When was the last time you had strawberry ice-cream that was made only of strawberries? Or perhaps, an almond gelato made of only….almonds? No water, no milk, no sugar. Or a mango chilli gelato that tasted like mango when you bit into it, with a burst of chilli once you swallowed it?
Meet the coder-turned-gelato-connoisseur who has been taking the country by storm with his natural ice-creams. The above are only a few examples of the mastermind’s experiments in his kitchen, most of which happen at 3 am.
With no dependence on additives, artificial flavouring, colours or chemicals, Ajay Nesargi has been turning the tide in the ice-cream industry with only natural products.
It all began ten years ago after his maiden tryst with gelato in Milan during a work trip. When he returned, he spoke to his wife, also a qualified engineer, about dabbling into the food industry.
She thought he was out of his mind, and so did his parents. An expert coder and a certified project manager, who had worked with IBM in the USA and later India, with no background in the F&B industry, thinking about giving up his lucrative job to make gelato!
Today, he has three outlets in Mysuru, is a favoured consultant for some niche hotels in Bengaluru, and is planning two more outlets in Pune and Mumbai with top loading ice-cream makers imported from Italy!
The Better India got in touch with him to chronicle his incredible journey.
You think a man who has observed and lived with technology as it evolves, would never criticise it, but Ajay’s view of technology in the food business will open a new perspective.
“In India, instead of taking the food industry forward, technology has taken it backwards. We have exploited it to adulterate our food. Today, there are flavours that can change your palm oil into desi ghee. I saw my friend’s parents die of cancer, a condition that was unheard of when I was growing up. And if you delve deeper, you realise that the adulterated food we consume has a part to play. One may say a drop of the chemical doesn’t matter. But lest we forget, it does in the long run. And so my journey started into the world of natural ice-creams. Because hey, who doesn’t love ice-creams?”
He opened his first store in Mysuru in 2007. He remembers asking his wife to let him experiment with it for two years. If he didn’t make it at the end of that period, he would quit this idea. But it wasn’t until 2011 that he quit his job at IBM.
“After quitting IBM, I did not sleep for a month. And so, when I was told about the urgent requirement for a Project Manager in the UK, I readily agreed. That trip was a turning point in my life.”
It was around 2 am UK time when he got a call from India. It came from a very prudent doctor who was a regular at his ice-cream store, unaware that Ajay was in the UK.
“He told me that one of my ice-cream flavours was not up to the mark. It upset me so much that I wound up the UK project within a week and came back. It was then that I realised that I needed to pursue my passion full-time.”
When he started researching about the components used to make gelato, he arrived at the nutrition aspect of it which changed his perspective.
He shares, “Did you know that India uses sweetener E471 that is banned in the USA and Europe? Nobody in India knows about it. It is being rampantly used in the food industry, naturally ice-creams also use it. Many are unaware that the ice-creams they eat don’t contain even a drop of milk! When we were young, ice creams were natural, at least they used milk. Now, most ice cream manufacturers typically use vegetable oil/palm oil, skimmed milk powder, stabilisers, induce it with heavy air and use artificial flavouring.”
He adds how the common man consumes these delicacies without the knowledge that they are consuming a bunch of chemicals.
“And so, you get a sore throat, not because it is cold but because it is full of chemicals. Not many make a true gelato,” he sighs.
He is now honing his skills to make the best natural ice-cream. He believes that the installation of top-loading ice-cream makers in his upcoming stores to cater to customised ice-creams would be a game-changer. Soon, you would also be able to see your ice-cream being churned right in front of you with every specification – low milk or no milk, stevia instead of sugar, and so forth.
He shares, “I am planning to branch out into a niche market with my upcoming venture, HANI (Healthy and Natural Ice-Creams), which will have one such machine. It will come up in Vasai, Mumbai. I think it is a scalable model and my vision is to take it across India.”
We chat about his favourite flavours when he shares how is planning to patent his strawberry ice-cream recipe that has nothing but strawberries- no water, no milk and no sugar.
“When you eat it, you will be amazed at the smooth texture. But it isn’t rocket science. You have to delve deeper because nature has alternatives for everything, including these ingredients. It has taken me years of hard work. I remember waking up at 3 am to experiment in my kitchen.
“I once had an idea to make a healthy brownie. But my parameters were strict- whole wheat, no eggs, no additives and simplicity, something I could make in the microwave in a minute. It took me four months with a lot of yelling from my wife in the background about the batches I would make and waste, but I mastered it,” he smiles.
Mango chilli, strawberry and a tropical flavour made of three fruits- mango, kiwi and strawberry are the flavours he enjoys most.
Some of the other iconic flavours that are a hit among customers are vegan almond (made only of almond), muskmelon, cucumber, kiwi, chikoo, Indian berries, lemon etc.
When I ask him if making true gelato is a lucrative business, he vehemently agrees. “Provided one doesn’t overdo it. Further, if you want to get into the franchise business, be careful. You cannot be in a city in the north and ship ready ice-creams to the south. It ruins the texture and taste. And the investment will be a waste in the long run. So I would say that it is a very lucrative business, if done in a smart and honest way.”
Ten years down the line, does his family understand his vision and support it? “Well, to a certain extent. Now my dad is 82, and my mother is 75. My daughter is 22, pursuing the fourth-year of her law degree, and she enjoys what I do. It’s not about being great, financially. As long as you are not into debt, and enjoy what you do, simplicity has its ways. My parents have now accepted that,” he says.
He is now getting the recognition he deserves as a group get in touch with him to explore franchise opportunities in two cities.
In his message to individuals who are giving up lucrative jobs to follow their passions, he says, “It is a long struggle. It starts right from the time you want to be an engineer, and your parents want you to be a doctor. They aren’t wrong, neither are we. It is just a balancing act.
“If you want to pursue something passionately, do it. Don’t fear failure. Failure is what comes when you have done the right thing wrong. Fear is the worst thing to have. What is the worst thing that can happen to you? You may fall. But as long as you are alive, why not get up and start running again?” he signs off.
If this story inspired you, get in touch with Ajay Nesargi at firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp him on 9880629621.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)