|Nella Pasta: The Next Big Thing|
|Features - Chefs and Restaurants|
|Written by Jon Ross-Wiley|
I walked into Crop Circle Kitchen (a large commercial kitchen in Jamaica Plain shared by local food producers) last week, and after winding through a few other stations churning out amazing looking food, I found Leigh Foster and Rachel Marshall, owners and producers of Nella Pasta. Nella Pasta was founded in May 2009 by Foster and Marshall who, after being laid off from their "less-than-gratifying" jobs, were looking for a way to do something they loved. The result is a successful business and delicious pasta. Foster and Marshall were fiercely preparing samples for their weekend events...hundreds of samples. Fortunately, they are both very good multi-taskers, so we were able to chat a bit to talk about their company, their bid to become the Daily Candy's "Next Big Thing" in the "Start Small, Go Big" competition (vote for them HERE), and their involvement in the Boston Local Food Festival.
So, why pasta?
Foster: Well, we both love food, Italy, and cooking, and we knew there were many ways we could go with it. We thought pasta would be unique because, at least in our experience, you don't often see fresh pasta at the farmers' markets.
Marshall: It was a fairly labor intensive choice, but the payoff in terms of freshness and taste is well worth it, and we knew it would set us apart.
Was using local ingredients part of your thinking from the beginning?
Foster: Not exactly. The idea of making pasta was the initial driving force. We had to learn about local. My sister got me to read Omnivore's Dilemma, which started the process. We started realize that we didn't have to go to Restaurant Depot...we had the ingredients all around us.
Marshall: It was a real ripple effect, and it's still going. We actually met the people at Four Stars only a couple of months ago at the Boston Local Food Festival Mini-Tradeshow, so now we are able to use local grains as well.
Foster: We initially thought we'd be traditional Italian and organic. We are neither! We source from smaller farms that don't have the money to be certified organic, but practice organic methods.
Do you ever get "stuck" because the produce isn't available for your pasta?
Marshall: Not stuck, exactly, but we do have certain varieties we can't make at certain times of year. Our Broccoli Toasted Cashew Pesto, for example... we can't make that right now because the broccoli is done. It's coming back a little right now, but for the most part it's done.
That's part of the appeal, right? You only have it when it's in season and fresh.
Foster: Exactly. We do think ahead, though, for things like butternut squash which we buy fresh in huge quantities and then freeze to have at our disposal. Now that winter is coming, we will lean more toward cheeses, white beans, and our stored squash.
Marshall: It's fun because we get to educate people about the seasons. It's easy to not think about the seasons if you shop at larger markets where everything is available all year long. It's not in season, but it's available.
You have some new equipment. Are you feeling its impact yet.
Foster: We felt it immediately. On our old machines we were making 12 pounds of pasta every hour and a half. Now we can make 12 pounds of pasta in 15 minutes.
Marshall: Now the challenge for us is packaging it all quickly. It's an adjustment, but the faster production is amazing.
You are finalists in the Daily Candy's "Start Small, Go Big" competition. Congratulations! How did you get there?
Foster: We subscribe to the Daily Candy newsletter and saw the announcement looking for entrepreneurs. We saw the opening and went for it. We answered 3 short questions and the ball was rolling.
Marshall: We were asked to send in samples, so we sent our Roasted Beet Linguini and our Zucchini Ravioli made with wheat dough. They liked them, and we made it further along. Now we are finalists, which we are really proud of.
Good luck! Are you getting excited for the Boston Local Food Festival?
Marshall: Definitely! It is going to be a fantastic event and we are thrilled to be a part of it. The fact that the vendor spaces sold out just tells you that Boston is really embracing local food.
We'll see you there, and best of luck in the contest!