Regina Varolli reflects on her first trip to Rimini, site of the famous gelato and pasticceria trade show.
When you’ve been to dozens of trade shows in the U.S., your first time at SIGEP in Rimini, Italy, feels like something straight out of an animated Disney film. The Salone Internazionale Gelateria, Pasticceria e Panificazione Artigianali, the largest show of its kind in Italy, boasts hundreds of vendors displaying thousands of products at booths requiring set-decorators in a space spanning six football fields. When I first entered the Main Hall, I felt I’d grown smaller, and like Alice in Wonderland, was in awe of this new world I’d discovered. A wide-eyed newbie can get lost navigating the eighteen glass-domed halls as large as airplane hangars, but when the land you’re lost in has gelato, pasticceria, cakes and artisanal breads around every corner, it makes for one fantastic first foray into the wonderful world of European trade shows.
Struck by the massive physical size of Rimini-Fiera convention center as I meandered the Salone, my jaw began to drop repeatedly as I took in the spectacle of one over-the-top display after another. Too large and artistic to be called “booths” without feeling like you’re downgrading the effort put in (and expense put out) by the vendors, I decided to fittingly dub each vendor’s space a stage.
Gelato machine manufacturer Bravo created a stage that housed dozens of their machines, gelato for sampling, and a demonstration kitchen complete with an overhead jumbo screen, all set against a themed backdrop reminiscent of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Bravo’s candy-cane columns curving towards the sky, twelve-foot towers of macarons, giant cupcakes and cones of gelato perched above the demo kitchen, made me feel like Charlie himself must have when he first entered Willy Wonka’s factory.
PreGel, which keeps its headquarters in my Italian hometown of Reggio Emilia, took the notion of the trade show booth to a level I’d never before witnessed at any PreGel display in America. Smack in the middle of their huge space was a grand piano on a pedestal that rose above the crowd, at which various players took to the keys so the music could flow uninterrupted. An espresso bar manned by seasoned Italian baristas, a frozen-yogurt pavilion, a bank of 220 gelato, a fully-equipped kitchen overseen by PreGel Executive Pastry Chef Frederic Monti, and nearly 100 tables where prospective buyers could sit and rest their tired feet, all added up to one impressive stage.
Among all the cool new products being rolled out at SIGEP 2013, PreGel’s gelato molds were among the most innovative, and artistic. Fashioned from the concept of a chocolate mold, PreGel’s gelato molds make it possible for the frozen dessert specialist to create just about any shape one could imagine. By piping ice cream or gelato of different colors into the molds, artisans can produce edible works of art that either stand alone or rest atop a bin of gelato, and can look like anything from macarons and cookies to salumi and cheese. The effect is so realistic that one has to do a double-take to know that, yes, you really are looking at gelato, and PreGel went all-out displaying their new molds with cases full of molded gelato figures.
Down every isle and around every turn, this SIGEP first-timer was greeted by similarly large, lavish displays, but it was the state-of-the- art coliseum built for the barista competitions that took center stage. Reinforcing the Italian passion for espresso drinks, the Campionati Italini Baristi took place on the imposing stage in the Central Hall, where no attendee could possibly miss it. Though not a part of the name “SIGEP,” coffee was hardly underserved here. From the latest in machines to the best in beans, coffee industry vendors flanked the circular stage and spread their way throughout the event. Campionati Italini Baristi included the Italian Bartenders’ Coffee-Making Competition and the Italian Milk Art Championship, and while the audiences overflowed when the baristas took to their machines, these were just two among many competitions.
SIGEP hosted no less than ten different world-class competitions: The World Junior Pastry-Making Championships, the Golden Bread Cup, Gelato D’Oro, SIGEP Cake Design, the International Ice-Cream Makers Competition, the International Caffé Frozen Desserts Competition, the International Sugar Art Competition, and the Italian Chocolate Masters. Catching a glimpse of ten competitions proved a challenge in itself. There was simply no way to sit and watch every competition being held simultaneously, so I found myself dashing from end to end of the sprawling Rimini-Fiera, made breathless as much by the skill and artistry of the international competitors as I was by my mad, crowd-dodging race to see them all in action.
Never before have I relied so heavily on an event’s floor map as I did at SIGEP, there was simply no way to find your way around without it. With so much to distract me between point A-1 and point D-7, leading me off any path I tried to take, the SIGEP floor map became this girl’s best friend. I’ve actually kept it as a souvenir, a testament to the fact that I covered more miles of gelato, pastry, bread, machines, cakes, competitions and products in just one show than I have in the last five U.S. shows I’ve attended combined.
The spectacle that is SIGEP did have one glaring omission, the lack of large numbers of American attendees. Nearly every language in Europe could be overheard throughout the halls, and I met quite a few people from various countries in Asia who had crossed the International Date Line just to get to SIGEP. So why were there so few Americans? Perhaps it’s because they simply don’t know what they’re missing. In the U.S. we have so many great trade shows, but they’re all much smaller, so you’d have to hit up five American shows to equal one visit to SIGEP.
We have nothing of the magnitude and pageantry of SIGEP in the U.S., and the fact that it’s tailored to the European market makes it no less relevant for American pastry chefs. You may not be able to buy every piece of equipment or every last product State-side, but with all the passion for creativity being played out everywhere around you on a thousand stages, SIGEP has so much to offer the pastry pro when it comes to ideas, innovation, learning, and inspiration.