If it weren’t for pasta, Drew Tait, Executive Chef of Kelly Greens G&CC might not have become the chef he is today.
It’s remarkable for me to think about pasta as an everyday food that almost all cultures, regions and continents have their own versions of. See, pasta and I have a deep connection. In fact, if it weren’t for pasta, there is a good chance I would not be a chef today.
When you look at its history and the impact pasta has had on the world, it’s pretty incredible. Nowadays, one might say pasta went “viral” in 1271AC as it was brought into homes all over the world.
Some historians believe Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy after returning from one of his trips to China. Others believe it dates much further back to ancient Etruscan civilizations who made pasta by grinding several cereals and grains together before mixing them with water and cooking.
Either way, by the 1400’s dried pasta was popular for its nutritional content and long shelf life. It was the ideal food for long ship voyages. And within a century, different shapes had appeared on the scene and new technology allowed for large scale production. Since then, pasta has been a staple on tables and menus across the globe.
My first transformative pasta experience, the one that set the course of my career in motion, happened in culinary school. I had been cooking at a restaurant for about a year when I decided to spend my last two years of high school at a Tech School with a culinary program. One day, I cooked pasta and completely ruined it. I used too little water, not enough salt, overcooked it and oiled it afterward. I didn’t know better.
When the Chef saw it, he asked the class, “who made this pasta?” I proudly said, “Me, Chef!” He then proceeded to rip my dish to shreds with everyone watching. It was hugely embarrassing and my blood began to boil. I was offended, hurt, and pissed. I decided to leave. I gathered my knives, threw my apron on the table and headed for the door. But as my hand turned the handle to leave, the Chef said, “Are you going to run away from everything the rest of your life?” This stopped me in my tracks. I turned and followed him into his office where he continued his lecture on how I screwed up the pasta, but at the end of the conversation, he asked me to do something that changed my life. He said, “Drew, I want you to go home tonight and read about how to cook pasta. But I don’t want you to just read about it in one cookbook. I want you to read about it in fifteen different cookbooks then tell me tomorrow what you’ve learned. If I can’t tell you five additional things, then you’re free to leave.”
That night I learned more about pasta than I thought possible—from why you need to use a certain ratio of water to pasta, to why we season the water, to why you don’t oil the pasta after it’s cooked. I learned why there are so many shapes of pasta and types, too.
The next day I walked up to the chef and told him what I had learned. He then proceeded to tell me ten more things about pasta that I didn’t find in the books. It blew me away and I realized how much there was to learn not just about pasta but about all foods and ingredients. It was this spark that launched my culinary career. From that day on, I was hooked on the culinary arts and my fascination about the connection between food and culture across the globe.