Renato Sarto + Dario Barbone
Founder: Renato Sarto + Dario Barbone
Jack London Square - Oakland CA
After noticing a gap in the American Pasta arena - Renato took the leap and started creating a superior dried past using All-American flour. We sat down with Renato to learn more about how and why he started Baia Pasta and to give him a platform to share his journey.
What Inspired You To Start Your Company?
I worked for several years for an organization called Slow Food, that promotes local, sustainable and fair food all over the world. In Italy, where are seated the headquarters, I was its international director for over seven years (I supervised the foundation of Slow Food USA among other things) and when I moved here in California I organized large events for them. I always had the desire to switch from theory to practice, and when I had the idea to start a dry pasta company inspired by the principles of the movement I knew it was my occasion to try.
I was also inspired and encouraged by the example of many other friends here in the Bay Area (in Oakland, particularly) that were opening successfully new artisanal food companies.
The idea of making dry pasta came to me when I realized that most of the wheat used by Italian pastamakers is grown in North America and that was practically impossible to find good dry pasta made in the US.
Tell us about your products.
We make dry pasta using only organic flours made and with grains growing in the USA (durum wheat, kamut, spelt for the moment). We produce our pasta following the best techniques used by Italian artisans (brass dies, low temperatures when we dry, cold water when we knead). The idea is simple: to produce dry pasta using local grains and flours than can be compared in texture and flavor with the best Italian ones.
What Does “Artisan” Mean To You?
First of all that we manufacture the product ourselves and we don't outsource it (we are real "makers" of pasta). Secondly that every batch of pasta produced by us is made in small batches, carefully supervised and crafted. Finally an artisanal product is also something where the production changes every day. We have to change drying programs and water content based on the type of flour we are using and on the weather conditions of the day. In short our noodles are slightly different every time we make them.
What is your favorite artisanal treat?
Have to go with an Italian product first: the culatello from the Mora Romagnola breed of pork is probably my favorite product of the world. I love here in California goat cheeses from Andante Creamery and the sour bread from Firebrand.
What Drew You To Food?
My family has worked in food since generations (they were cheese wholesalers) and food remains the main economic activity of my region in Italy (Southern part of Piemonte, the wine district called "Langhe"). It is not a coincidence that Slow Food was born there. My grandmother was an exceptional chef. Always attracted to food
Where Does Your Food Inspiration Come From?
From my family, from Slow Food, from my friends in Oakland
What Products Are You Working On Now?
We are now working on a gluten-free pasta. We will have to outsource it as our facility is too small to be gluten-free. It is against our principles but the request is too strong to wait for 2 years (that's when we will be able to move to a larger facility and able to make this type of product ourselves). We think we have found the right recipe and the right partner to launch this product soon.
In a couple of years we would like to start making long noodles (spaghetti, linguine, bucatini etc) and possibly our own semolina flour.
Do You Have a Favorite Product?
Beside prosciutti and salami, I would probably say that a fresh mozzarella di bufala eaten in the same day of its production, is the closest thing to total pleasure I ever experienced.
Latest Ingredient Obsession?
Always olive oil
What Did You Have For Dinner Last Night?
A dish with our durum spinners and marinara sauce from Il Vento (local producer from Santa Barbara). A salad with corn, tomatoes, feta, lettuce, arugola and fennel.
What Person, Living Or Dead, Would You Most Like To Have Try Your Product?
Martha Stewart (obvious promotional reasons), Roger Federer (hoping that with our pasta he could beat Novak Djokovic, who's championing a gluten-free diet)
What’s The Best Piece Of Advice You’ve Gotten In Building Your Business? What Advice Would You Give Other Artisans?
Best advise I received was not to think about income or time availability for the first 5 years. I have still 2 years more to go.
Best advise I would give is banal, but very heartfelt: follow your passions and don't take any shortcut.
What Other Local Food Artisans or Chefs Do You Admire?
Many other. If I have to pick one I would say Steve Sullivan of Acme Bread. He has been able to grow his company to a very respectable size, its products are still very good and affordable. All this without a website and any social media promotion, just with his product.
If You Had To Choose Your Last Meal, What Would It Be?
Carne cruda (the Piemontese version of the beef tartare), pomodoro and mozzarella and tajarin (small egg-based tagliatelle made in Piedmont) with white truffle.
I grew up with that food and I will always particularly attached to it.
Favorite Restaurant or Food Experience?
Best food experiences I had are in Vietnam when you sample foods in their markets, and in San Sebastian, Spain, having dinner in half a dozen pintxos places (the Bask version of the tapas) the same night. My favorite restaurants in California are Chez Panisse Cafe in Berkeley, Quince/Cotogna and La Ciccia in SF, Chaat Bhavan in Fremont (great Indian street food). In Los Angeles I love Animal, AOC and a small pupuseria called La Flor Blanca.
What’s Do You Enjoy Doing Outside of the Kitchen?
Reading, biking, going to basketball games, listening to music and occasionally dancing (after a bottle of wine).
What’s Your Favorite Kitchen Soundtrack?
Anything produced by Stax records.
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