It’s midday on a Friday in the kitchen at Peter Lowell’s. The lunch rush hits early and continues on through the late afternoon. Tickets pour through the machine on each station abuzz with hustle. Every one of the eight burners on the stove is lit, chicken stock slowly bubbles away in the back corner, a pot of beans next to it foams over, water for pasta boils rapidly next to that. Pans crash down onto its surface, only to be picked up again moments later as ingredients hit sizzling oil. The lunch staff is working at full throttle, hardly taking a moment between each task, seamlessly picking up each order as hours tick by in the blink of an eye. As the chef, I’m not working the line at the moment, although I can feel its heat viscerally. I am always keeping one eye on the ticket machine, ready to jump in at a moments notice if they fall behind, something that could happen with just a single misfire.
Amidst the chaos, my focus is prepping for tonights dinner service. The final task on my prep list will be to roll out the pasta for tonights specials. As lunch service winds down, the last couple of tables come and go and things in the kitchen start to slow down. This is the time of day that feels like the calm in the eye of a storm, as we recover from lunch, restocking each station and cleaning up we turn our attention to the dinner service that looms ahead.
Pasta work requires attention, focus and patience. A delicate touch can make a hard dough perfectly supple and pliable. It is during this calm moment that I turn my attention to the pasta and everything fades into the background. This allows me a moment of meditation, as I ready myself for the adrenaline rush to come. I knead this morning’s dough onto the table, folding it into itself. Long ribbons of the golden dough billow from the machine as its gears creak with years of use. For just a moment I allow my mind to wander back to my time spent studying in Italy. During my adventures I found that fresh pasta is ubiquitous, a staple on almost every table. Traveling throughout the country one can find pasta of every shape and size, paired with its very own regional sauce and ingredients. This is what I love most about pasta, the diversity within this one dish is endless. From your basic dough recipe to the way that dough is worked gently and molded into shape, to the sauce it carries and the cheese you finish it with, no two pastas are exactly the same. From the most simple to the much more elaborate and avant garde, a bowl of pasta (and you must always eat pasta from a bowl) will always hit the spot as the ultimate comfort food.
The dish allows me as a chef to explore, be adventurous, push the limits or conversely to find my roots and the flavors that remind me of childhood and home. Each night at PL’s two freshly made pastas are featured on the specials menu. The quiet moments taken to roll out and shape the pasta in the midst of the busy restaurant serve as a reminder of our roots in the Slow Food Movement. A movement that originated in Italy and has spread globally, it seeks to preserve traditional regional cuisine by championing the idea that food is meant to take time to grow, to prepare and to enjoy; a notion that counters our current culture of fast food consumption. At PL’s, this movement is embodied throughout the dining experience, as we encourage guests to join each other in community at one of our shared tables and to take their time enjoying a bowl of patiently prepared fresh pasta together. Mangia!