Being the best can be exhausting. Though it's not even noon, Matthew Lee has been up since 5 am trying to get 70 pounds of pecans through Italian customs. They're currently en route to Rimini where they will (hopefully) be turned into the world's best gelato.
Lee, native Texan and founder of Teo Gelato, has sent the pecans to Italy in preparation for the Gelato World Tour Finals held in Rimini on September 5-7. The only American in the prestigious competition, Lee is getting ready to not only represent the U.S. but the great state of Texas in his bid to be crowned best.
Crafting the flavor profile to compete with the best gelato makers in the country has taken years of practice, study and cultural immersion. But ultimately it was Lee's roots that inspired his very Texas-esque entry. For the competition, Lee will create a whiskey pecan caramel gelato, a fusion between Lone Star tastes and Italian tradition.
"[Italians] love westerns and they love the Marlboro Man and John Wayne," says Lee of his creative inspiration. In fact, Lee plans on playing up the Texas theme during the day, wearing red gingham pearl snaps and playing Spaghetti Western soundtracks.
But there is one thing that Lee will not be bringing to Italy. "They don't like peanut butter," says Lee. The salty sweet combination loved by many Americans (salted caramels, chocolate covered pretzels and the like) is not well received abroad.
Though Lee has spent years studying the art of gelato and the culinary customs of Italy, final gelato approval had to come from one person: Lee's 14-year-old daughter. "I knew it was good when she started critiquing it and then she got up and got a second helping and then a third helping," he says, laughing. When the container of whiskey pecan caramel gelato was empty, he knew he had a winner.
Hopefully, the judges at the Gelato World Tour Finals will agree.