A PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa helped Dirk Koeppenkastrop excel in an occupation that gives him great satisfaction: owner and maestro gelatiere of IL Gelato.
After earning that degree in 1992, Koeppenkastrop worked in the analytical chemistry field for 19 years, managing laboratories in Hawai‘i and Germany. Embedded in his mind, however, were fond memories of growing up with gelato in Bochum, Germany.
“In the summer, the ice cream wagon came by my house every day, ringing its bell,” he said. “We kids always bought something, and over the years I kept thinking, I love gelato; why not learn how to make it?”
In 2009, while Koeppenkastrop was in Hamburg as an executive for Eurofins, the largest food-testing lab in the world, he began using vacation time to attend weeklong gelato-making courses at Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna, Italy. His knowledge of chemistry made it easy for him to understand the process, and he earned the Master Gelato Maker title in 2010. That same year, Koeppenkastrop and his wife, Nicole Lueker, opened their first IL Gelato, realizing a longtime dream of settling in Hawai‘i.
Twenty of more than 200 flavors are available every day in their five O‘ahu locations. Ingredients include dark chocolate from Belgium; acai from Brazil; yuzu, matcha, and azuki beans from Japan; pistachios, hazelnuts, and walnuts from Italy; pineapples and Meyer lemons from O‘ahu; pineapples from Maui; and Kona coffee and macadamia nuts from Hawai‘i Island.
A perennial favorite is Hawai‘i Sea Salt Caramel—house-made caramel and Hawaiian sea salt swirled in milk- and cream-based fior di latte (Italian for “flower of the milk”) gelato. The sweet, salty, and bitter (burnt caramel) flavors meld with creamy gelato, gooey caramel, and crunchy salt crystals.
“My employees jokingly call me IL Gelato’s best customer because I eat almost a pint of our gelato every day,” Koeppenkastrop said. “Gelato has one-third less sugar and fat than ice cream, so it’s okay to eat three times as much of it, right?” Starts at $4.25 for a scoop.