SAGONE - Ecstatic strawberry; erotic nougat; the forgotten flavours of violets, helichrysums, and Persian black limes... Can ice-cream contain a touch of genius? If it’s Pierre Geronimi making it, absolutely!
An artisanal ice-cream maker from the little village of Sagone, north of Ajaccio, this Corsican grew up surrounded by the sorbets that his father, a master ice-cream maker, used to make right here, between the beach and the rugged hillside, before delivering them all around the island in his refrigerated truck.
Now 44, Pierre Geronimi is at the top of his profession. While most artisanal ice-cream makers have no scruples about using frozen fruit purée, Geronomi invests all his money in buying fresh seasonal fruits and top-quality products. His creations feature predominantly, of course, all that Corsica has to offer: the wondrous flavors of Pascal Colombani’s melons, Florence Marsili’s honey, Alexia Santini’s pralines, Ivan Colona’s brocciu, Anna Nocera’s saffron, Paul and Jean-Pierre Caux’s helichrysums -- without forgetting the sensational lemons, grapefruits and Barbary figs grown on the east coast of the island.
Geronimi's passion is to work with the “crème de la crème” – the very best products in the world. “Xavier Burban’s strawberries from La Baule, Alain Abel’s vanilla from Tahiti," he says, starting to reel off the list, "Rossella Caruso’s almonds and pistachios from Sicily, Persian black limes, Medjool dates, garlic confit from Aomori in Japan, tobacco from Havana in Cuba, Sorrento grapes, Venezuelan rum, New Caledonian blue prawns…”
Like Japanese chefs
There is only one thing left to do once all these treasures are gathered: extract their frozen essence -- which has become the singular obsession of Geronimi’s life.
“How can you reduce the temperature of a product while keeping it as close as possible to its natural taste? How can you capture the flavor of a fruit without adding any sugar? At what temperature does a product offer the very best of itself?” These are the questions that Geronimi has been asking himself since he took over from his father more than 20 years ago.
Eric Briffard, head chef at the exclusive George V hotel in Paris, was the first top chef to recognize Geronimi’s talent. “Pierre Geronimi is an artist without equal, one of those rare people who knows how to stabilize products in a natural way," says Briffard. "Like Japanese chefs, he knows that between ‘too hot’ and ‘too cold’ there are an infinite number of nuances and stages.”
Photo: Glaces Geronimi
For example, chocolate and coffee are to be soaked in the best possible crème fraîche overnight at 50 degrees Celsius. Pistachio requires 60 degrees, praline 80. “My aim is to create a creamy, soft texture which awakens the taste buds and pays homage to the pure flavor of the product,” he explains. When it comes to sorbets, precision is key: “Wild marjoram must be infused for 12 minutes at 60 degrees Celsius: Any more, and the product is ruined; any less, and it’s not enough!”
While mango, strawberry and pear are enough on their own, other products need to be combined to truly bring out the best of their flavor -- like ginger and passion fruit, yellow tomato and rosemary, pepper and olive oil. “That’s the most exciting part!”
His peach and verbena sorbet, pale pink, almost the same shade as marble, exists on a whole new level of delicateness. First the verbena awakens your taste buds, attacks and rinses your palette, before giving way to the sweetness of the peach which transports your imagination to orchards hanging over an unknown sea.
Once soaked, Pierre measures the level of sugar in the fruit. “I don’t want people to be thirsty after eating my sorbets! They should quench your thirst, like pomegranate or watermelon sorbets. My favorite is Corsican grapefruit sorbet; the most difficult to make because I don’t add sugar to stabilize it.”
A flavor request from Qatar
Geronimi then pours everything (cream for ice-creams, syrup for sorbets) into his gelato machine which was made near Bologna, Italy. “This machine allows me to set the best temperature for each product, as well as the rotation speed of the paddle in order to obtain the texture that I’m looking for. There is plenty of air in the horizontal cylinders, which gives the ice-cream volume. The catch? The more air, the more money you save, but the weaker the flavors. That’s the principle that industrial Italian ice-cream is based on… For me, it’s the complete opposite: minimum air for maximum taste.”
After eight or ten minutes of stirring, the ice-cream comes out of the machine at -3 degrees Celsius: It is at this point that the aroma and flavor of the ice-cream are at their best. Stored at -20 degrees Celsius in the freezer (for no more than four months), Pierre Geronimi’s ice-creams are never hard, maintaining their creaminess and shine.
For those who might want to steal Geronimi’s tricks, he explains that there is no recipe. “Every day requires innovation. A strawberry picked in the rain is not the same as a strawberry picked when it's dry! You have to calculate the water present in the fruit before you can work with it. Therefore the recipe is never the same.”
In 2012, the French luxury conglomerate LVMH placed an order for ice-cream to be made from the best vintages of Veuve Clicquot champagne, one of the company’s subsidiaries. Accepting the challenge, Geronimi took six months to develop an unheard-of technique allowing champagne bubbles to be trapped inside the ice-cream: This sparkling dessert can be combined with top-of-the-range products like live royal Dublin Bay prawns marinated in green curry, citrus fruits and ginger.
The Sagone ice-cream maker is an artist, capturing the essence of things -- perhaps even of living beings. An emir from Qatar has already requested the ice-cream flavor of “a loved woman.”
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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