Mark Relph moved here some 30 years ago, when he was just 21, to take up a job as sous chef at Pequeno Mundo in Almancil. The warm, relaxed lifestyle of the Algarve kept him here. Michelle Evans, much in need of a break from her hectic life in hospitality in London (she had been head waiter at The Greenhouse in Gary Rhodes’ days, and floor manager at the influencers’ South Bank favourite, the Oxo Tower) came to visit friends in the autumn of 1998. She loved what she discovered, – the countryside, the beaches, the laid-back attitudes – and decided to turn her time-out into a one year stay. That one year became forever.
Mark’s career continued to blossom. He spent seven years as sous chef at the then Ermitage restaurant, and went on to open Bistro D’Zarts in Almancil, a 30-cover eaterie with a big heart.
By pure coincidence, in 1999 he met Michelle, and the two began working together, opening A Quinta restaurant on the Almancil-Loule road in February 2001, and marrying in 2003.
A Quinta was a huge success, a firm favourite among locals and visitors. Hard work, a great team, and a passion for hospitality retained the loyalty, and often the friendship, of their clients.
Twenty years on, the couple decided it was time to introduce change to their lives. “It was by no means an easy decision,” says Michelle. “We had staff who had been with us for the duration, and clients who would be sadly missed. However, our wish – our need, really – to be with family, to see old friends, to travel, and to take up a new challenge was overwhelming.”
The couple spent a year, visiting family and friends, and enjoying their first holiday in 20 years, while thinking about their next chapter.
And that’s where ice cream comes into the story.
Food for thought
“Ice cream has always been a passion of Mark’s,” says Michelle. “He had experimented with flavours at the restaurants, and produced some fantastic combinations. Gelato was a natural choice for us – a fun project in the perfect climate.”
With Mark’s expertise and experience as a professional chef, his knowledge and palette were finely tuned. He embarked on a course at The Natural Gelato Co in Grisetto, Tuscany, on the west coast of Italy, where natural gelato production is the focus. What he learned there became the building blocks of the new brand.
“We played around with many ideas for the name and personality of our venture. Club Gelato, Algarve Gelato Cº , and many more were thrown in the bag. What we really wanted was to make a connection with where our gelato was being produced, and that led us to 8100, the postcode. It works in all languages! “
Being local residents and confirmed foodies, visits to Loule and the market had long featured on their agenda – selecting produce for the restaurant, and relationships with local growers, gave them a firm connection. “Every Saturday morning had long been spent collecting orders and scouring the stalls for local, organic goods,” says Mark.
In recent years, Loulé‘s offering has grown immeasurably. Today there’s an incredible buzz, with new restaurant and café openings, the refurbishment of the municipal market in 2008, the opening of artisan stores and galleries, and the growth of the residential community.
All of this added to the huge appeal of Loulé as the perfect home for 8100, and when a newly-created spot in the market came up, the couple jumped at the opportunity.
If you have seen people wandering into the heart of the market in the evening, here’s why: There can be anything up to 20 flavours available at the Gelato 8100 ‘store’ at any time, and everything is made on site to ensure absolute freshness. The flavour combinations are endless, and creating new tastes is part of the enjoyment for the Mark and Michelle.
All the right ingredients
“Key to the gelato experience is the flavour, but equally important is what we call the ‘mouth feel’,” says Mark. “Dare I say it, but, gelato can be too cold. It’s all about getting the right balance.“
The process begins with careful preparation of fruit syrups, compotes and base ingredients – the fruit used is predominantly from Loulé growers – followed by pasteurisation of the mix, and churning and freezing at a very low temperature. Batches are made in small quantities to ensure freshness. Good quality Belgium Chocolate is a must, and milk comes from Portuguese dairies.
There are seasonal flavours using local produce, alongside traditional favourites that include Cheesecake, Apple Pie, and Prune and Armagnac. Madagascan Vanilla is always the top seller. “Clients say our Tiramisu Gelato is the best, and it is pretty close,” laughs Michelle, “but when you strive for perfection there’s always work to do.”
Gelato 8100 ice cream is now in demand by restaurants and cafés across the golden triangle. Their first ever client was Mundo Saudavel, in Almancil, sadly now closed. “The owner was so supportive,“ Michelle says. “She loved us trying out new flavour ideas. It was the best start we could have dreamed of.”
And while there are plans in the pipeline to develop that side of the business and build a network of eateries that will offer 8100 to their customers, there is also much going on at the brand’s home in Loulé.
Michelle and Mark have now opened a pop up café in the adjacent site, a great extension to the core 8100 business. And they make all their own cakes, cookies and waffles as well as various seasonal conserves. It’s all irresistible stuff – hot waffles for elevenses, cake with gelato on the side for tea, ice cream at any time of the day.
In the summer months, with longer opening hours, it was not uncommon for people eating out in a local restaurant to head to the market for a dessert or two. You’d see them coming out smiling, having discovered a very special treat, one that has become a regular habit.
Open: Tuesday to Friday, 10:00–17:30, Saturday, 9:00–17:30 and Sunday 11:30-17:30.
Longer hours in spring and summer.
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Words: Jo Geller