Dan dusts himself off and goes on the hunt for a pasta company to partner with. Plus, he edges closer to a design for his shape. But the real challenge is convincing pasta industry insiders to take him seriously.
This episode features:
- Evan Kleiman, host of the radio show and podcast Good Food
- Garofalo pasta company
- Sfoglini pasta company
- De Mari pasta dies
This episode contains explicit language.
Original theme music by Andrea Kristinsdottir. Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Layers" by Erick Anderson
- "Loud" by Bira
- "Small Talk" by Hayley Briasco
- "Silhouette" by Erick Anderson
- "The Cantina" by Erick Anderson
- "Talk To Me Now (Instrumental)" by Hayley Briasco and Ken Brahmstedt
- "Intrepid Stratagem" by Stephen Sullivan
Photo courtesy of Dan Pashman.
CLIP (BECKY PASHMAN): How are you actually gonna advertise and do pasta shipping at lots of super markets to sell it? What if the super market people who chose like what the super market sells doesn't even heard of you?
Evan Kleiman: Previously on The Sporkful’s Mission ImPASTAble…
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): We are gonna set out to invent a new pasta shape.
CLIP (JANIE PASHMAN): I can’t even think of a pasta shape that doesn’t already exist.
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): I think this is a fascinating project and I think this is going to be so much harder than you imagine it to be.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): I guess I'm hoping to find like a mid-level company.
CLIP (CHRIS MALDARI): There aren't any.
CLIP (JANIE PASHMAN): I don't want to lose twenty thousand dollars because you want to, like, try something for fun
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): I’m just feeling discouraged. I feel like maybe this is stupid
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. Welcome to part three of Mission: ImPASTAble. My quest to invent a new pasta shape, actually get it made, and actually sell it. If you haven’t already heard parts 1 and 2, please go back and listen to those first. Ok, let’s do this.
Dan Pashman: When I was a kid, I was a huge baseball fan. I collected and catalogued baseball cards obsessively, and I read about all my favorite players in Sports Illustrated, which arrived in the mail every week. One day I read a profile of Juan Guzmán, he was an all-star pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. And it talked about his intense workout regimen. He said, "If I’m gonna lose, I don’t ever want to wonder if there’s something else I could have done. I need to know I did everything I could do to win." Well, right now, it feels like I’m on the mound, the bases are loaded, the other team’s best hitter is up, and we’re way behind.
Dan Pashman: So I’m channeling Juan Guzmán. If I’m gonna lose, I don’t want to have any regrets. I need to know I’ve done every I could possibly do to make this happen. And I’m not at that point yet. I’ve got to find a pasta maker who’ll work with me. And, I’ve gotta design my shape.
Dan Pashman: In the last episode we met Chris Maldari. His family has been making pasta dies in New York for over a hundred years. Remember, the die is like the mold for the shape. I need Chris to manufacture the die, so I can take it to a company that will make the pasta, dry it, box it, and ship it.
Dan Pashman: Now, Chris says no company in America is gonna want to do that for us without me laying out 20 grand up front. But if we do find a partner, then we can go ahead with Chris and get the die made. So Sporkful producers and I start making calls to pasta companies.
[CONVERSATION IN ITALIAN]
Dan Pashman: Our producer, Ngofeen Mputubwele, speaks Italian. So he calls up Flavia Garzia. She works for Garofalo, a pasta company based in Italy that distributes in the U.S.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: If we want to work with you guys to get a pasta made, like what would the process even look like?
Flavia Garzia: Hmmm, let me say, everything can be done. But there are like changing a die on a production line is a very big deal. It’s not like when you’re blending your shake in the morning and you change from chopping to...
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Yeah, puree.
Flavia Garzia: Just...exactly.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Uh-huh.
Flavia Garzia: It’s like a very long process that requires time.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Mm-hmm.
Flavia Garzia: And stopping the line.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Uh-huh.
Flavia Garzia: All meaning that it has a cost involved in this.
Dan Pashman: The equipment in a factory like Garofalo’s runs 24/7. One production line cranks out nearly 10,000 pounds of pasta an hour. If they’re gonna make my pasta, they’d have to stop a production line, spend a couple of days changing the die out, then get it back up and running. Every minute not spent making pasta costs them money. So it’s a pretty big ask.
Dan Pashman: And a big part of whether or not it’s worth it to them to do that is how much pasta I’m looking to make. I want about 5,000 pounds, which would be 5,000 boxes. If it sells, we can make more.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: And is there a minimum run, like the number of pounds or units?
Flavia Garzia: Yeah, there is. Usually around 1,200 cases for a long cut.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Oh, OK. Yeah, the kind of quirky thing of us doing it as a podcast, like, you know, if I was just an individual starting, it’d be like, uh...
Flavia Garzia: Uh-huh.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: 1,000 is a lot. But because of the...
Flavia Garzia: Mm-hmm.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Because we’ll be selling it to our audience, that actually is a reasonable thing, which is kinda cool. Yeah.
Flavia Garzia: I’m talking, Ngofeen, cases. In each case there’s 20 packs.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Ahhhh…
Flavia Garzia: Cases not packs. Yeah, cases.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Just kidding.
Flavia Garzia: Yeah.
Flavia Garzia: You’re talking 24,000.
Ngofeen Mputubwele: Right!
Dan Pashman: The Garofalo minimum? 24,000 pounds. That’s not gonna work.
[GOOD BYES IN ITALIAN]
Dan Pashman: We spend the fall of 2019 calling around to companies across the U.S, from Pennsylvania to Tennessee to North Dakota. The lowest minimum order we find is 30,000 pounds. That gives me the image of my driveway piled with 30,000 boxes of pasta, the kids and Janie and me frantically addressing packages by hand.
Dan Pashman: On the other end, we find lots of small shops that only make fresh pasta. They don’t dry it, box it, or ship it. We need a company that’s not too big, not too small. But our Goldilocks is nowhere to be found. I’m starting to think Chris Maldari was right.
Steve Gonzalez: Sfoglini Pasta.
Dan Pashman: Hi, is this Steve?
Steve Gonzalez: This is.
Dan Pashman: As last ditch effort, I call up Sfoglini Pasta, and I get Steve Gonzalez on the line. He’s a chef who co-founded Sfoglini in Brooklyn in 2012.
Dan Pashman: Why pasta?
Steve Gonzalez: I mean, I’ve always enjoyed making pasta. So it just kinda seemed like a good direction. We really didn’t do any market research or put too much thought into it. We just kinda blindly went into it
Dan Pashman: I like that Steve. I haven’t done any market research either.
Dan Pashman: At first Sfoglini was a small operation in Brooklyn, but now they’ve become more industrial. They moved to rural upstate New York, near Albany, where they have a 37,000-square foot facility. Their dried pastas are at Whole Foods, and at specialty stores across the country.
Steve Gonzalez: Our machine does about 1000 lbs/hour.
Dan Pashman: And is it running 24 hours a day?
Steve Gonzalez: I wish! You know, it runs about 8-10 hours a day, 6 days a week. Technically, by scale we’re actually small.
Dan Pashman: This seems like it has potential. Even though Sfoglini is way smaller than the pasta giants, they still produce over a million pounds of pasta a year, and they can dry it, box it and ship it. Finally, we get to talking about minimums. Come on 5,000, come on 5,000...
Steve Gonzalez: Technically, if we turn our machine on and put the labor in, we try to… we have a 6,000 lb minimum.
Dan Pashman: Close enough! We can do that! We’ve found our goldilocks! That’s what I’m saying inside my head. But I play it cool with Steve...
Dan Pashman: So Steve, here’s the big question. I mean, this sounds great. It sounds like you’re well-equipped to help me in this journey and to possibly partner together. Why should we use you?
Steve Gonzalez: Uh, this is… I’m not a good salesman. If you want to work with somebody else go work with them, that’s really fine.
Steve Gonzalez: You should come down to the factory and like actually start to see the equipment. I think it’ll give you a better feel and I think you might be able to like start to wrap your head around what the process is gonna be.
Dan Pashman: All right. I’m gonna keep working on the designs, and then once I have a better idea of what the design’s gonna look like, I'm gonna come visit you.
Steve Gonzalez: OK. Sounds good. Our door’s open.
Dan Pashman: There are details to be worked out but it looks like we may have found someone to make our pasta. Take that, Chris Maldari! But my feeling of triumph quickly turns into panic. Cause having a company to make my shape won’t do me much good without a shape. Which I still don’t have.
Dan Pashman: So I get to work. Remember my initial concept is a variation on mafalde, also known as mafaldine. Mafalda is a long flat pasta, like a fettuccine, but with ruffles all along the edges. In the flat middle part, I want to add ridges. Think corduroy. That’ll increase surface area, which boosts sauceability. Now, I know I need something more, a real bolt of lightning to take it to the next level, but I don’t know what that is yet.
Dan Pashman: So I buy a sketchbook. Not just any sketchbook. This one has graph paper. It’s pretty serious. I start carrying it with me everywhere I go. I fill the pages with different concepts while I sit on the sidelines at my daughter’s soccer practice. I’m literally dreaming about pasta shapes. And I keep eating every different shape I can get my hands. In the store I see a package of bucatini. Remember this whole series started with a debate about bucatini. It’s like spaghetti but hollow down the center. Lots of people love it because they say the hole catches lots of sauce, but I don’t really think it does. I always thought it was overrated. But, I’m still in the research phase. So I give bucatini another shot. I cook it up for Janie and me.
Dan Pashman: So do you realize what shape of pasta this is?
Janie Pashman: Um, bucatini?
Dan Pashman: Yes, yes.
Dan Pashman: My first thought after a bite or two? See, there's no sauce inside the tube. I told you! But I keep eating, and I start to notice something else.
Dan Pashman: I’m having a major bucatini revelation right now. Like, with other tube pastas, like penne or rigatoni, those are fat tubes. So when you bite into them, the tube just goes flat. You basically just have two layers of pasta on top of each other. But bucatini, because it's such a narrow tube, the walls resist the bite better. It's springy. So bucatini isn't about sauceability, it’s about toothsinkability. That’s bucatini’s superpower. I think with my shape I want to get that thin tube action to add toothsinkability and springiness.
Janie Pashman: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: This is huge. I never—I wasn’t sold on bucatini till right now. I’m now realizing that bucatini is as good as people have said. It’s just good for a different reason than most people say.
Janie Pashman: You should tell Evan. All you had to do was eat it!
Dan Pashman: Evan of course is Evan Kleiman, my pasta fairy godmother and spiritual advisor on this journey. So as Janie suggests I call Evan up to tell her about my bucatini revelation.
Evan Kleiman: I think the adjective of springiness, of being springy, is a breakthrough descriptor.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, I think that until I had this realization with bucatini, in my head toothsinkability was only produced by thickness, chewiness, doughiness. And what I’m now realizing is there’s a second type of toothsinkability, and that is springiness.
Evan Kleiman: Yes, I agree.
Dan Pashman: And if I can make a shape that would have both the chewiness and the springiness, that would be a very special shape.
Dan Pashman: Over the next few weeks, I sketch tons of ideas in my graph paper notebook. My head is swirling with mafalde, bucatini, the different ways to achieve sauceability, forkability, and the all important toothsinkability. I remind myself that I don’t want a gimmick. I don’t want to be outrageous just for the sake of it. I want a legitimately great shape.
Dan Pashman: Finally, I think I’ve got something. I pack my sketches and hop the train to Coxsackie, New York, a rural town about 2 1/2 hours north of New York City. It’s time to pay a visit to Sfoglini, the factory where I’m hoping our pasta will be made. Coming up, I reveal my shape to the guys there. Then I try to seal the deal to work with them. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. Hey, you want to see the pasta sketches I’ve been telling you about? Follow me on Instagram. I’m posting photos there of all the various stops on this quest. And while you’re on social media, please tell your friends about this special series! Encourage them to check it out. On Instagram I’m @thesporkful. Thanks.
Dan Pashman: Quick warning that there is one bit of profanity a little later in this episode
Dan Pashman: It’s January 9th, 2020. Happy New Year! I think it’s gonna be a great year, totally free of global pandemics sure. I arrive at Sfoglini. From the outside it looks more like an office park building than a factory.
Steve Gonzalez: Dan, what’s up?
Dan Pashman: You must be Steve…
Steve Gonzalez: I am.
Dan Pashman: Hey.
Steve Gonzalez: Nice to meet ya.
Dan Pashman: You, too.
Dan Pashman: Steve`s the guy I talked to on the phone. He’s a trained chef, who oversees the making of the pasta. He’s wearing a baseball cap caked in flour, his hair sticking out from under the hat in all directions at once. They’re in the middle of a production run, so Steve takes me straight back to the factory area to see the magic happen.
Dan Pashman: Oh, you’re giving me a hairnet. Thank you. We’re gonna need to photograph this.
Dan Pashman: Oh, it smells like pasta in here.
Steve Gonzalez: It smells like pasta in here. It smells like flour and water.
Dan Pashman: The pasta plant is big enough to fit a medium sized airplane. In fact they used to make parts for Boeing here. The actual machine making the pasta only takes up one area. It reminds me of a kids playground, like you’d see at a park, because it has stairs that go up to a second level where there’s like a lookout platform. Then the pasta comes down through the machine, as if it’s on a slide. Steve points out a giant basin of flour that gets pumped through a big straw, up to that second floor of the machine. That’s where the water comes in to hydrate the flour, and then the mixture goes into a…
Steve Gonzalez: High-speed centrifuge, which is pretty much smashing the water into the semolina molecules. First, mix, spinning, and then it gets transferred over here. This is the final mix, which is going down to the screw.
Dan Pashman: From that second mixing container, the dough is pushed down through the die. Again, remember the play doh factory where you push the dough through the star shaped insert and it comes out shaped like a star? That star shaped disc is the die. So I’m watching the pasta dough being extruded through the die, going from a blob to a pasta shape. Today, they’re making rigatoni.
Dan Pashman: It’s actually very simple.
Steve Gonzalez: It’s very simple.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Steve Gonzalez: There’s not—there's nothing too complicated about it.
Dan Pashman: So now we have little rigatonis, little tubes with ridges on the outside dropping onto this conveyor belt. And then they’re getting put through this…
Steve Gonzalez: Shaker.
Dan Pashman: Shaker, which does what?
Steve Gonzalez: It’s pretty much shaking off 3% of the outside humidity and putting a little crust on the pasta. Feel the difference.
Dan Pashman: The first one is very soft. The other one is sort of like half-dried.
Steve Gonzalez: Yeah, just making it a little bit more durable. They hold their shape. And then after that we’ll load it into the dryers, spends nine hours in the dryer. Next day, it comes back out, gets loaded into totes, then goes to packing.
Dan Pashman: Steve walks me over to the dies. They’re a row of solid bronze discs, very heavy, about the size of extra thick manhole covers. Each die has about a hundred holes that the dough goes through at once, so they can push out a bunch of rigatonis or whatever, at a time. The larger the disc, the more holes in it, the more pasta you can make at once. Steve says the really huge companies that do 10,000 pounds an hour, their dies are the size of jet engines.
Dan Pashman: It’s pretty exciting to hold a pasta die, to think that one day I’ll have a die that’s the only one like it in the world. The key that unlocks a shape that I invented. I imagine the day that I’ll stand at the end of Steve’s conveyor belt and watch my shape roll off the presses. I can see it, but it still feels far away. Hazy. After the tour, I take off my lab coat and hairnet and we meet up with the other co-founder of Sfoglini to talk business.
Scott Ketchum: Scott Ketchum, vice president.
Dan Pashman: OK. Why did you laugh after saying that?
Scott Ketchum: Because we’re still in the process of determining all those at the moment.
Dan Pashman: Right. Got it. OK. Can I be a vice president?
Scott Ketchum: Yeah, why not. You're honorary for the day.
Dan Pashman: All right, great! I just got promoted. This is great.
Dan Pashman: Scott’s the business guy, and he’s dressed like a VP: neat hair, crisp dress shirt, dark jeans. It’s time to strike a deal.
Dan Pashman: Here's what I propose. So like I said, so I would maintain ownership of the shape, exclusive license to Sfoglini...
Dan Pashman: I tell them that I’ll pay for the die, which Chris Maldari estimated would cost about 5,000 dollars. They would pay for the cost of making the pasta: the flour, the labor, etc., which we think will run about 15,000 dollars. We’ll co-brand it. A Sfoglini pasta by The Sporkful. They’ll sell it through their website. They’ll handle packing and shipping. When money starts coming in, we’ll get paid back in proportion to our initial investments. If the shape ever turns a profit, I’ll be paid a royalty for licensing the shape to them. I’m hoping this’ll end up being great for both of us. But $15k is a lot for a company like Sfoglini to invest. They’ve never done a collaboration like this with a real chef, let alone a podcast host, who hasn’t run a successful food business since his lemonade stand.
Scott Ketchum: We’ll be doing this storage, shipping and fulfillment?
Dan Pashman: That's right.
Scott Ketchum: Okay. That's pretty time intensive. So it means you've got to sit down, look at how much that's gonna cost. Then we can look at that percentage and make sure that everyone's making the right amount of money.
Dan Pashman: As I tell Scott, I’m confident we can get the numbers to work. So, assuming we do?
Scott Ketchum: Well, I think conceptually it's a great fit for us. I mean, Steve picked out a lot of unique shapes when we started the company because we wanted to really be known for having different offerings than what everybody else had. So this is just an evolution of that. It’d be great for us to be part of it.
Dan Pashman: So in principle, we have a deal. Then Scott hits me with a bunch of important questions I still have to answer.
Scott Ketchum: A big challenge ahead is how you're going to package this. You want a semolina pasta I presume? You them all to come from America? Are you open to looking at different grains in different places? Do you want it in organic, not organic? Where would you see the price point? Where doo you think you want to sell it at?
Dan Pashman: I have no answers to any of these questions right now. There’s really just one question they have that I can answer: What’s the shape? But first...
Dan Pashman: Do you hereby solemnly swear not to disclose my pasta shape without my permission?
Steve Gonzalez: Yeah, well, I won’t tell anybody.
Dan Pashman: OK.
Scott Ketchum: I swear.
Dan Pashman: OK. Good. I don't have a Bible or anything. Put your hand on my recorder. All right...
Dan Pashman: This is the first time I’m showing my idea to anyone, let alone two people who make pasta for a living. I start to worry that my sweaty palms might smudge the sketch.
Dan Pashman: So this is still, you know, a rough draft.
Steve Gonzalez: Got it.
Dan Pashman: Rough, very much open to discussion. I even got graph paper. Looks more official. Here it is. So it's a long shape.
Steve Gonzalez: Yup.
Dan Pashman: It bears some resemblance to mafalde or mafaldine. I want to add ridges down the center. And then what I want to add is what I'm calling a Toothsinkability Strip. Imagine like a very fine bucatini running on one side. That's at this dark line here in the diagram.
Dan Pashman: Steve and Scott squint. The sketch is very detailed, with different views and cross-sections and measurements down to the millimeter.
Scott Ketchum: It’s a complex noodle that you’ve put together.
Dan Pashman: I choose to take that as a compliment. Scott and Steve think it’s a good start. But they aren’t the ones who can tell me whether this pasta can actually be made.
Steve Gonzalez: I think the real person, the dream crusher or dream realizer is going to be the Maldari guys. They're going to—they're gonna be the ones that are going to tell you whether this is really possible or not.
Dan Pashman: When I first met Chris Maldari, he told me about how he always wanted to be a screenwriter. I thought he saw in me a kindred spirit. A fellow dreamer. But in the end, when he told me I’d never find a company to work with me, he was more like a brick wall. Now, I’ve done what he said was impossible. I’ve found a partner. I’ve broken through that wall. Next, I need Chris to give me the green light on my shape. So I email a sketch over to him. And I wait.
Dan Pashman: You know that feeling when you’re waiting for something that’s really important to you, like the results of a pregnancy test, or that coconut cake you ordered online? That’s how I feel about getting Chris’s feedback. A week goes by. Finally, I get him on the phone.
Chris Maldari: The only thought that I have is that it’s not really that different from what's out there. In other words, you’re just adding a corrugation down the middle. Listen, I’m so happy that you’re trying to figure out a new shape, and I really hate to be a bubble-burster but I don’t want you to waste your money.
Dan Pashman: Did you see, in addition to the corrugation, there’s also my Toothsinkability Strip, which is similar to, like, a bucatini laid down the length of it.
Chris Maldari: Yeah, I don't know. Let me just grab it. Hold on one second.
Dan Pashman: At this point, I realize: Chris has barely looked at what I sent him. It’s starting to feel like he just doesn’t take me seriously. So much for my graph paper.
Chris Maldari: Okay Sporkful… yeah, sinkability strip. You won’t be able to put a sinkability strip in there. So in other words, you want almost like a bucatini laid down in the middle of it?
Dan Pashman: Yeah, look in sort of the bottom right hand corner of the sketch, where you see the cross-section.
Chris Maldari: Yeah, that’s not possible.
Dan Pashman: Why not?
Chris Maldari: Because you’re looking to put two pasta shapes into one. So there’s no way to have a tube be part of like a mafaldine to that example.
Dan Pashman: Right, I’m describing it as a tube or a bucatini just because that’s the easy way to picture it or to think of it. But really it’s more just a bump that has a hole down the center.
Chris Maldari: Yeah. See when you extrude pasta, you pretty much can only do one thing at a time. You can make things twist, you can make things curve, but you can’t have two different types of pasta extruding at one time out of one insert.
Dan Pashman: As Chris says this, I think of the pasta created by the famous designer Phillippe Starck, the one that the architect George Legendre told me about a while back. It’s a short tube, and on the outside of the tube there are two mini tubes, like little bucatinis stuck on either side. That looks to me like at least two pasta shapes being extruded at once. So while we’re on the phone, I email Chris a photo of that shape. I say, see these little bucatinis on this pasta? That’s what I want:
Chris Maldari: OK. So basically that’s… is that where you jacked that idea?
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] I like to think of it as taking creative inspiration, but sure. Yeah.
Chris Maldari: Giving you some profanity, it looks like a clusterfuck.
Dan Pashman: As Chris says this I read down the page on the link I just sent him. I had only looked at the picture before. The article says nobody could ever get Starck’s shape to cook evenly. “In the end,” it concludes, “the pasta failed.” Chris insists my shape just cannot be made. I can’t have both the hollow bucatini tube and the mafalde ruffles along the edges. It only takes less than a second for the dough to pass through the die. In that time the shape is made. The movement required to create the ruffles along the edges would flatten the tube.
Chris Maldari: I’d love to help you. I’d love to take your money. But in all good conscience, I can’t tell you that you’re going to get anywhere with this idea.
Dan Pashman: I still believe that if I can combine the best of mafalde with the best of bucatini with another flourish or two, I will have a fantastic shape. But I’m gonna have to find another way to do it. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that process can’t involve me emailing sketches to Chris then waiting a week to find out he’s barely looked at them. I need someone who will carefully look through my sketches and suggest alternatives. I need to be able to look over this person’s shoulder as they design the die on a computer, We have to go back and forth making adjustments until it’s done. I realize now that Chris isn’t gonna be that person for me.
Dan Pashman: Chris is the front man of the company, he knows a lot about pasta dies but he’s not the one designing them. He’s in New York. The manufacturing work happens at a factory up in Massachusetts. I need to talk to an actual designer there. I ask Chris if I can please talk directly with the designer
Chris Maldari: You really can’t. They’re busy doing what they’re doing, they’re manufacturing. And believe me, it’s nothing personal. It's even with our big customers, it’s to the point where they just don’t have time to talk to anybody.
Dan Pashman: Chris says I cannot speak to the designer, and I really can’t piss Chris off. He runs the only pasta die company in America. But… What would Juan Guzman do?
Dan Pashman: Hi, I’m interested in talking with someone about trying to get a custom pasta die made?
Woman: Ahh, OK.
Dan Pashman: And I hear you make the best pasta dies.
Woman: Um, thank you. Just a second.
Dan Pashman: All right, thank you.
Dan Pashman: I find a number online for the factory. I’m pretty sure there’s only one guy who designs the dies. I just have to find a way to get to him.
Giovanni: Hello, this is Giovanni.
Dan Pashman: Hi Giovanni. My name is Dan Pashman and I’m interested in getting a custom pasta die made.
Dan Pashman: Giovanni asks me not to continue recording so that’s all you’re gonna hear from him. But about ten seconds into the call, I find out that he is the designer. I just called and they transferred me and the guy who picked up is Giovanni Cannata of Dracut, Massachusetts, who as far as I can tell is the only pasta die designer working in America today. But the conversation doesn’t go exactly the way I hoped. After we hang up, my producer Emma and I reenact the conversation, with Emma in the role of Giovanni.
Dan Pashman: So Giovanni, I desperately need to meet with you in person because I need to sit down with you so that I can talk through the shape, you can tell me what works and what doesn’t work, and we can finalize the design. Can I please meet with you soon?
Emma Morgenstern: It’s gonna be two months, Dan.
Dan Pashman: Two months? I have to wait two months? Isn’t there somebody else who does what you do?
Emma Morgenstern: I’m the only one. I’m the guy you need Dan.
Dan Pashman: Oh, do the thing where you’re like, I’m so busy, I’m so busy, I’m gonna be in Minnesota next week.
Emma: I’m going to Minnesota next week, I have a trade show. I have to be there…
Dan Pashman: What if I come to Minnesota, I’ll fly out there, and then like you work all day at the trade show, and then I’ll take you out to dinner and we’ll talk through the shapes over dinner.
Emma Morgenstern: Not gonna happen. Not gonna happen, Dan.
Emma Morgenstern: Am I embodying him well enough?
Dan Pashman: Yes, it was just this demoralizing.
Dan Pashman: Just to reiterate: Giovanni doesn’t have time for a single meeting with me for two months. So as I tell Emma, I’ll do what I do worst: wait. But I feel a ray of hope. Because I believe that once I get into the room with Giovanni, we’re gonna finish the shape.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, I meet with Giovanni. But the trip to Massachusetts turns into a Zoom, because while I’m waiting, a big new obstacle....THE obstacle emerges. Stick around.
Dan Pashman: Alright, we’re back. In the leadup to my meeting with Giovanni, I’m sketching shape after shape. My first idea was rejected, but I still believe in the underlying concept bringing together the best of mafalde, the best of bucatini, and a bit of flair. I just have to find a new way to do it. Our meeting is set for late March 2020. Now, as you may recall, right around this time, COVID lockdowns go into effect across much of the U.S. So our in-person meeting turns into a Zoom.
Dan Pashman: Hey, Giovanni...
Dan Pashman: We connect.
Dan Pashman: Good. How are you? Great to meet you via video...
Dan Pashman: Giovanni's in his office. He’s 37, shaved head, plaid button-up shirt.
Dan Pashman: I look like I'm literally broadcasting from a dungeon...
Dan Pashman: For the Wizard of Pasta Oz, he’s actually very friendly. Seems genuinely interested in what I’m doing. But he doesn’t want his voice in the podcast. He’s very nice about it, he says he’s just more comfortable staying behind the curtain. So Emma and I thought, we’ll recreate the conversation with an actor playing Giovanni! We reached out to people with Boston ties, who could sound like Giovanni. John Krasinski, Bill Burr, John Cena. They didn’t respond. Then we thought, how about an actor who’s known to be really into Italian food, like Stanley Tucci? Again, nothing. So instead, in the role of Giovanni, I’m pleased to present Mike Sloan of Worcester, Massachusetts, cousin of Sporkful senior producer Emma Morgenstern.
Dan Pashman: Hey Giovanni…
Giovanni: Hey Dan, good to connect.
Dan Pashman: So first off tell me, like, how’d you get into this line of work?
Giovanni: If you want to go way back, my grandfather had a pasta plant in Sicily after World War II...
Dan Pashman: Giovanni was born in Sicily. He came to the U.S. as a kid, when his father got a job at the Prince Pasta factory in Lowell, Mass. Eventually, Giovanni’s father and a partner went out on their own, opening De Mari pasta dies. After going to school for machining, Giovanni joined the business.
Dan Pashman: A few years ago, Giovanni’s company joined forces with our friend Chris Maldari’s company and put Giovanni in charge of all the manufacturing. That’s how he ended up as the only pasta die designer in the U.S. The work is highly specialized.
Giovanni: These shapes are very difficult to develop. Customers will give you a shape. “We wanna make this shape, or we’re currently producing that shape.” It has four twists per inch and we want six twists per inch. Or this cook time and it needs to be at that cook time.
Dan Pashman: Why is that so hard? Well, the dough that goes through the die is wet, and the final product that Giovanni’s customers want is dried pasta. And as it dries, the pasta changes. It shrinks. It curls. Giovanni has to account for those changes, so the wet pasta that comes out of the die he designs has to become the dried pasta the company wants. The difference between success and failure can be thousandths of an inch.
Dan Pashman: Ahead of our meeting, I sent Giovanni my sketches, on graph paper of course. I had numbered them by what design round I was in. Series one was already garbage. Series two, Chris Maldari told me to throw in the garbage. So now we’re on series three. I’ve labelled them 3.1, 3.2, etc. We start ticking through the sketches, with Giovanni giving me feedback on each.
Giovanni: Uh, so 3.1...that’s gonna be hard to pack.
Dan Pashman: 3.2.
Giovanni: I don't like that it's not symmetrical.
Dan Pashman: 3.3.
Giovanni: It’s gonna want to curve every which way. It’s gonna flop over when it cooks....Extremely difficult. It might flop over when it extrudes...
Dan Pashman: One by one, Giovanni shoots down each of my sketches.
Giovanni: It’s gonna be extremely difficult to dry inside here. Yeah, that’s pretty wild. That’s not gonna work. Into the trash. I don't want to rain on your parade here, Dan, but I got to be realistic.
Dan Pashman: This is discouraging. I still have two more left, but I can already tell 3.8 won’t work based on the problems with the first six.
Giovanni: So now 3.7...you’re on to something! So that would extrude, that would maintain its shape, and you could dry it. So I could do variations of 3.7, and you’d have something unique that I think would work.
Dan Pashman: 3.7 is similar to my last concept. We have the mafalde, that’s the long flat noodle with ruffles, and along the flat middle strip we have ridges. The old version had a bucatini-like tube running down the middle, but Chris Maldari said you can’t make a tube and ruffles at the same time. So instead of a closed tube on that strip we have a bump -- a half tube that’s open on the bottom, running the length of the noodle.
Dan Pashman: Have you ever seen this shape?
Dan Pashman: OK. And based on, putting aside the engineering questions for a minute, but just from a pasta-eater’s perspective, what do you think of this concept?
Giovanni: Um… I think it would be good.
Dan Pashman: So, 3.7 it is! Giovanni shares his screen with me as he starts working in his design software to actually make the die. Now, this even requires some imagination on my part in the moment. I’m only seeing the die, not the shape that will come out of it. At first, all I can see on Giovanni’s screen is a bronze disc with a slit in the middle, and small circles on each end of the slit.
Dan Pashman: Giovanni explains that those circles will make the ruffles. We discuss the width of the noodle, the ruffle height. Giovanni even breaks out calipers to measure a pasta sample that I sent him. Then, it’s time to add the Toothsinkability Strip. which is now a bump. Think of it as half a bucatini. Now, remember if you want to see what it looks like, I'll be posting pictures on my Instagram. Giovanni keeps tweaking and tweaking...
Giovanni: OK. This is what we've got now. I think that's pretty good. I mean, that's going to be quite the bite.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, I like the looks of that.
Giovanni: We just have to watch out about pinching too much, where the ruffles meet the main strip. Otherwise next thing you know, when you cook it, these ruffles are all falling off.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Giovanni: Don’t want that. That’s bad quality.
Dan Pashman: It's really exciting to see this, to watch it actually come together before our very eyes. It just makes the whole thing feel a lot more real.
Dan Pashman: I just can't wait to hold it in my hands.
Giovanni: We're getting there, this is a big step.
Dan Pashman: After two months of waiting and a two-hour Zoom, we’ve got it!!!! While it all sounds encouraging, Giovanni tempers my excitement. He thinks the shape will work, but he can’t be sure until we start actually pushing dough through the die. And while he thinks he can get the die done in about a month, he’s not making any promises.
Dan Pashman: Still, the only pasta die-maker in the country has approved my shape and is going to start making my die.
Dan Pashman: Hey, you guys,
Becky Pashman: What?
Dan Pashman: I have a pasta shape.
Becky Pashman: You do? I wanna see it! Let me see it!
Dan Pashman: Come check it out. Look, well, here's the thing. So you can't—you won't see what the pasta looks like. You're going to see what the mold that created the pasta looks like.
Becky Pashman: OK...
Janie Pashman: I have to say that that shape reminds me of absolutely nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Dan Pashman: Emily, what do you think?
Emily Pashman: I like doing what I'm doing right now.
Dan Pashman: Like I said, picturing the shape based on the die requires some imagination…Or maybe it just can’t compete with Barbie Life In The Dreamhouse. Bottom line: We have a shape! Coming up in Part 4, the guys at Sfoglini get their first look at it.
CLIP (STEVE GONZALEZ): There’s nothing like it. I gotta say, that was kinda cool to see...A new shape is born.
Dan Pashman: But a lot of work remains before I have a finished product. And that becomes especially clear once we start testing it.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Ugh. This is very disappointing.
CLIP (JANIE PASHMAN): Because it’s separating?
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Yeah, the ruffles are falling off. I mean, that’s a big problem.
Dan Pashman: Plus, the mission falls victim to forces beyond my control. To realize my dreams, I have to take extreme measures.
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): You’re a genius...Or a crazy man.
Dan Pashman: That’s next week and part 4 of Mission: ImPASTAble. If you want to make sure you don’t miss that one, please connect with our show in your podcasting app. In Spotify, click Follow. In Apple Podcasts, Subscribe. In Stitcher, Favorite. You can do it right now while you’re listening. Thanks.