This post is a month late. But read on and you will understand…You get to eat delicious, locally-made ravioli because I was bored in my sales job. I just couldn’t get on another airplane to go to another meeting in another state for the billionth time. And also because I made inedible, gummy gnocchi for dinner and my good friend told me so. And finally because I was really, really bad at baking bread (despite my amazing teacher, Lionel Vianet from La Farm). See below…any likeness to anatomy was not intended but widely mocked.
So due to boredom and a desire to make better gnocchi I took a trip to Italy in 2010 to learn how to make pasta as a hobby. I spent time learning how to knead and roll dough by hand with a matarello – a rolling pin almost as tall as me. Upon hearing what I was doing the owner of the B&B I was staying in presented me with a matarello that had been in her family for years and wished me luck. I was off to a good start it seemed.
I returned home and covered my kitchen in a thin layer of flour while I tested recipes. I had visions of me rolling out perfect pasta and sealing each little ravioli by hand but the matarello soon led to a hand crank pasta machine, then to a kitchen aid mixer pasta attachment and finally to my current assortment of 5 scary looking machines used to make the ravioli, fettuccine & gnocchi.
Owning a business is kind of like that feeling you get when you were a kid in school, when you tilted your chair back and for one millisecond lost your balance and thought you were going to tip over. A feeling of terror followed by relief. All. The Time. A typical week is far from what I had envisioned. I’m not peacefully rolling out dough, with a light dusting of flour on my arms. It’s more like taking apart a stubborn machine and learning how to read a wiring diagram. In Italian. Or running a delivery 35 minutes away, going to the farmers market, sweeping & scrubbing, scooping out ricotta filling up to my elbows, looking for a larger kitchen space, sweeping, talking myself in and out of moving to a larger space, scrubbing, painting signs for the farmers market, reorganizing boxes in a -10 degree freezer, Facebook posting & twittering, more sweeping & scrubbing, considering alternate employment, heaving 50 pound bags of flour, returning calls to customers asking how to cook pasta but mostly feeling grateful that I never have to fly to Boston in February to convince someone to buy software.
The business has come a long way and I love knowing that on any given night my food is on the table of so many people in the area. I used to make my own ricotta – 4 pounds a week. Now we use 1,200 pounds of certified organic ricotta a month – ordered directly from a 2nd generation company founded by Italian immigrants.
The pasta debuted at the Wake Forest Farmer’s Market 4 years ago with a couple dozen trays of 2 or 3 types of ravioli. Now at any given time we have close to 20 different pastas available, and some weeks we are at 7 different markets at a time. Last month we made our first delivery to Whole Foods in Durham & some of the best chefs in the area serve our pasta on their menus.
I couldn’t have made it 4 years without a ton of support including the kindness of strangers, now friends. The veterans of the American Legion Hall in Wake Forest let me use their kitchen to start. In a refrigeration emergency (which is all too common) Sawmill Tap Room in Raleigh let me use their freezer space which I still borrow from time to time. Both free of charge. The pasta maker in Charleston taught me how to scale up and use the pasta machines I bought from him. My friends endured frantic calls to break into my house and bring more pasta to the market on Saturday mornings because I was going to sell out in the 1st hour. Friends all over Raleigh kept freezers in their garages to help me store pasta until we bought a walk in. My original teachers in Bologna, Francesca, Raffaella and Marcello, welcomed me into their home. My employees over the years – the early ones who had to suffer through very low pay and a very clueless owner & the current employees who allowed us to keep up with the demand for our pasta all over the Triangle. And of course, my family – the toughest taste tester being my mother. I grew up watching my Italian immigrant parents grow and make all of our food from scratch, forage for mushrooms and greens (sometimes on the field adjacent to my soccer practice, much to my teenage horror), go to the butcher or the farm for their meat and can vegetables for the winter. They were the original hipsters without the ironic beard and skinny jeans and the inspiration for all that I do.
I really wanted to spend time editing some of the awkward sentences and writing a killer conclusion but I need to drive 2 hours to buy a special switch for the ravioli machine…I hope this was enough of a glimpse into 4 years. More to come! Thank you for your support.