Leah Ferrazzani, the new American pasta movement.
The food movement in this country continues to grow, as new chefs enter the market and better educated consumers can’t seem to satisfy their desire for new taste experiences and authenticity. Leah Ferrazzani, who started the Semolina Artisanal Pasta company quickly outgrew her Los Angeles kitchen as she set out to revolutionize this plate by hand crafting dried pasta. Find out how she did it today on Uprising with Scott Goodson. For more ideas on Uprising and movements, cultural movements and movement marketing, follow Uprising!!! on Facebook. We’ll continue to publish brand-new columns on a regular basis. Hey, do us a favor and please give Uprising!!! a review on iTunes. Scott Goodson is the author of best-selling book ‘Uprising: how to build a brand and change the world by sparking cultural movements,’ available on Amazon.com. Scott has helped create and build some of the world’s most iconic brands. He is founder of StrawberryFrog the world’s first movement marketing agency.
Uprising Interview transcript
Leah: I’ve gone back, probably about a hundred years in my process to something that’s still practiced in smaller villages in Italy today, but not on the large scale where I dry my pastas very slowly and at low temperatures. I only use semolina which is a very course grind of flour; I don’t cut with any other kinds of grinds so that the pasta has a really dense texture.
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Leah: I wanted to go back to the way that people traditionally ate pasta over the last century just like most food pasta has become more industrialized and the processes that have gone into making dried pasta, they have changed dramatically, and that’s changed the product dramatically. To make pasta on a really large scale industrial level you need to dry it quickly to be cost effective you need to use cheaper ingredients, and none of those things equal flavor or texture. So because of that it takes much longer to make my pasta, but it tastes significantly better, and has that nice dense chew that you would expect from really good old fashioned pasta.
Scott: Leah Ferrazzani started artisanal pasta company in her Los Angeles kitchen which was where the company started. Most dried pastas made today are imported from Italy the pasta is a kind of religion. So a couple years ago if you held a box of American pasta in your hand you probably wouldn’t believe it was form America. One of my favorite pasta movies of all time is (Big Night) where these two Italian chefs came to America to open a restaurant to make gourmet food only to be foiled by this big restaurant across the street with big Christmas lights and fast food. And this hit film was popular when you were growing up. Against this background and pretty big odds you set out to revolutionize this by creating hand crafted pasta, you’ve done it by utilizing American grown wheat, so this was a pretty crazy idea, no?
Leah: It might still be crazy. Most people think of pasta as a cheap filler food, its inexpensive, cheap ingredients as far as they’re concerned. It tends to be a soft delivery system, not something you eat for its own sake. I’m trying to change that mentality and prove that really great pasta can be made in the United States, it doesn’t have t be imported from Italy, and it can really taste like something. With a little olive oil and salt you can have something quiet delicious all by itself.
Scott: So what’s the difference when you taste your pasta, versus some of the brands you talked about from Italy?
Leah: Well it depends on the brand form Italy because there are still some craftsmen, but just looking at it a lot of industrial pasta is very bright yellow in color and that is because when it comes through the extruder the little disks that give it its shape, like a play-dough fun factory, they’re made out of Teflon, but I use bronze dyes so when the pasta comes through those little disks they’re coming through metal, and that creates drag on the pasta and a really rough exterior service, the color is much more cream rather than bright yellow, and it almost looks like it has been roughed up with sandpaper, and that’s the easiest most visual thing that you can do to tell the difference between quality and industrial pasta. That we extruded through bronze dyes and that rough texture helps the pasta hold sauce. The next thing is that most industrial pasta gets dried at very high temperatures about 185 degrees that makes it a much firmer product in the package, but it degrades all the nutrition in the wheat and all of the flavor, and you end up with something that at best tastes like air, at worst tastes like cardboard. My pasta has a very nutty almost floral flavor where you get all the high quality that I use. The last piece in that is that the pasta that I make uses 100% semolina, a lot of other pasta uses fire grinds and those qualities can diminish the texture of the pasta so that you end up with something that doesn’t get quite good, it can get mushy in your mouth, and nobody should like mushy pasta, it’s not a yummy thing. But by using 100% semolina, it’s hard wheat, and a course texture and those two things combined to create a dense toothy pasta that really has a substantial texture to stand up to heavy sauces and it’s just such a better experience.
Scott: What is happening in American food culture that you see as a huge opportunity for you and your idea?
Leah: I think that people are waking up first of all to the true cost of food that cheap food does not really serve us well as eaters, it makes us sick, it doesn’t taste good, it’s not satisfying so we eat too much of it. I think people are realizing there’ s a better way to go about things, there are artisans like me in all types of industries that are trying to harken back to a day when food meant something , feeding your family. It showed how much you cared and not how quickly you put things together. That said I personally am a working mom, so I understand the need for something that isn’t crazy time consuming its half the reason I started the business.
Scott: Is it actually that, I would assume your own company is like two full time jobs plus being a mother.
Leah: That is true, but you know when I come home and I want to cook something healthy and delicious for my family I used to make fresh pasta, but I don’t have the extra 45 minutes to roll out my dough like I used to. So I kept turning to my pantry and was very disheartened to find that I couldn’t find anything that was locally made and certified organic, that evoked the qualities that I wanted in my food, without having to import it from Italy.
Scott: But it’s amazing though, most people that start movements or business have personal experience, and it really ties to their own life. So when you sort of went through that process, rolling out the pasta, quality pasta, was that that movement that made you realize ‘aha!’ this is something that has to change, this is something that for me has to change, an its probably the same for moms across the country.
Leah: Yeah, I think so. I think that I feel like if I’m looking as someone feeding my family that there are probably other people looking for it. We don’t exist in a vacuum so I know that I’m not alone in my ideals and my ideas. So it just made sense. I couldn’t find anybody doing it so I had to do it.
Scott: Were you like, as a young person growing up, always this… what did you want to do growing up?
Leah: It’s changed a number of times yes, I’ve always been a bit rebellious. I wanted to publish great books of poetry which definitely doesn’t seem average in our culture. I wrote about politics and about science and art for a really long time. My master’s thesis in journalism school was on the art of protest and history in contemporary times. I really believe in kind of looking at the status quo head on and figuring it out, how to change the status quo. The first journalistic piece I ever wrote was published in a Marxist magazine. (laughs)
Scott: They are big eaters…
Leah: They are, but you got to feed the masses.
Scott: So when you decided to make a pasta company, what did you say to your family?
Leah: That was the easiest part, my husband and I had been talking about what I was going to do next in my life. I was writing about wine at the time and not having as much fun doing it, as you should when you write about wine for a living, and we just kept kind of having these conversations about what I had done which had always been in the field of writing or editing or working restaurants. What I really wanted to do and my husband just kept saying ‘do you wanna make something? Do you wanna put something out into the world that’s physical and tangible?’ and I kept saying ‘I wanna feed people’. But I don’t want to work in a restaurant. I don’t want to work back of the house, I don’t want to work front of the house, but I need to feed people. When I sat down and told both of my folks and my husband, this is what I wanna do, I wanna make pasta, they were excited and enthusiastic, I come from people who are firm believers in creating the world you want to live in, and cheerleaders and it’s been really exciting .
Scott: When did you first know you could get traction, with this idea?
Leah: I think it was the minute I released the product. A couple of months before I watched the business officially, while it was still doing research and development I went into a cheese shop that was about t open in my neighborhood in LA, I introduced myself to the owner and said I’m starting a pasta business, and I want to sell my pasta here when you open. She kind of looked at me slightly boggled and said alright, we’ll see when you have some product And two days before I launched the business I went in with a couple of samples of the retail packages product and I said ‘I’m gonna launch the pasta business on Saturday at artisanal LA, but I wanted to drop some off for you to taste.’ She said thanks and I’ll get back to you. I left and two hours later she called me and said I want a case of every cut. I want to have them in the store before you launch at this trade show, because I want people to know that they can get it here because it’s amazing.
Scott: That’s amazing.
Leah: It was a great reinforcement. That I was doing something that was both unique and that it tasted as good as I thought it might. For the first 18 months of my business my retailers the majority of them came to me. I was doing everything: making the pasta, packing the pasta, washing the floors. I was doing the dishes. So I didn’t’ have a lot of time to make sales calls. But I kept getting deals, people would call saying ‘I found you here, I want to carry it at my store, I want to carry it here online’. Some people came across it through my Kickstarter campaign and it was able to grow very organically. I feel like reception just in general has always been good and when I had to work through kinks I had a really amazing customer base that’s been super supportive working through my kinks. It’s been really exciting seeing how its been received. And it makes me think that people were wanting something like this for a long time and I’m glad that I’m doing what I’m doing.
Scott: You’re listening to uprising with Scott Goodson. So after experimenting with making pasta, and writing about wine and other endeavors in the food industry you launched your own company and you mentioned that you started with a Kickstarter. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Leah: Well after I realized that I was going to quickly outgrow making pasta in my laundry room at home and that I was going to need to expand the business I knew I needed to buy a pasta dryer.
Scott: (laughs) Very clean pasta from the laundry.
Leah: Yes. So the equipment is about 25,000 dollars and it seems pretty daunting for a new business to take out a loan for 25,000 dollars when it wasn’t exactly clear that I had a huge market yet. So I decided to do a Kickstarter and I felt like it would be a good idea to gauge interest and get the money that I needed to get the product. So I raised 26,752 dollars, in a month on Kickstarter. I was one of the highest grossing food campaigns at the time. I learned after I did my campaign that the average food business could only raise between four and five thousand dollars. So I was super excited to raise the twenty-five grand and it was such an amazing so stressful experience, both making the pasta to then fulfill all those Kickstarter orders. Really meeting all these people who were so excited about what I was doing. A handful of them came over for dinner at my house. I had a friend who is an amazing chef come and cook for them. I cooked personally for some others, I had a local culinary school help me in an effort to make homemade Mac n’ cheese and baked rigatoni for about 35 other people and then I drove around LA in 100 degree weather and delivered it to peoples doorsteps It was such a great sense of community. Even now I go back when I’m trying to figure out my next step or what I’m going to do about a certain change with the business. I go back to those Kickstarter supports and I ask them, because they are the people who believed in me from the onset, and I get really intelligent feedback.
Scott: Your able to rely on so may people. So you launched, you ha this great power of community behind you and then everything just took off?
Leah: No, no, it definitely didn’t take off. I bought that pasta dryer and then I was down for 5 months trying to figure out how to get it to work. There have been lots of hiccups, like hand-to –hand combat with my pasta extruder, ended up with 18 stitches. Don’t ever get into a fight with a pasta extruder. My dryer I found out months after I got it was having all sorts of trouble fans were calibrated incorrectly and humidity sensor didn’t work correctly. There were really no technicians to work on them, so I had to become an expert in thermodynamics, and airflow and all sorts of things, My journalistic experience has come in really handy when running the business because I am not afraid to like find the obscure source and just ask questions. So I’ve just got a pasta technologists down in Italy whose retired whose an expert in static drying and he’s been helping me try and resolve some issues and learn more about my dryer and how to use it better, Just because I sought him out and wrote a nice email and had it translate int Italian for me so that it was easy for him to understand and he’s been more than generous with his time and knowledge. I feel like any success I have has been a matter of the community really rallying to help me through things.
Scott: Why do you think the community is so engaged? What is it about your story or about your pasta that’s inspired strangers to come to our aid provide advice, give you help and financial support? What is it in your opinion that really is the motivation?
Leah: I think I am everybody, in that way. I think that people really relate to me. I make food with a lot of love, and compassion and care, and I think that that comes across to people. And I’m a perfectionist and I think people relate t that to, wanting to put something really great ut into the world. People see themselves in that and just want to help. I just think people are inherently kind and generous with their knowledge and energy and they do what they can whenever they can. I think when you put that out into the world you get a lot of it back.
Scott: That’s inspiring, I think for anyone out there who starts a company that there’s more out there. Do you think that some of your success is based on the fact that people looking for something different in their food, not just in terms of quality but also the brands that they’re buying?
Leah: Absolutely. I think that there’s a real lack of trust in the food system actually among the savvy group of people there’s been a lot of really great documentaries in the last 10 years talking about the food industry and talking about the way things are made. I think it makes things a little frightening when you’re talking about something of that really substance. I grew up in a house where there wasn’t a lot of junk food and my mom made some very particular choices for her era on how we ate. We weren’t crazy health food nuts but it was obviously important to her that there was something both nutritious and thoughtfully about the food that she put on the table when zi was a kid. I went to college in Sonoma County and that became a real wake up call for me as well, because it’s a really rural area. I started seeing a lot of farms, ranches, and dairy farms, and it made me a lot more connected to the source of my food because it was so easy for me to get the source of my food. It was sourced locally and raised locally and there were cheese makers and it was just an unbelievable place to live. I think that also really changed my approach and feeling about food and I think that that’s kind of the same revelation that’s happening across the country with people in the at there’s farmers markets that’s popping up and all of these efforts to build local food sheds and eat things that are in season and you realize that like strawberries in February even in southern California, really don’t taste that good. They don’t offer any real satisfaction. I think people are just looking for something deeper.
Scott: do you think that this satisfaction is a huge yearning for better authentic and trust and all of the things you’ve written about over the last few years, and if so how do you maximize that?
Leah: I absolutely think that those are all really the foundations of why there is an artisanal food movement to begin with. I try and capitalize on that and being as transparent as I can be in my business, in trying to communicate to the people who buy my food, that I’m thinking about the same things they are, that I care, that there’s nothing to hide in what I’m doing, so that I can evoke some sense of trust. I have a choice as a food manufacturer that goes through a co-packer or to make the product myself, and I decided to make the product myself, because that’s how I can instill that sense of trust. I can see everything from start to finish. I know where I get my flour; I buy it direct from the miller. There are just all these little things I do to try and convey that sincerity in turn I hope that people will trust that I’m doing all the things that I’m saying. The resulting product tastes better and they can see that the time and effort an the extra cost is all worthwhile.
Scott: That’s fascinating. So if you listen to this show, and your mouth is watering, where can one get a hold of this artisanal pasta?
Leah: Well there are about 20 Whole foods I the greater Los Angeles area, and a spade of amazing small boutique markets and gourmet shops both in LA, and in New York City. I’m also selling, you can buy it direct t me, I’m on Amazon. I try to make it as accessible as possible. I’m working on broadening that scope. Support your local retailers, and if you can’t find some place to buy it, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be glad to try to get it to you or find somebody near you.
Scott: Great well, Leah Ferrazzani, thank you so much for spending time to talk about your gem of a pasta company that you started. It’s been fascinating, and I wish you all the best in your movement across the country, and maybe one day it will be in Italy.
Leah: Who knows? Thank you so much for having me Scott, it was a real pleasure.
Scott: It was a pleasure as well, thank you so much for your time.
Leah: Take care.