Gianluca Franzoni Of Nubocha: “Everything you do can have an important influence on you and your work”

The second advice I’ve gotten is to never assume you are wasting time, even if the things you’re doing do not seem related. Everything you do can have an important influence on you and your work. For example, my background as an athlete growing up gives me consistency, and my passion for honey helped me […]

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The second advice I’ve gotten is to never assume you are wasting time, even if the things you’re doing do not seem related. Everything you do can have an important influence on you and your work. For example, my background as an athlete growing up gives me consistency, and my passion for honey helped me understand sugars and also the fragility of ingredients.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gianluca Franzoni.

Growing up in Bologna, Italy, Gianluca Franzoni always had a deep love of food, and at 12 years old, began experimenting with making his own honey, coffee, chocolate and gelato. His passion for ingredients eventually brought him to Venezuela, where he lived for years on cacao plantations, before launching Italy’s famed fine chocolate brand Domori in 1996, and pioneering the bean-to-bar movement. As the visionary behind Domori, Gianluca spent two decades perfecting his chocolate-making craft and was deeply involved in every step — from farming new heirloom varieties of cacao, to innovating a new, low-impact way of harvesting and processing cacao that maximized the ingredient’s natural flavor. In the early 2000s, Gianluca met Katrina, an experienced marketing and business development professional, and the two bonded over fine food. Leveraging Gianluca’s leading expertise in sustainable farming and post-harvesting practices, the couple launched Nubocha in 2020, with the goal of reimagining one of their favorite classic Italian desserts with health and wellness in mind.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My birth town is Bologna, which has been an iconic gastronomic city in Italy since the Middle Ages, and that proximity to amazing ingredients and food has greatly influenced me and my career path.

On Sundays starting when I was just 3 years old my parents would take me to buy chocolate from a local chocolate factory that was famous for being one of the first to sell bean-to-bar chocolate when it opened. It was just a few miles away from home and even as a young child, my senses discovered a gateway to another world through that experience. In 1979, when I was around 13 years old, I developed an intolerance to milk and so I started making my own almond milk from Sicilian almonds. Bologna is also the world capital of artisanal gelato technology, so I was surrounded by gelato experts. I started to experiment with making my own pistachio and almond sorbets when I was 15. I also became very interested in honey, and the role of sugar in desserts. I started beekeeping and was able to taste and collect honey from all over the world. In the early 1980s, I started to develop an interest in the coffee roasting process. I’d select green coffee bean varieties and roast them at home. Eventually I moved to South America to work on cacao farms and that experience led me to found Domori chocolate company In 1997, which became a leading company in the chocolate bean-to-bar movement.

Through all of these adventures with food, I found that my true passion in researching and working with ingredients. I realized that every ingredient has unique attributes, and I enjoyed discovering those attributes and then learning the best way to bring out the best of each ingredient. It’s now become second nature to me, and it’s a skill that was necessary for me to launch Nubocha. The gelato is made with just three main ingredients, so it’s essential that each ingredient is high quality, thoughtfully sourced and is being used to its full potential.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

I can see the beauty of the ingredient I’m working with, its potential and the best way to make it shine. This skill led me to making several innovations in how ingredients are harvested and processed. While I was making chocolate, I was able to save some of the finest cacao varietals from extinction, and after 25 years of experience learned that those cacao trees can be commercially grown. I also became an expert in cacao fermentations, and changed the roasting curves of cacao and nuts. I also simplified the chocolate processing method and recipes.

Through my work with Nubocha, I am challenging the common perception that what makes ice cream delicious is the content of milk and cream. Instead, I am stressing the importance of the main ingredient (in our case cacao or nuts). We are also combining recently commercialized rare sugars like allulose with these cacao and nuts to create a flavorful and satisfying ice cream that is still nutritious and low in sugar, since allulose is a zero calorie sugar.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m not sure about funny mistakes, but it has always been important to me to aim for a big vision and then adjust it along the way based on new learnings. In my field specifically, I’ve learned that sometimes when pushing boundaries with food, audiences are not always ready to be introduced to new flavors or textures that are unfamiliar. There’s a balance between wanting to open new doors for people, and also meeting people where they are.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

When I was a kid I loved dreaming about adventure, and so my guides at that time were Ulysses’ Odyssey and the Count of Monte Cristo works. Growing up, I was an athlete and was involved with swimming, soccer and tennis. At that time my mentors were Julius Erving and Johan Cruyff because they changed their respective games by being smart, cool and disruptive.

Later, I met a lot of people in the F&B business, and have always been inspired by people who have spent the time, energy and passion to become experts in their specific fields.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Being Italian, I have been infused with many traditions that have stuck around, and I’m eternally grateful to live amidst the beauty of “la dolce vita” that these traditions bring. However, I’ve always been a fierce critic of myself and of the food and beverage industry. I always like to dissect traditions. My goal in determining when disruption is positive or not so positive is to ask how much of that tradition is the result of time-tested genius, and which parts are more a sign of the times, which means they can evolve.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

The first words of advice I’ve picked up along my journey are from Panta Rei, “everything flows.” The meaning I take from it is that you can always learn from others and from widening your perspective. It’s great to feel a momentary sense of achievement, but I’ve found there is almost always room to find something better or improve what you have done. This way of thinking was especially meaningful to me when I was researching roasting processes for pistachios. I wanted to balance the green notes of a mild roasting with the nutty notes of a more pronounced roasting cycle. My traditional roasting methods worked well for most nuts, but did not give me the outcome I wanted in this case. Finally, I discovered a Japanese technique of double roasting sesame seeds, which I applied to my process to great results.

The second advice I’ve gotten is to never assume you are wasting time, even if the things you’re doing do not seem related. Everything you do can have an important influence on you and your work. For example, my background as an athlete growing up gives me consistency, and my passion for honey helped me understand sugars and also the fragility of ingredients.

The last advice that I find important is that at a certain point as you progress in your career, you have to recognize and be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. There are always going to be things you need to improve on, but it’s also important that you love what you do, and that you invest in talents and passions you have, even if they seem untraditional. In my case, I decided to nurture my talent and passion for food, even though my degree is in Economics and Business. I learned I’m not a big fan of balance sheets and income statement analysis, so now I am able to work with people who can help me with that, so that I can focus on what I’m passionate about and better at.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I’m not planning on stopping any time soon! I’ve been spending a lot of time focusing on fermentation and plan to apply those learnings to create new products that we are excited to launch soon.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Definitely the works of Edward De Bono on lateral thinking. They allowed me to believe that there is always more to learn whether it’s looking inside of yourself or to other inspirations. That way of thinking inspired me to wake up in the morning with excitement and trepidation, knowing and trusting that I’m going to discover something new that could greatly influence who I am and my work.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The first golden rule is there are no golden rules.” I’ve always thought of myself as a beginner who is consistently trying to learn, never taking myself too seriously, but always committed to what I was doing at the time. This way of thinking meant I was never too hard on myself if I made a mistake.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d love to be able to inspire some kind of philosophical movement that would allow us to all take awareness of our own potential as individuals. I believe each person has a unique ability to do good and add beauty to the world, and would hope for everyone to discover that in themselves.

How can our readers follow you online?

Instagram: @gl.franzoni


This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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