Kariton Sorbetes puts a Filipino spin on ice-cream

A tub of buko pandan - coconut and pandan gelato topped with pandan jelly, candied coconut and toasted rice flakes.
A tub of buko pandan - coconut and pandan gelato topped with pandan jelly, candied coconut and toasted rice flakes. Photo: Supplied

Chef John Rivera trained in fine dining, represented the Pacific in an international chef competition and helmed the kitchen at upscale Lume until the end of 2019, but it's through his ice-cream business – launched last winter with pastry chef Minh Duong – that he's been able to delve into his Filipino heritage and really unleash his creativity.

"Everyone loves ice-cream," says Rivera. "If you think you don't, you are lying to yourself. In fine dining, you think about flavours, textures, contrasts: we do all that with ice-cream too – it's a great canvas. You can let your mind wander."

Kariton Sorbetes focuses on Filipino flavours and combinations – and they deliver all around Melbourne. Purple yam ice-cream is topped with caramelised coconut curds to make the signature ube halaya. Sweet banana gelato is covered in jackfruit. Avocado is blended with condensed milk and scattered with white-chocolate-coated grains.

Making south-east Asian flavours the proud, exuberant heroes of his culinary world is something Rivera didn't feel was possible as he was coming up in the industry.

"We are both first generation immigrants from south-east Asia but we cut our teeth in the modern Australian cooking scene," he says. "Growing up it was hard for us because there was this crab mentality, a stigma around our own culture." Crab mentality is the Filipino version of tall poppy syndrome, a pulling down of those crabs trying to climb out of the bucket.

Asian flavours and ideas were used in restaurant dishes but they weren't necessarily presented in context or as the centrepiece.

Ice-cream is a great canvas. You can let your mind wander.

John Rivera

Rivera is part of the change. "We didn't have role models that looked like us," he says. "As much as we want to make a great product, Minh and I would love to be inspirations for people to take up their passions."

Now the pair are looking back at their own third-culture childhoods and making Asian-flavoured ice-creams that reference Aussie classics. "We want to incorporate more Australiana," he says. "Our new handheld range draws inspiration from things you'd get from the servo or milk bar like a Golden Gaytime or Lamington."

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The best way to try these frozen desserts is by purchasing a Sari-Sari Box, which mixes and matches five culture-clashing treats.

Kariton has just taken on a shop in Leeds Street, Footscray, which they'll turn into a dessert bar this summer. "It's an awesome spot," says Rivera. "Footscray is the next boom town. We'll do something great for the community and bring value to the area."

Purchase from karitonsorbetes.com

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