Jessica Oloroso Followed Her Gelato Passion to Black Dog

Photo: Michael Gebert

Cupcakes may be everywhere at this moment. But if you look at what dessert online foodies are really talking and tweeting about and drooling over at this precise summer moment, it’s more likely to be a little shop on Damen, Black Dog Gelato. Jessica Oloroso first came to attention making interestingly herbal flavors like basil ice cream at Scylla; her intensely-flavored gelati and sorbets have been highlights at a number of restaurants and more recently at the Logan Square Farmer’s Market. We popped in with our kids for an interview-slash-gelato-scarfing (and incidentally wound up being interviewed ourselves by ABC 7’s 190 North for a gelato segment to air in September). Here’s what Jessica had to say about a career making gelato.

Didn’t you get the memo, you were supposed to open a cupcake shop right now like everybody else! What drew you to gelato instead?
My favorite dessert has always been ice cream, above all else. I followed my passion, not a strategic business concept.  That doesn’t always work out, but I got lucky and it was received well.

How did you get started doing these kinds of spicy or herb-based gelatos?
Well, I’ve always been intrigued with going beyond chocolate and raspberry for dessert flavors.  And sometimes I had to utilize what was in the kitchen at the moment.

Lucky there wasn’t any sauerkraut, then. So, how do you come up with flavors?  Do you start with a specific idea in mind, or do you just mix stuff together and see what surprises you by being pretty good?
I try to not rush it and wait for an idea come to me.  Sometimes it starts with something I taste or smell or see.  Other times, with memory.

You’ve made gelato for a number of restaurants, going back to Scylla and Stephanie Izard.  Do you look at what they’re making and try to make things that compliment their menus, or do you just figure, they’re making what’s in season and you are too?
When I’m working at a restaurant and designing the dessert menu, I try and make it compliment the rest of the menu.  When it comes to making gelato, I try and treat each restaurant individually.  Some accounts give me the freedom to send them whatever I want, others will ask for some direction and still others will tell me specifically what they want.

What’s a flavor that you set out to make that just didn’t work at all?
There have been many attempts that have failed. I spent a lot of time on a smoked cherry that I just couldn’t nail, and I am working now on a white cheddar that I have not been able to get just right.

So at the end of the day, which flavor do you make yourself a big scoop of and just sit down and relax with?
Depends on my mood.  If I’m eating a fruit pie, I like the goat cheese or lemon ginger.  I had Oreo mint on my walk home today. Chocolate is an old standby.  I really like sesame fig chocolate chip, especially if I’m eating cookies, and for a banana split (which I love!) vanilla, of course.  And I can’t forget anything with coconut….

Jessica Oloroso Followed Her Gelato Passion to Black Dog