Si Yeon Yoo: Korea’s Queen of Gelato

Si Yeon Yoo: Korea’s Queen of Gelato

Running a Gelato Business is an exciting and challenging task by any measure – arguably even more so if you are a woman in Asia.

A recent US census showed that women make up less than the 24% of chefs. And for many of them, particularly those from traditionally Asian cultures, there are barriers aplenty: from the objection of family members who frown upon the role of a cook as a low-status job, to the long hours and physical demands of the professional laboratory that clash with the conventional duties of a woman.

But a growing crop of passionate, determined female chefs in Asia are proving these stereotypes as a thing of yesterday — and getting global recognition for their efforts. Among the ones who are making their presence felt across the gelato pastry spectrum, often with a distinct feminine touch, there’s the Korean Si Yeon Yoo. At 32, Si Yeon is a Carpigiani Gelato University Instructor and runs her own gelato brand. 

Before the pandemic situation, she used to travel minimum twice a year from Korea to Italy with the aim to educate Korean chefs and entrepreneurs in Gelato Art and business. Her mentor has been the Carpigiani Gelato University’s instructor Gianpaolo Valli. She actually runs do One-to-One gelato making classes in Seoul and she manages her own gelato brand: it’s called Il più and it refers both to B2B and B2C market. Si Yeon Yoo is the one and only Korean Gelato instructor specialised in professional gelato making classes, and she also currently has Korea’s only HACCP gelato making factory now. Last but not least, she speaks fluent Italian.

1. When did you start thinking about becoming a Gelato Chef and what did you do in order to make your dream come true?

I always had a passion for Italy. I attended middle and high school in Milan. During these years, I always enjoyed having a gelato while walking home after school. After getting my diploma, I went back to Korea. At University, I had a tough time planning my career. In 2010, my mother shared an article just published on our most popular newspaper. It was an interview to a famous chef: he said that in 10 years frozen dessert will have played a big part into the Korean F&B market. I immediately realised that I had to focus on gelato, I wanted to learn more and become a great gelatiere. So, in 2015, after graduating from University, I moved back to Italy and started my gelato educational pathway.

2. Ten years have passed. How is big Korea’s Gelato Market now? 

Gelato is a getting more and more popular and it’s becoming an important part of our local desserts. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to study gelato art as a Korean pioneer. In 2010, Korea’s gelato market had a big number of low-skilled, mixed powder gelato shops. From 2015 onwards, a few Italian style gelaterie popped up. Today, Korea counts at least 90 gelato shops. Even if this number is small compared to the one of European countries, such an exponential market growth in only five years means that gelato is a booming trend and another proof is the increase of high-skilled gelatieri in Korea. 

I started my learning journey with the big ambition to widely promote gelato in my homeland. After studying in Milan, Florence and Sicily, I got my degree at the Carpigiani Gelato University. In Bologna, during my courses, I entered an innovative and creative gelato world. I had planned to open an artisanal gelateria when going back to Korea, but I had some issues. The ingredients that I used in Italy during my studies were different from the ones available in Korea. I had to deepen my gelato studies in order to match the Korean taste and the Italian knowledge. After two years, in 2017, I established the company Gelato Korea Co., Ltd. and I opened my first gelato laboratory Il più, using the most innovative technologies: Carpigiani Maestro, Pastomaster HE, Turbomix and the 161 G SP machine. In 2020, I opened a gelato making factory certified by HACCP. I’m proud to be a professional gelatiere, I constantly work to make my gelato brand il più unique and I keep training Korean gelatieri. I expect a robust market growth in the short-term.

3. Tell me more about your relationship with Frozen Desserts.

Did I already say that I love gelato?! Well, it’s inextricably linked to pastry. Strictly speaking, we can also consider gelato cone as a pastry product. Nowadays my biggest challenge is to make Korean consumers experience gelato in innovative ways. Gelato cakes come first, so I started collaborating with one of the most famous Korean bakery chefs, Justin Lee. Together, last Christmas, we created a gelato cake which layered with ‘pistachio gelato’ and ‘Isfahan sorbetto’. We had lots of orders, it has been a big success.

When I teach, I always emphasise the opportunity to sell gelato-pastry products. Obviously, I tell my students that they shall get baking skills. Making gelato cakes or frozen desserts using gelato and pastry requires further studies.

I did it first and I went to Paris (France) to learn pastry art. Although basic pastry studies can’t make you a pastry chef, you’ll get the fundamentals to create a dessert menu using gelato.

4. Would you share with us one of your creations?

Of course, I’m glad to share with all the Frozen Art Chef readers my “Pine Nuts with Rice” gelato recipe. Let me just say that every gelato spreads a shade of happiness, I decided for this flavour after thinking about the seasonality and an exclusive East/West fusion. Click here to get the full recipe.

 5. Your advice to the young people that want to become professional gelatieri?

I cultivated the dream of becoming a gelatiere after reading an interview with a Chef ten years ago. Let me first say that I’d be grateful to inspire other through this article. What else could be more joyful?!

Now, let me unveil what I tell my students during the gelato classes.

  1. Try out different foods/tastes. More ingredients and food combinations you taste, more you become able to create unique flavours. 
  2. Use NEW ingredients for your gelatos with confidence. Many students tell me that’s hard to make their own flavours using new ingredients. It only happens because they fear to fail and not to make a tasteful flavour. Well, who cares if it doesn’t taste good? Experimentation is the key and the first step, if you don’t act in a creative way, you’ll never make a difference. Whatever I experienced, I recognised what was good or bad. Through my failures I learnt how to modify myself and improve my gelatos.
  3. Share your knowledge with your customers. You are the first who can recommend them a good gelato.  After completing your studies and doing all the testing, explain them how to recognise a good gelato through their eyes, nose, and mouth. You did it first when you selected good ingredients. So, study hard and try to use all the ingredients around you.

6. Last but not least, which gelato trends do you forecast? 

The Korean foodservice market cares so much about the latest trends… But many desserts pop up and disappear easily. 

Gelato is well established in Korea’s dessert market. Not only it’s a trend, it’s already part of our culture. I’m confident that gelato will keep being appreciated and loved in the long-term.

Of course, Korean gelato chefs have to play their part and release creative and innovative menus that prevent customers to get bored of the classical flavours. Cross-collaborations with chefs de cuisine, bakery and pastry chefs will be strategic. 

That said, gelato-pastry has all the characteristics to become a trend in Korea this year. 

That’s the word of the Korea’s Gelato Queen Si Yeon Yoo. And we are sure that she will lead this trend.