Gelato success put racer back on track

Host and commentator Matteo Guerinoni, who runs a company in Jakarta supplying gelato, has nearly 30 years of racing experience.
Host and commentator Matteo Guerinoni, who runs a company in Jakarta supplying gelato, has nearly 30 years of racing experience.PHOTO: FOX SPORTS

MotoGP Live presenter Matteo Guerinoni once put his racing dream on hold to carve out a career in the food industry

8Q

A love for making gelato and shrewd business acumen fuelled retired motorcycle racer Matteo Guerinoni's thrill for speed and gave his racing career a second wind.

At 20, Guerinoni, who was born in Bergamo in northern Italy, had to put the brakes on a promising motorcar racing career when his father "almost went bankrupt" sponsoring him in Formula Italia races across Italy.

His father, a sculptor, paid for his competition expenses, from travelling to maintaining and buying racecars.

Seeing the heavy toll that the races had taken on his father's finances, Guerinoni shelved his racing dreams.

In a telephone interview from Jakarta, the 48-year-old says with a laugh: "I felt very bad, I had to push my dad to stop sponsoring me as he really believed in me. Till today, he would come close to crying whenever he brings this topic up every time I return home for Christmas."

Instead, Guerinoni turned to his second love - making gelato. He learnt it when he was 18 from a friend who ran a gelato shop in Italy and started running the shop.

There, he met a regular customer who owned a Singapore-based company that was looking to start a gelato chain in South-east Asia and proposed that he came onboard.

After setting up its first outlet in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam in 1991, he started a second outlet in Jakarta a year later.

He then bought over the Jakarta business and grew the Cafe Pisa Gelato Company to seven franchised outlets and three restaurants. He sold it in 2007.

As his business took off, Guerinoni put his racing dreams back on track. He bought a motorcycle and participated in racing competitions in Indonesia from 2004.

He was crowned Indonesian National Champion of Supersport 600cc in 2006 and 2008, and Indonesian National Champion of Superbike 1000cc in 2010.

He retired from the sport four years ago as he was "too old".

These days, he is a sought-after host and commentator on live motorcycle racing shows. Fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, he has been hosting these shows in Indonesia since 2008.

His latest gig is as co-presenter on MotoGP Live, a new studio show that accompanies the MotoGP 2017 season, which was flagged off in Doha, Qatar, yesterday . The motorcycle racing season comprises 18 races around the world over nine months.

The hour-long show, which airs on each race day, consists of a pre-race segment and post-race analysis. It premiered on Fox Sports 3 (Singtel TV Channel 116, StarHub Channel 210) yesterday. The next MotoGP Live show will be on April 9 as the second leg of the race moves to Argentina.

Armed with close to 30 years of racing experience, Guerinoni gives "through the helmet" insights on the adrenaline-pumping races on the show.

He says: "I still miss racing. Every time I watch a race, I feel as if I am riding a bike. I can relate to what the riders are feeling at the starting line or when they are accelerating and making turns even though I am sitting on a sofa in a studio."

Besides having his eye on racing, Guerinoni, who is now an Indonesian citizen after living there for 24 years, is also a seasoned restaurateur.

Over the years, he has opened about 21 restaurants there. He sold his last two restaurants, Luna Negra in Jakarta and Bali, six months ago and now runs Il Gelato di Matteo, which supplies gelato to restaurants and hotels in Jakarta.

The father of two daughters, aged 16 and 14, was also a judge on season four of cooking competition show MasterChef Indonesia and will be a guest judge on Iron Chef Indonesia later this year.

He says: "I enjoy looking at people cook. Whether it is cooking, racing or playing cards, I like being in the thick of the action in any kind of competition."

1 How did your interest in motor racing start?

I started racing on go-karts illegally as my father didn't let me race on motorcycles.

I was young and raced like a bad boy in the streets. In my head, there were only engines and racing.

My father bought me a professional go-kart when I was 10 years old and I started taking part in competitions all over Italy.

2 Why did you turn to motorcycle racing later in your racing career?

You can completely see what is happening around you on a motorcycle and can feel the wind and excitement. You can feel the speed much better on a motorcycle than in a race car.

3 Do you still do any form of racing these days?

I am doing a lot of enduro motorcycle rides on off-road courses across Indonesia for fun.

I love being in the wild, riding up and downhill in the forests and mountainous areas, and crossing lakes and rivers. It can be a little bit extreme.

4 How did your interest in food start?

My granny and mother are good cooks. I love their dishes such as baked rabbit with polenta.

When my mother was at work after I returned home from school, I tried to cook anything that was in the fridge, from cakes to pasta with meat and vegetables. I couldn't cook well and created a mess in the kitchen, which made my mother mad.

5 What are your favourite dishes to cook these days?

I cook every weekend. I love cooking my family's baked rabbit dish; beef stew with my special mashed potatoes that my friends rave about; and risotto with porcini mushrooms and gorgonzola cheese. I also make bolognese sauce from scratch.

6 What are your favourite restaurants in Jakarta?

Alto, an Italian restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel Jakarta, which has stunning views of the city. I like the Florentine T-bone steak that pairs well with wines.

For a more affordable meal, I go to Spanish restaurant Plan B in the Senayan district. It serves extraordinary tapas, seafood paella, lemon tart and sangria.

7 Why were you so fierce when you were a judge on MasterChef Indonesia?

The producers wanted me to be "the bad guy" to scare the contestants. So I had to pretend to be mean to please the Indonesian audience, who like drama on the show. I am not so fierce in real life.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

As an honest and straightforward guy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline 'Gelato success put racer back on track'. Print Edition | Subscribe