From fitness freak to gelato guru

L’unico Gelateria is the brainchild of ex-fitness instructor Kenneth Leong.

PETALING JAYA: A journey to find the ultimate childhood treat has led one fitness-obsessed man to open up his own gelateria, offering over 25 out-of-this-world flavours of traditionally made gelato to satisfy the sweet cravings of kids and the young at heart.

From freshly-made double chocolate and strawberry cheesecake gelatos, to refreshing banana and orange sorbets, L’unico Gelateria reads like every child’s dream come true.

The ambience here is joyful and innocent, with gelato scooped out in perfect rounded balls and served in a dainty cup. The air smells like cool fruit.

But things weren’t always peachy.

Owner and gelato maker Kenneth Leong recalls a time when he was obese and struggling with depression from a failed relationship.

Kenneth Leong says L’unico Gelateria is every child’s sweet dream come true.

“I found myself thinking about my childhood a lot, and locked myself away alone for hours,” confesses Leong sheepishly.

At his worst, Leong weighed 120 kg and felt constantly lethargic and miserable. But he woke up one morning and decided enough was enough. The time had come for some drastic changes.

He needed discipline in his life and he found it at the gym. After 18 months of tirelessly working out, Leong had whittled himself down to a respectable 80 kg.

He remembers it as being a long and tough journey coupled with the realisation that there were simply no “short cuts” in life.

As pleased as he was with his discipline and commitment to get back on track with his life, Leong realised he was still fixated on his childhood and growing up in an orphanage.

“I still dreamed of that happy childhood – the kind with ice cream, family… everything,” he admits. This nagging craving sparked a journey to find the ultimate childhood treat.

He says he was looking for something classic, and worthy of indulging in. Ideally, this treat should be something satisfying and not too threatening to his newly trimmed waistline.

And that’s how he chanced upon gelato.

Dreams of a picturesque happy childhood motivated Leong to make his own gelato.

While gelato and ice cream may seem like one and the same thing to the uninitiated, they are very different.

Ice cream tends to have a higher fat content, more sugar and more calories per serving than gelato. Ice cream also likely contains artificial flavouring, whereas gelato’s flavours come from natural sources like fruits.

Both ice cream and gelato contain three main ingredients: sugar, dairy and air. However, unlike ice cream, gelato is made with fresh milk instead of cream.

Additionally, it can be stored for only three days instead of three months and is served at a warmer temperature (-12° to -15° Celsius) than ice cream.

When making his own gelato, Leong threw caution to the wind and injected wild and extraordinary flavours into his creations – like this spicy crab offering.

Leong had his first taste of gelato in Singapore while visiting a friend. And that was it – he was head over heels in-love.

He threw himself headlong into gelato-making, researching the product and hunting down a master-maker.

“It was not easy to find a master as most gelato today is very commercial,” says Leong.

So he did what every enterprising young adult does these days – he learnt it from YouTube tutorials and put his knowledge to the test with loads of self-experimentation.

With over 200 recipes in hand, Leong says he is able to create any flavour possible. Spicy crab, nasi lemak, honey cempedak and durian – you name it and there’s probably a crazy flavour or two like that around.

If you’ve got more conservative tastes, you’ll be happy to know that Leong also has salted caramel, Madagascar vanilla, and every kind of chocolate flavour imaginable.

Now who doesn’t swoon at the sight of chocolate, right?

Another aspect of L’unico Gelateria that sets it apart from other ice cream shops is its thoughtful offering of something warm and savoury as an alternative or a complement (depends on how you see it) to its cold and sweet desserts – lok-lok, an all-time Malaysian favourite.

All the usual suspects are here – bouncy fish balls, delectable fish cake, silky-pressed tofu, juicy crab sticks – the works. Be prepared to be thoroughly spoilt for choice when you step in.

Something warm and savoury, anyone?

Leong says he is most happy when he sees young families come in with their children, sharing a moment over his gelato despite the gloom of Covid-19 still hanging in the air.

“It is easy to get angry … but today I am content with my life so I can be proud that I helped create these moments. People deserve to be happy,” says Leong with a knowing smile.

L’unico Gelateria (Halal)
No 21, Jalan SS 22/11
Damansara Utama
Petaling Jaya

Open daily: 11am – 10pm