The Brazilian-born chef’s business came to fruition with a timely meeting of zero-waste ideals, support from local chefs and suppliers, Brazilian backers – and a load of old bananas
It wasn’t a falling apple that brought on Giselle Makinde’s eureka moment, it was a box of over-ripe bananas. One day while working in a Dublin café, the Brazilian-born chef decided to put banana bread on the dessert menu. But when Sean Hussey, of Hussey’s Farm, arrived with her order, she discovered they just weren’t ripe enough for her style of oozy, sweet banana bread. “I told him I need ripe bananas, not new ones,” says Makinde.
The next day, Hussey arrived with a 7kg box of super-ripe yellow bananas — and told her he didn’t want a penny for them. “They smelled so nice and I was so happy and asked what I owed him, but he gave them to me. He said: ‘We can’t sell this, restaurants or stores won’t buy it, so they’ll be thrown away.’ I couldn’t believe it. Ripe bananas are so tasty — perfect. And to me, as a chef, throwing away all this perfectly good food is a crime.”
It was a lightbulb moment for Makinde — and the timing was perfect. She’d always dreamt of opening a food business, and had just finished a 12-week food-production course with Finglas Local Enterprise Office. She’d been mulling over ideas, but nothing had grabbed her until that moment, when the seeds for a business were planted.
“Fruit is so delicate — once it gets ripe, you’ve one day to work with it. I decided I could take ingredients being thrown away and transform them into something delicious. I thought: ‘I’ll make ice-cream’.”
Ever since, this enterprising 40-year-old mum has been waging a one-woman war against food waste with Cream Of The Crop, her brand of artisan zero-waste ice-cream and gelato products. In 2021 alone, Makinde saved six tonnes of surplus food from landfill.
Her efforts could not have come at a more critical time. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) estimates that 1.3 billion tonnes — one-third of all food produced globally — is dumped every year. As the cost of our weekly shopping basket spirals, how many of us can afford to keep throwing away a chunk of what we buy each week?
And that’s not to mention the impact on climate change. If food waste were a country, according to the UNFAO it would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, after the USA and China, releasing 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.
These shocking statistics are the reason so many local food producers and fellow chefs fell over themselves to help Makinde when they got wind of her business idea. They included Velvet Cloud’s Aisling Flanagan, Harry Colley from Harry’s Nut Butter, Alice Tevlin from Rua Food (who gives Makinde chocolate brownie offcuts), Fabiano Mayor from SugarLoaf Bakery and Katie McCann from Katie’s Kombucha.
Hussey’s Farm in north Co Dublin remains as generous as ever, gifting bananas, melons and strawberries to Makinde. Earlier this year, Fyffes Bananas also jumped on board. “I’m getting 500kg of bananas from Fyffes per week, but they tell me I can get more if I get more machines and storage,” says Makinde. “Loads of people kept coming to me saying they have some great product but they can’t use it for different reasons. All that stuff needs to be stored.”
Makinde moved to Ireland “by accident” in 2018 after being refused a visa for Canada.
She put a pin in the map and hit Ireland. “The only association I had [for Ireland] was leprechauns,” she admits. After a bit of research, she spotted an article about the chef shortage here and decided to apply for a Critical Skills Employment Permit. She travelled to Ireland alone while her husband, an electrical engineer entitled to Italian citizenship, went with their son to Italy. (They have since joined her in Dublin.)
In early days of the pandemic, Makinde worked as a chef by day and spent evenings in her makeshift home “lab” at her Portmarnock apartment, mixing ice-creams and gelatos in a tiny bike and coat storage room, with just one domestic freezer. She did an online gelato-making course during the lockdown and spent her savings on a gelato machine.
“At the start of 2020 the idea was ready. I came up with the name, my dad in Brazil designed the logo. I was working 55 crazy hours as a chef again, until I found a job in a nursing home that finished at 4pm — so I’d go home to test more recipes. I was bringing ice-cream to the nursing home for residents.
“I set up Instagram and got 150 followers. I got eight orders — I was so happy. By August, I got on to Hussey’s and they let me take what I wanted — melons, strawberries, bananas. And Aisling from Velvet Cloud gave me 40kg of yoghurt. I tested dairy, non-dairy and vegan gelato, giving it to friends. They all loved it. My friend set up a Shopify website for me.”
Canny Chris Towers, founder of Food Story PR agency, reached out and soon RTÉ got in touch.
“I was on TV. It all exploded. On 8am on the Friday my cellphone was popping up with [about] five orders, then 50 orders came in. I had no stock. I was like, ‘shut down the website’. I was up until 3am producing ice-cream to fill 50 orders. I had to block off orders outside Dublin. We were delivering from 9am until 10pm.”
Makinde knew she needed to upgrade her two-litre gelato machine to a 40-litre one, and she needed more freezers. “I had one table and my normal kitchen freezer. When the website went live, I bought one freezer and put it in my living room. Myself and my husband worked 12 hours a day, and then delivering to people putting in orders on the website.”
Soon, hotels were getting in touch. “I thought, ‘OK, I have a good business here’.”
As Cream Of The Crop’s business mushroomed, three Brazilian investors backed it, enabling Makinde to move operations to a premises in Dublin’s Cork Street in February 2021. “When I moved to Cork Street, I was producing 3,000 units a month — in April, 5,000, and in May, 8,000 units.”
Unsurprisingly, the business quickly grew out of that space, too. Today, we are chatting upstairs in Cream Of The Crop’s 170-square metre production plant in Finglas Industrial Estate, where the delicious aroma of freshly made honeycomb wafts in from the kitchen next door.
The shelves on the walls of her storage pantry heave with jars of peanuts, brownie chunks, sea-salted caramel, cocoa powder and toasted breadcrumbs. She’s swapped her domestic freezer for a shipping container-sized storage freezer, chock-full of hundreds of litres of frozen milk on one side, and a few thousand litres of ice-cream and gelato on the other.
All the milk here was sourced from the reduced aisles in supermarkets. The cartons are marked with yellow labels indicating price drops — €1.70 to 20 cents for 2 litres. Instead of binning leftover milk before it’s about to expire, local supermarkets now ring Makinde.
“They’re absolutely perfect — nothing wrong with them. I collect it and I freeze the milk the minute I get it until I’m ready to use it. ‘Best before’ is not an expiry date — that’s a manufacturer’s guarantee — but if it’s handled and kept properly, it’s fine. When I get bananas in, I roast them to shrink them and compact them. The same with other fruits like apples. I roast, clean, peel and chop them.”
Wacky flavour pairings dreamt up by Makinde spin off her tongue — combos that shouldn’t work, but do. On top of the usual chocolate and hazelnut and honeycomb, there’s the distinctive blue cheese and pear gelato; vegan banana skin and tahini gelato; tomato and Parmesan ice-cream, and a sweet potato gelato.
An experimental chef pal from Glas vegetarian and vegan restaurant in Dublin asked for hay in a dessert, so Makinde rustled him up a pear and hay sorbet. “He had a crazy idea, but it worked. I infused the hay into a syrup and I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s like pear with tea.’”
Makinde now employs two staff members, and the majority of her sales are to businesses such as gelato parlours, hotels and restaurants. She bought a freezer van, and still does all her own deliveries. “Some customers are with me since day one. I love to chat — my customers give me such great feedback. Delivering will be one of the last jobs I give away as it’s such a great exchange of energy. I don’t charge for delivery. I try to keep my prices down. I’m making money, I can pay staff and I can grow. My investor group are delighted.”
She reached out to FoodCloud — a social enterprise dedicated to minimising food waste in Ireland — who put her in contact with suppliers, including Fyffes. The banana giant has set itself a global target of reducing food waste by as much as 80pc by 2030, and as part of that, it donates up to 2 tonnes of ripe bananas that don’t meet supermarket specifications to Makinde each month.
“They were so happy to give me bananas, but when they told me the amount, I knew I needed to come up with other products — not just gelato. I remembered sweets made with dried banana in Brazil that I grew up eating as a snack, so I said I’d try making them. I got a dehydrator to dehydrate all my surplus bananas from Fyffes.
“At Christmas, I delivered hampers to the businesses who supported me and put the banana snacks I made at my kitchen table inside. People gave me such great feedback, so I knew then I had another product I could develop.” The result is Bananitas, snacks made with the donated bananas and chocolate sustainably sourced directly from producers in Colombia. This summer, Makinde ran a crowdfunding campaign to help with the cost of sourcing more dehydrators and coating machines to get the product established.
Next, she has a food empire in her sights. “I want to move from being a gelato company to one that uses my surplus to produce lots of different products — I’ve so many ideas. Milk is a white canvas for gelato, but also can be used for spreads. I’m testing on banana skins — that’s 40pc of the fruit thrown away. You can [use them to] make liquor, flour, so many things...’
“When we were young, it was a sin not to finish your dinner. We’ve lost the connection between us and our food producers. We’ve become spoilt in this throwaway culture. At the beginning, I was afraid to come out to people to say it’s gelato [made] with surplus, because I thought people would think I’m using garbage to make gelato. I had to make peace with my idea first. The more I thought, the surer I became that I was doing a good thing. The idea kept coming to me and it was so clear — this is the right thing to do.”