From Farm to Scoop: Unveiling the Heart of MR.AISU's Gelato

Nestled amidst the cool mountain air of Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, lies MR.AISU, a haven for gelato enthusiasts. But MR.AISU is more than just delicious frozen treats. It's a testament to the founder, Chef Tan Chii Yong's unwavering dedication to quality, community, and the art of artisanal gelato making.

In this interview, we were very honoured to be able to delve into Chef Tan's world, exploring his inspiration, creative process, and the vision that shapes MR.AISU's unique offerings. We'll discover how his passion for local produce translates into vibrant flavors, and how his commitment to ethical sourcing empowers both his business and the farmers he collaborates with. 

Q: What sparked your passion for gelato? Please tell us about your journey.

Ice cream has always held a special place in Chef Tan's heart, and it has always been a dream for Chef Tan to open his own ice cream shop. As a kid, legend has it that he could demolish a 5-liter tub in a mere 15 minutes!

This childhood love blossomed into a full-fledged passion during his time working at a salmon farm in Tasmania, Australia. To save money, Chef Tan took to making his own ice cream using a small machine. The more he churned, the deeper his fascination grew with the art of ice cream making.

One fateful day, Chef Tan stumbled upon a unique taste experience – a friend of his former employer owned a gelateria. The gelato there was like nothing he'd ever had before.

Intrigued by its texture and distinct flavour profile, Chef Tan inquired about the secret ingredient. The owner's cryptic reply – "It's about the sugar" – only fuelled his curiosity further.

Chef Tan then took up a 2-day gelato course to learn more about ice cream making. Driven by an insatiable desire to master the art of gelato making, he even left his full-time job to volunteer his time at an ice cream factory. The more he delved into the world of frozen delights, the more his thirst for knowledge grew.

Pictured here is the Cattabriga MULTI FREEZE PRO.

Impressed by his dedication, the ice cream factory extended a full-time job offer, noting on the difficulty of finding someone with such a remarkable level of enthusiasm for ice cream making.

Just a week into his new role, Chef Tan was entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing production, managing, and operating the commercial machines with minimal supervision. He even had the freedom to determine the flavours produced, highlighting the trust placed in his abilities. This opportunity became Chef Tan's training ground, where he learnt the rope of running a commercial ice cream production line.

Six months of managing production solidified Chef Tan's desire to start his own gelateria. He returned home to Cameron Highlands and opened Mr. Aisu Ice Cream Café, bringing his dream to life.

Q: Do you have any specific reasons as to why you chose to open a shop in Cameron Highland?

Chef Tan's decision to open a shop in Cameron Highlands was driven by two key factors: a passion for showcasing local produce in his gelato and a desire to support local farmers.

Cameron Highlands' abundance of fresh fruits like strawberries and passionfruit offered the perfect canvas for Chef Tan's vision. This concept of using local ingredients for specialty products stemmed from his experience in Australia.

Having grown up on a farm himself, Chef Tan deeply understands the challenges farmers face. He saw middlemen taking a large cut, leaving farmers underpaid for their hard work. By basing himself in Cameron Highlands, Chef Tan could bypass middlemen and work directly with farmers. This approach ensures fair compensation for both him and the farmers, allowing him to pay fellow farmers above market prices.

Chef Tan believes farmers deserve better pay for their efforts and high-quality produce. He criticizes the practice of buyers pushing down prices, arguing it's unsustainable for both parties. His long-term vision extends beyond his own business. He hopes to see his success translate to the growth of local farmers as well.

This personal connection to agriculture sets Chef Tan's products apart. "I wouldn't call them the best," he humbly admits, "but they definitely have the most character." Unlike some who rely on generic fruit purees, Chef Tan takes a hands-on approach. He personally visits the farms, inspects the quality, and understands the unique characteristics of each fruit he uses in his gelato. This dedication ensures his creations capture the essence of fresh, local produce.

Q: Given that most Malaysians are more familiar with ice cream, why did you choose gelato over ice cream?

Chef Tan acknowledges that gelato might be less familiar to Malaysian customers compared to ice cream. However, for him, the distinction lies more in the craft and technique behind the scenes. He views Italian gelato-making as a more refined craft, resulting in a unique product.

With this in mind, Chef Tan has adapted his gelato recipes to suit the Malaysian palate. This ensures his customers can fully appreciate the qualities of gelato without compromising on their taste preferences.

Q: What sets your gelato apart from others? When crafting your gelato, what factors do you consider most important?

For Chef Tan, the gelato he produces must be flavourful, and to him this comes from using fresh local produce. He avoids artificial flavorings entirely and meticulously sources high-quality produce. At MR.AISU, they use only local produces that are in season as Chef Tan believes in capturing fruits at their peak ripeness, ensuring the gelato bursts with natural flavor.

The sweetness level for all of MR.AISU’s gelato is kept moderate, striking a perfect balance. Chef Tan also understands local preferences and has adapted his gelato recipe accordingly. Compared to Italian gelato, Chef Tan's creation uses less milk, catering to the Malaysian palate's preference for a lighter texture. Chef Tan is dedicated to continually work on evolving his produce to ensure that MR.AISU's gelato remains a delightful reflection of local tastes.

Q: Where do you find your inspiration to create your gelato menu?

While offering popular flavours like pistachio and chocolate caters to customer preferences, Chef Tan's heart lies in showcasing the bounty of local produce. He usually works around what local produce he can get his hands on.

He prioritizes incorporating local ingredients whenever possible, reflecting Mr. Aisu's core value: "The freshest and best comes from what you can source locally." This dedication extends beyond gelato. For example, Chef Tan works with local farmers to ensure his pumpkin waffles use fully ripened pumpkins, even going to the extent of aging the pumpkins for a month before they are cut open to be used in the waffle dough.

Q: Congratulations on being appointed as ICETEAM 1927 ALI GROUP ambassador! Tell us about your experience at the training program in Italy last week.

“The IceTeam Italy training was an eye-opening experience,” Chef Tan shared. It wasn't just about the technical aspects of gelato making, but the whole culture surrounding it. Chef Tan shares that the Italians view gelato as an entire industry, steeped in passion. “My master trainer, a man who's dedicated over 40 years to his gelato making craft, perfectly exemplified this,” he said.

This experience highlighted the vast knowledge gap between Italy and Malaysia when it comes to gelato. Chef Tan acknowledges there's so much more to learn, and he aspires to follow in his master's dedication. He envisions himself continuing to perfect gelato making well into his golden years, with gelato becoming his way of life.

Unlike Malaysia, where trends often dictate product offerings, Italy's gelato scene is driven by strong individual philosophies. Each shop Chef Tan encountered had a distinct point of view, focused on building their brand and product that they truly believed in. This emphasis on long-term vision and artistry is something he finds incredibly inspiring.

This experience instilled a newfound confidence in Chef Tan. He recognizes the alignment between his own approach and the practices followed by established Italian gelato makers. With continued dedication, he's poised to achieve even greater success.

Q: What is a good point of ICETEAM gelato machines compared to others?

Chef Tan believes that ICETEAM gelato machines are the best. Unlike most of the other gelato machines in the market which are more automated, ICETEAM gelato machines offer superior customization potential. This empowers chefs with the craft and knowledge of gelato to truly personalize their recipes and elevate their creations.

While other brands prioritize automation for ease of use, Cattabriga prioritizes the craft. This resonates with Chef Tan's experience in Italy, where artisanal gelato makers primarily use Cattabriga machines.

Interestingly, Cattabriga doesn't rely on advertising in Italy. Their reputation speaks for itself. Chef Tan observed Cattabriga's EFFE machines prominently displayed in almost every artisanal Italian gelateria he visited. This dominance speaks volumes about Cattabriga's focus on customization, empowering gelato chefs to improvise and express their unique vision through their craft.

Q: What are your aspirations for the next decade?

Expansion is a key part of the vision for MR.AISU. Chef Tan desires to grow alongside the local farmers he partners with, ensuring their continued success. He also has a deep passion for nurturing young talent and aims to create even more job opportunities for local youth.

Chef Tan is currently focused on increasing production capacity and meticulously refining their Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to guarantee consistent quality across all future locations. He hopes that this meticulous approach will ensure a strong foundation for sustainable expansion.

Ultimately, Chef Tan's vision is for organic growth, allowing MR.AISU to flourish while remaining true to its core values of supporting local farmers and empowering young people. 

Chef Tan's dedication to quality and community is a true inspiration for anyone passionate about gelato. For aspiring gelato entrepreneurs curious to explore the potentials of Cattabriga Machines for your own business, you’re invited to join Chef Tan at our upcoming Cattabriga Demonstration on 16th May 2024. Register HERE to secure your spot!

Marubishi offers a range of Cattabriga Gelato Machines, from compact countertop models perfect for small businesses to traditional production machines suited for larger operations. Contact us HERE to learn more.