sorbet, marking the 22nd sofi™ nomination for the brand that took home its 17th sofi™ Gold Award for Belgian Chocolate S’mores Gelato in 2011.

The Specialty Food Association has previously recognized Ciao Bella’s sorbets for their excellence, including back-to-back sofi™ Gold wins for its Blood Orange Sorbet (2006) and Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet (2007) in the Outstanding Dessert or Dessert Topping category. Ciao Bella swept that category once again from 2009 to 2011, respectively taking top honors for its Key Lime Graham Cracker Gelato, Key Lime Gelato Squares and Belgian Chocolate S’mores Gelato. Officials say more foodservice operators nationwide are adding Ciao Bella gelato and sorbets to menus because of the brand’s consistent, award-winning performance.

PF: You co-authored a book, the Ciao Bella Book of Gelato & Sorbetto. What was fun about that project? What was most challenging?

Zecchin: The book was an amazing adventure. It was like translating the Ciao Bella experience to an everyday table, keeping it simple without compromising the flavor profile and company philosophy.

I remember working five or six hours (on the book) after 12- to 15-hour days at the plant. It was like that every day, for almost a year but it was priceless to see the new baby take form every day, to leave a little foot print and spread the joy.

PF: If we ran into you in front of a supermarket’s frozen novelties section, what would we see?

Zecchin: You’d probably find me in a grocery store checking Ciao Bella pints for condition, expiration date, rotation, freezer temperature. After that, I’d just be looking around for innovation and creativity.

PF: Who inspires you?

Zecchin: My family and friends and many generous, talented people that share knowledge and passion with me.

PF: What inspires you?

Zecchin: This incredible world that never ceases to amaze me, the mystery of life that changes constantly.

PF: Where are you inspired?

Zecchin: My homeland. Torino left an early impression. It gave me a superior, intimate knowledge of what things are and a sensibility that drives me to see what they can become. Italy gave me my start. The rest of my career continues to be a journey with so much to learn and understand.

PF: Ciao Bella’s 2013 Fancy Food Show product debut was your Sea Salt Caramel Gelato Squares. What can you tell us about creating that item?

Zecchin: We see many salted caramel products in the market but this one is unique. The caramel has a liquor-coffee note with a good balance and clean finish; the salted variegation is mild and blends well with the chocolate.

The biggest challenge was reaching a balance between the sugary and salted elements, but I’m very happy with the result.

PF: Ciao Bella has expanded its retail products push. What are a few things you’ve learned about working with food scientists and operations to carry your flavors, texture, etc., through to a retail packaged product?

Zecchin: The challenge entering into the industrial world—involves standardizing and simplifying without losing quality. It depends on the product. Sometimes there were only minor changes. Others require more attention and time.

Also, working with a co-packer requires full-time supervision, which is very demanding of my schedule.
Ciao Bella’s Adonia fat-free Greek yogurt boasts 9g of protein to stands out from competition.

PF: Tell us a little about Ciao Bella’s Adonia Greek frozen yogurt line. What was most fun or the most challenging about developing that project?

Zecchin: Adonia was a challenge for me but I had worked with Labne a few years earlier (on our Lebanese Yogurt Gelato) and I really enjoyed the experience.

In this case, we went with a fat-free Greek yogurt containing 9g of protein, which was a complete game-changer in the Greek frozen yogurt category. We hoped it would be something to help differentiate us from competing brands.

After two months and countless small batches in my lab, we finally found the right balance. At the end of the day, it was a completely new experience for me but I’m pleased with the result.

PF: Have you lived in Oregon long enough to become a fan of the Ducks or Beavers?

Zecchin: I like both, mostly because I’m a casual fan when it comes to America sports teams. I’m still a big soccer fan. Football is a pleasure for me to watch, but it hasn’t won my heart just yet!

PF: Fair enough. But what if we asked you to develop an “Oregon Duck” gelato or an “Oregon State Beaver” gelato? What flavors, colors would you choose?

Zecchin: For the Ducks, it needs to be green and yellow, maybe yellow peaches and kiwi sorbet. For the Beavers, something dark orange and black… so perhaps a pumpkin and licorice gelato.