(This is part 4 of our series. If you haven't listened to any of the previous episodes yet, start with Part 1!)
The first test batch of Dan’s pasta rolls off the presses, but problems crop up almost immediately. In order to save his shape, Dan has to make some big decisions that come with a high price tag. Then just as things start coming together, a die redesign goes very wrong.
The photo above shows the difference a die will make. On the left, mafalde extruded through a teflon die. On the right, mafalde extruded through a bronze die. (The die is like the mold for a pasta shape.) While the big companies mostly use teflon, the more traditional bronze die imparts a rough texture, like sandpaper, that boosts sauceability. That’s why Dan decided to make his pasta shape with a bronze die.
Dr. Bhavya Mohan, assistant professor in marketing at the University of San Francisco
Original theme music by Andrea Kristinsdottir.Interstitial music in this episode byBlack Label Music:
Photo courtesy of Dan Pashman.
Emily Pashman: Daddy, how long will it take for you to invent this pasta that you’re talking about?
Dan Pashman: Does it feel like a long time?
Emily Pashman: Yeah, because um a long long time ago you were talking about it, and now it’s still here when you’re trying to invent it and it’s taking like a month.
Evan Kleiman: Previously, on The Sporkful’s Mission: Impastable…
CLIP (SCOTT KETCHUM): It's a complex noodle that you've put together.
CLIP (CHRIS MALDARI): I'd love to help you. I'd love to take your money but in all good conscience I can't tell you that you're gonna get anywhere with this idea.
CLIP (GIOVANNI): Hello, this is Giovanni.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Hi, Giovanni. My name is Dan Pashman and I'm interested in getting a custom pasta die made.
CLIP (GIOVANNI): OK.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Hey, you guys? I have a pasta shape!
CLIP (BECKY PASHMAN): You did?
CLIP (JANIE PASHMAN): I have to say that shape reminds me of absolutely nothing I've ever seen before.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. Welcome to Part 4 of Mission: ImPASTAble. My quest to invent a new pasta shape, actually get it made, and actually sell it.
Dan Pashman: We left off, it was March 2020. I had just finished designing my die with Giovanni Cannata, the only pasta die maker working in America today. Remember the die is basically the mold for the shape. Mine will be made out of bronze.
Dan Pashman: Giovanni told me he’d have the die ready in about a month. But three months later, I’m still waiting. I call up Evan Kleiman, my pasta fairy godmother and spiritual advisor on this quest.
Dan Pashman: All right. Evan, you ready for the latest update?
Evan Kleiman: Yes. I can't wait to hear.
Dan Pashman: [SIGHS] Look, with the caveat that, like with everything going on in the world, my pasta problems are meaningless.
Evan Kleiman: Yes. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: So my man, Giovanni, the pasta die designer, he says that in the past nine weeks, dried pasta sales have increased by 40 percent.
Evan Kleiman: So they're a little busy right now.
Dan Pashman: Yes. And so Giovanni has Fortune 50 companies that want new pasta dies from him, like yesterday.
Evan Kleiman: You're kidding?
Dan Pashman: On top of the fact that I can hardly get Giovanni to return my calls. He can't get any bronze.
Evan Kleiman: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Because of coronavirus the factories are all backed up, they’re working skeleton crews. His normal place in Italy can't get him any bronze. There's a place in the Middle East that can't get him any. And so Giovanni says, "Look, I have no idea when I'm going get you a die." I then went to Sfoglini, our pasta making company, and begged them to give me an old die of theirs. So we are now attempting to use a hand-me-down die, that Giovanni is going to repurpose for my new shape.
Evan Kleiman: You're a genius. Or a crazy man.
Dan Pashman: It could be “and”, it doesn’t have to be “or.”
Evan Kleiman: That's true.
Dan Pashman: As I tell Evan, Giovanni did finally start work on the die. In the process, he realized the shape doesn’t work as it is. So remember: the shape is a mafalde, like a long flat noodle with ruffles along the edges, and down the middle there’s a bucatini half-tube sticking up. Giovanni can’t get the dough to flow properly to form the half-tube and ruffles at the same time.
Dan Pashman: But he looked back through some of my other sketches that he had initially rejected, and he found an idea that makes the shape work. So keep picturing the concept I just described, long flat noodle, ruffles along the edges, bump down the middle. Imagine you slice the ruffles off both edges, and re-attach them to the bottom of the noodle at a 90-degree angle. It’s sort of like a long table, with the ruffles in two rows along the bottom of the noodle, like table legs. On the top of the table, sticking up, is that half-tube bump.
Dan Pashman: It’s all the same components of my previous concept, just brought together in a different way. That’s the shape Giovanni is testing now. I send Evan a picture Giovanni sent me of one of the pieces.
Evan Kleiman: It's like...it's like a centipede. A centipede carrying a little house.
Dan Pashman: Oh, my God. You might have just named the shape, Evan. What's the Italian word for centipede?
Evan Kleiman: Oh, I don't remember.
Dan Pashman: Hang on.
Evan Kleiman: But they are really scary there.
Dan Pashman: Italian word for Centipede is centopiedi.
Evan Kleiman: Centopiedi! And they also have millepiedi.
Dan Pashman: We’ll put a pin in the name for now. Evan looks over the shape and quickly zeroes in on the angles. As I said, where the ruffles attach to the flat strip it’s a right angle. It reminds me of something I heard from George Legendre, the architect I talked to a while back. He told me it’s very hard to find pasta shapes with right angles. And Evan thinks this shape’s right angles could be toothsinkability city.
Evan Kleiman: What I love about this is because of the way they're attached to the flat part of the pasta is going to make it very meaty when you eat it. So, for example, I prefer spaghettoni to spaghetti.
Dan Pashman: Spaghettoni is a thicker spaghetti.
Evan Kleiman: And I think there's something about the way your tooth sinks into the extra thick wall of pasta that is unbelievably satisfying. It makes the eating experience like eating meat almost.
Dan Pashman: There aren't very many pasta shapes that have those kinds of angles.
Evan Kleiman: I can't think of any.
Dan Pashman: As I said earlier, I’m taking inspiration on my quest from Thomas Edison, who considered himself less an inventor, more a perfecter. With our initial concept nailed down, it’s time to start perfecting.
Dan Pashman: Giovanni finishes the die and sends it back to Sfoglini, the pasta company I’m working with. They begin testing out the die, making rough draft versions of my shape. A few weeks later, I get Steve and Scott from Sfoglini on the phone.
Steve Gonzalez: Dan you have like 700 lbs of samples, just so you know.
Dan Pashman: You’ve already made 700lbs of it?
Steven Gonzalez: Yep. We have to fill the dryer for it to really know whether we got a decent product.
Dan Pashman: Oh my god...
Dan Pashman: The dryers are the size of a small room, which is why they had to make so much.
Dan Pashman: So just tell me the very first time the shape came through the die, and started going down the conveyor belt in your production line, what were you thinking?
Steven Gonzalez: A new shape is born. It was! There’s nothing like it. I gotta say it was kinda cool to see… It’s always cool when you’re doing something no one else is doing. If it catches on it’ll be even cooler.
Scott Ketchum: I was surprised how well it was coming together at how well the shape looked with the ridge on the back. It was hard to imagine from all the sketches. So I was really surprised and pleasantly surprised by it.
Dan Pashman: But the shape isn’t perfect. Steve and Scott do have some concerns. Right now they’re making it about as long as your typical spaghetti or fettuccine. And that length is presenting problems.
Scott Ketchum: I thought the long noodle looked really nice. It looked pretty. But to me it's it would be too thick to eat really long. Like, it's too much pasta.
Steven Gonzalez: Yeah, like the twirlability of it on a fork isn’t...I don't know if you can do that. And if you can twirl it, you're gonna have this big, like, spool of pasta because it's a pretty dense noodle. It's got volume.
Dan Pashman: And by twirlability on a fork. I'm sure, Steve, you mean to say forkability, which is the technical term we use?
Steven Gonzalez: Yeah, whatever. That's when you… Is that what you call it when you spin it?
Dan Pashman: Well, forkability is one of the... Come on, Steve. Do we have to go through this again?
Dan Pashman: What I’m hearing is this: Scott thinks my shape might be too toothsinkable, an overwhelming mouthful of dough. And Steve thinks it’s not very forkable, it’s very bulky, a single strand wrapped around your fork will look like a giant ball of tangled yarn, with danglers everywhere. As for sauceability?
Steven Gonzalez: I think just with those two ruffles on top, that little groove which you did there has got some sauceability potential.
Dan Pashman: So this version is only meeting one of my three criteria. Not great. The guys add that the shape may create manufacturing problems. Because the ruffles stick out of one side, the noodles won’t lay flat in a box, they’re very bulky. A single box will be huge. They don’t even know if their machine that puts the pasta in the box can handle it. As it is, that thing jams a lot.
Dan Pashman: But Steve has a suggestion for a simple fix that he says will address that issue, and improve both toothsinkability and forkability. Switch from a long shape to a short one, about the length of penne or ziti. Keep the design exactly the same, just cut it shorter. Steve already played around with this idea, and found a surprising benefit. The shorter cut makes the shape curl in a very unique way. Think about it. Most short shapes are either perfectly straight, like rigatoni, or perfect semi circles, like macaroni. But with this one, it curls more like half a heart, or a comma. It’s different. Scott thinks it’s a winner
Scott Ketchum: I think it looks just as beautiful and it seems a little more practical to work with more dishes.
Dan Pashman: I really had my heart set on a long shape. There’s been less innovation in long shapes, and we all love twirling pasta on a fork. But I agree to consider a short one. Steve says he’ll send me and Evan samples; long version and short. So a few days later...
Dan Pashman: Kids! Guess what just arrived in the mail!
Becky Pashman: Your pasta shape!
Emily Pashman: Yay!
Dan Pashman: That’s right, let’s open the box.
[OPENING A BOX]
Dan Pashman: I gotta say, this moment, the moment where the first samples of my pasta actually arrive and I open the box and my family gets all excited?
Becky Pashman: Ohhh, look at it!
Dan Pashman: This is a moment I have been visualizing for two years.
Emily Pashman: I want to eat it!
Becky Pashman: It looks just like how you wanted it to be.
Dan Pashman: All right, let’s cook this pasta and eat!
Becky Pashman: Yaaayyyyyyy!
Dan Pashman: I cook up both the long and short versions.
Becky Pashman: Deliciousness lies before me.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Janie Pashman: Which one would you guys want to try first?
Kids: All of them!
Dan Pashman:But as soon as I drain the water…
Dan Pashman: Ugh. This is very disappointing.
Janie Pashman: Because it’s separating?
Dan Pashman: Yeah, the ruffles are falling off. I mean, that’s a big problem.
Dan Pashman: On the long version especially, a third of all the ruffles come clean off the main strip when the pasta is cooked. Giovanni had explained that where the ruffles attach, it kind of pinches in. You need that, it helps make the ruffles. But it also means the connection point is thinner. In this case too thin. I didn’t think version one would be perfect, but I didn’t expect it to literally disintegrate in front of me.
Dan Pashman: And really this is a symptom of a larger problem. I only cooked the pasta for 7 minutes and it was mushy. The bucatini half tube fell flat. The shape is just flimsy. After the kids go to bed, Janie and I debrief.
Dan Pashman: I kind of always anticipated that we would get to a point where we would have to test and retest, and retest, and refine, and refine the shape itself. I just didn’t expect to be so worn down by the time I got here.
Janie Pashman: Yeah. It would be crazy to be like, okay great. You know? On the first or second shot we got it. So it’s gonna have to go back and forth. You just have to, you know, keep trying.
Dan Pashman: Is that the big motivational speech?
Janie Pashman: Yeah, I mean look, we don’t have coronavirus. We’re staying safe. All we have to do is make a pasta shape.
Dan Pashman: Janie’s right, I gotta quit my bellyaching. A couple days later, I give Evan a call to see what she thought of the samples.
Evan Kleiman: My first impression was, oh yeah I’d buy this.
Dan Pashman: Okay, that’s a good first impression.
Evan Kleiman: Yeah, like it wasn’t...it wasn't a gratuitous Disneyland shape. I felt that it had integrity.
Dan Pashman: This makes me feel good because as I’ve said, I don’t want a gimmick. Evan says when she ate the pasta, she also saw the ruffles fall off. She noticed that it cooked very quickly, got too soft. It didn’t hold its shape well. So we’re on the same page about all the issues. Then we get to the question of long vs short. I ask Evan for her take on the short one.
Evan Kleiman: I love that one. And I like how it looks kind of like a seahorse.
Dan Pashman: So...and what about the long one? What were your thoughts on the long one?
Evan Kleiman: The long one, I kind of knew the minute I saw it that it wouldn't be the shape for me.
Dan Pashman: Why?
Evan Kleiman: Why? They're too wide to be like a fettuccine. I thought it would be ungainly.
Dan Pashman: And was it?
Evan Kleiman: You want me to be honest, I haven't even cooked that one yet.
Dan Pashman: I have to say, I did cook the long one and I agree with Evan. It is ungainly. If you think about it, almost every long shape out there is either flat, or if it’s round, it has such a small diameter that it still lays flat. So you can get a nice size bite. But this shape, with the big ruffles sticking out, it doesn’t lay flat on the fork. It’s like trying to twirl an old fashioned telephone cord. It’s just not forkable. And I’m worried about the manufacturing concerns that the Sfoglini guys raised.
Dan Pashman: So I’m starting to see why there aren’t as many long shapes. They’re harder to produce and harder to eat. For all these reasons, I’m making a major decision: We’re abandoning the long shape. Our pasta will be short.
Dan Pashman: So version one was useful. It helped us decide on length. And I realize that all the problems with the shape are related. The ruffles are falling off because their connection points are too thin. The rest of the shape is turning soft and flat because, again, it’s too thin to stay firm when cooked. We need to make the whole shape thicker.
Dan Pashman: But in the super precise world of pasta dies, this change is a big deal. Giovanni says it’ll require redesigning the die, which will cost $4,000, on top of the $5,000 I’ve already spent. And he’s still way backed up with orders, so it’ll be a long time before he can get to this. Still, I give it the green light. What else am I gonna do? In for a penne, in for a pound.
Dan Pashman: I send Giovanni a brand of mafalde from Italy, Gentile mafalde. That was my favorite when I did my early testing. I say, “Make my shape the same thickness as this.” So he bumps the thickness from forty-thousandths of an inch to 55 thousandths of an inch. In other words, I just spent $4,000 and pushed this project back months, all to add half the thickness of a credit card. But I’m betting it’ll be worth it. With this one change, we should be good to go.
Dan Pashman: While I wait for version 2, I shift my attention to some of the other decisions I still have to make. Remember the conversation I had with Steve and Scott when I visited the Sfoglini factory?
Scott Ketchum: You want it in organic, not organic? I know you wanted a semolina pasta but do you want them all to come from America? Where would you see the price point? Like, what do you think you want to sell it at?
Dan Pashman: During that visit, I really had no clue. But now it’s getting to the point in this process where I need to get a clue. Fortunately I have been doing some work on these questions. Earlier in 2020, I asked you to help me answer Scott’s questions. I sent out a survey all about pasta. Sorry, I couldn’t really tell you why I was asking, but you still responded. I call up Steve and Scott to share the results.
Dan Pashman: All right, one more...is one of you guys in a bathtub? What's going on?
Steven Gonzalez: Oh, we're wiping down. We’re switching the line from non-organic back to organic. So we're giving it a wipe, a big wipe-down.
Dan Pashman: So you're wiping up all your wiping off all the nonorganic residues.
Steven Gonzalez: Correct.
Dan Pashman: Got it. OK. Well that relates to our conversation, so I guess that's relevant. So I'll let you off the hook, Steve. Even though I think you might be in the bath.
Steven Gonzalez: Well, think about me. It's probably more pleasant to think about me cleaning a pasta machine than in the bathtub.
Dan Pashman: Fair enough. Touche. So here are the results. You guys ready?
Steve Gonzalez and Scott Ketchhum: Yup.
Dan Pashman: We got...let me see, a total of about 3,000 responses so far. Among the people surveyed, only nine percent said they always or usually buy organic dried pasta. Ninety-one percent, sometimes, rarely, or never buy organic pasta.
Scott Ketchum: Pretty far skewed and I’m kind of surprised it’s that big of a difference.
Dan Pashman: So this decision is easy. We’re going conventional, not organic. But there are a lot of conventional semolina flours. Which one should we use? Well, as we learned at the Pasta Lab in North Dakota, if the semolina is a coarser grind, bigger particles, you’ll get pasta with more flavor. And a coarser grind may also help the pasta stand up better to cooking, making it more tooththsinkable. Coarser semolina is a bit more expensive, but can you really put a price tag on toothsinkability? I ask Steve to track down the coarsest semolina he can find. So he picks one from, where else? You guessed it: NORTH DAKOTA.
Dan Pashman: Steve would later tell me that when a guy from another pasta company came to tour Sfoglini, he saw this stuff and said, “Woah. That’s some nice semolina.” So we have our ingredients. Next, we move onto the question of price. This one’s a little trickier. We’ve already decided that, since we’re starting with such a small run, we’re only going to sell the pasta on Sfoglini’s website, at least initially. On their site, Sfoglini charges $5.99 for a pound of their basic organic pasta. But in our survey, most of you said you’d pay 3 to 4 dollars for some sort of special pasta. And I want to keep the price down so as many people as possible can try it. So what’s right? We decide we got to call in an expert.
Dr. Bhavya Mohan: Yeah, I love pricing questions.
Dan Pashman: Scott and I hop on a Zoom with Dr. Bhavya Mohan. She’s an assistant professor in marketing at the University of San Francisco. Not only does she study pricing, she also worked for the supermarket chain Safeway. Professor Mohan starts by asking Scott…
Dr. Bhavya Mohan: What does the cost structure look like? Is it on par with kind of your other pastas that are on the website? Is it more? Is it less?
Scott Ketchum: It's quite similar. The major difference that we're seeing here is that the new pasta we're making is a nonorganic one and all of our Sfoglini pastas are organic. So the main cost differential differential here is the organic flour.
Dr. Bhavya Mohan: Got it.
Dan Pashman: As Scott tells Professor Mohan, when you add up ingredients, labor, the box itself, everything. One pack of Sfoglini’s organic pasta costs about $2.99 to produce. He estimates that my pasta will cost $2.29 a box, about 70 cents less. That only accounts for the cost of making one box once we’re up and running. It doesn’t include the startup costs; what they’ve spent on testing, or what I’ve spent on the die.
Dr. Bhavya Mohan: Given that, you know, you have this $5.99 reference point on your website, why are you not going to use that for this new pasta?
Scott Ketchum: Well, from our standpoint, I think it's just the fact that it's not organic.
Dr. Bhavya Mohan: I understand that, you know, because it's not organic, you know, that is kind of one product attribute that you're not offering, but you are offering this new shape, this new innovation. We don't know what the incremental value of that is. Kind of all of this work, The Sporkful, and Dan Pashman branding, right? There are these kind of other elements that this pasta has that others don't.
Dan Pashman: Professor Mohan thinks we should charge $5.99, just like Sfoglini’s organic pastas. Now, I’m skeptical that my brand alone adds much, but I do think she’s right that the pasta will be special, which she says makes it more valuable. And she says we’re adding value to our shape in another way, by being open about how it’s made, and what it costs to make it. This is actually the core of Professor Mohan’s research: price transparency.
Dr. Bhavya Mohan: We noticed a couple of companies doing this. They would say, hey, this is the cost of producing a T-shirt. Our transportation costs were fifty cents. Our labor costs were a dollar. This is our markup. Being super, super transparent. And we were wondering what's the value of disclosing your costs, you're also disclosing your profit margin. That's a pretty risky thing to do. But we ran a field experiment and a bunch of lab studies and we really consistently found that people were more willing to buy when companies were super transparent about their cost structure. They just thought that the company was more trustworthy.
Dan Pashman: So, I mean, in some ways, this whole series is an exercise in price transparency.
Dr. Bhavya Mohan: Absolutely.
Dan Pashman: Is there research on the idea of the role that a product's backstory plays in consumer decisions?
Dr. Bhavya Mohan: So there's some research looking at kind of underdog brands that come from that consumers really like brands that have this kind of like underdog back story.
Dan Pashman: Well, I think if being an underdog helps, I think we've got that in spades, Scott. I've been told by every person close to me that this entire thing was a huge mistake.
Scott Ketchum: Well, I’ve heard those same things...
Dan Pashman: Professor Mohan is making a strong argument in favor of a higher price point. But I’m still really worried about charging too much. If this whole project is gonna crash and burn, I want it to be because nobody liked the shape. Not because nobody wanted to spend the money for it. And I keep thinking about a story Steve told me back when I first visited Sfoglini…
Steve Gonzalez: So when Scott and I used to do all of our own demos on Whole Foods, people used to come taste the pasta cuz we'd be preparing it for them. And then we'd watch and they go, "Oh, this is great," really like the taste. And then they'd go to the aisle. They'd look at the price. They’d think about it. They look back at us. We'd be kind of watching them pull it off. They'd take it, put it in their basket. And then we would watch the Whole Foods employee like 30 minutes later come back and restock it.
Dan Pashman: I don’t want that to happen to my pasta. So Professor Mohan has an idea.
Dr. Bhavya Mohan: Is there a way that you could have differential pricing, right? Do we have some kind of mechanism where, you know, those who are already on the Sfoglini page, who are used to seeing the $5.99 price point, that’s their reference price. They can buy your new pasta at $5.99. But your listeners, who might be kind of willing to pay less...you know, pay less. So do we have a $5.99 retail price, and then a promo code for your listeners so they’re effectively paying $3.99 or $4.99.
Dan Pashman: Yes, I like this idea. I gotta say, $5.99 still feels high to me. I don't think I can get onboard with that but I can go along with 4.99 plus on top. I think people understand that organic typically costs more, and so if you say, look, the organic is $5.99 and the nonorganic is $4.99 like that_it's one dollar less. That just feels very logical. Like that seems like an easy explanation. How does that sound to everyone?
Scott Ketchum: Yeah, that works well for everybody. I mean, with that price point when we sold that many units, we can help recoup the shipping costs there so that the customer doesn't have to pay them, but they've purchased enough to enable us to help pay for it. That's pretty much the win/win we try to achieve.
Dan Pashman: Professor, how does that sound to you?
Dr. Bhavya Mohan: Yeah, it sounds great.
Dan Pashman: Bottom line: We'll have a retail price of $4.99, with a 15% off coupon. With that discount, we’ll make $1.95 on each box you buy. Shipping costs will eat into that a bit, but Scott says we’ll be OK.
Dan Pashman: We have our price. Now we just need the shape. Just before Thanksgiving 2020, the die arrives back at Sfoglini, reworked to produce version 2 of my pasta. It’ll be thicker, better, I’m confident this is the one. Or at least, I am until I get a text from Steve at Sfoglini that nearly brings me to tears. That’s coming up. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. Hey, big Mission: ImPASTAble giveaway alert! We have decided to send one of you a special prize pack of various samples of my pasta, early versions that will never be available anywhere, so you too can experience the testing process. To enter to win, just sign up for our newsletter. Every week, we send it out to let you know about what we here at Team Sporkful are eating and reading. It’s a great way to find new recipes and feed your brain. If you sign up by Friday, April 9th, you’ll be entered into this and all our future giveaways. If you’re already on our list, you’re automatically entered. Sign up now at sporkful.com/newsletter. Again, that’s sporkful.com/newsletter. Thanks.
Dan Pashman: All right, back to the show. It’s two days before Thanksgiving, 2020. Steve from Sfoglini has the reworked die back from Giovanni and he’s ready to test it out. He starts making samples of version 2. I’m out on a walk with my daughter Becky and our dog Sasha when Steve texts me.
Dan Pashman: All right, we gotta get home. I have a major crisis with the pasta project.
Becky Pashman: [GASPS] That’s so bad! What is it?
Dan Pashman: It has no ruffles. The shape with the ruffles has no ruffles.
Becky Pashman: Well, why can’t it just not have ruffles then?
Dan Pashman: Then it’s not the shape.
Becky Pashman: Then you can call it norufflietti. [LAUGHS] That way people will know there were supposed to be ruffles on it but there wasn’t!
Dan Pashman: As I said, Giovanni had explained that in order to make ruffles, you have to create a pinch at the spot where the ruffles connect to the rest of the shape. With version one of my pasta, the pinch was too extreme, the ruffles were falling off. Now, it appears Giovanni has overcorrected. He was so focused on making sure the ruffles wouldn’t fall off that he erased them. When we get home, I fill Janie in on the latest disaster.
Janie Pashman: So this is like the 8th time that the pasta project has been a huge disaster. So I’m kinda over it. With the amount of effort and work you put into it, like you could have like, I don't know, created 3 new podcasts or something. So, it’s not just the amount of work that it is. That it's like, you know, there’s no days off. You know, there’s a pandemic, the kids are home half the time, and the emotional rollercoaster of, you know, you being like, OK I think this is gonna be good, and then 24 hours later, like, this is a disaster. Everything sucks. I just...I don't know. I don’t really have any more emotional....I don't have the excess emotions to console you over the pasta project, right now. Sorry, not sorry.
Dan Pashman: Janie may want off this rollercoaster, but at this point I’m handcuffed to it. I text Giovanni. 30 seconds later I still haven’t heard back, so I call. As usual, he doesn’t want me to record him, so I record myself afterwards.
Dan Pashman: All right, I just got off the phone with Giovanni. [LAUGHS] When I hit rock bottom and when I feel like...like, Giovanni just gives me hope again that it’s gonna be okay and I get euphoric. Ugh! I’m not sleeping enough. [LAUGHS] I think I’m gonna cry. I am....I am literally going out of my mind. This is ridiculous. All right, Giovanni, you know he said, even with existing shapes, when a company wants to make a tiny modification, even that can take 3 or 4 revisions. So, welcome to the world of pasta making. And Giovanni says, don’t worry Dan, you’re in good hands, I’ll take care of you.
Dan Pashman: And I said, look, Giovanni, I have total confidence in your ability as a pasta die maker. My concern at this point is time. OK? I cannot just keep pushing this project back. It’s now been three years we’ve pushed it back, and pushed it back, and pushed it back, and I can’t go back to our whole team and be like, we’re pushing it back again. It’ll be demoralizing. People are gonna lose faith and they’re gonna be like, "What the hell? Forget it. This is never happening."
Dan Pashman: And Giovanni says, Dan, this is literally what I do every day. I do it for Campbell’s, I do it for Kraft. It’s gonna be OK. I’m gonna turn this around quickly for you, it’s only gonna take a week or two. Now, has he ever hit a deadline that he’s promised me before? No. [LAUGHS] But he always has a way of saying it that makes me think it’s gonna be okay. So maybe this time it’s gonna be okay.
Dan Pashman: All right, I just talked to Giovanni. He thinks he can fix it. He thinks he can get it done really quickly.
Janie Pashman: Ugh. See this is the rollercoaster that I can’t handle. It’s like I was just coming to tell you that I feel bad that I wasn’t more compassionate earlier. There’s a lot going on and, you know, what can I do to help and make it better… And now it’s like, no, everything’s gonna be okay now. And it’s just like, this is not the emotional journey in my life I need right now.
Dan Pashman: Once I’ve calmed down a little, I decide I still want to try version 2. I mean, I spent all this money and delayed the project months to make this version thicker, I want to get some idea if that half a credit card’s thickness makes a difference. Steve ships out some samples to me and to Evan, and we both try them.
Evan Kleiman: Hello?
Dan Pashman: Hey! Evan, this is version 2. Don’t worry about the fact that there are no ruffles on it, I’m working on that. How much closer do you think we are?
Evan Kleiman: I think you’re there. I just think the ruffles are an afterthought.
Dan Pashman: Well, I think ruffles will add something.
Evan Kleiman: I mean, the shape as it is now, I’ve never seen a shape like that. I’m afraid of tinkering with it.
Dan Pashman: Really?
Evan Kleiman: Yeah. The ruffles to me will only add more risk of peel-off.
Dan Pashman: OK, well that’s a good note. I’m still a little hell bent on ruffles, but I understand what you’re saying.
Evan Kleiman: I think that there’s enough disparate kinds of chewing experiences held within this piece, currently. You have these two distinct experiences of the thinner piece of pasta towards the edge chewing differently. But it also turns into bits in your mouth while you’re still chewing the main part, which is very toothsinkable, as you say. You’ve got a little bit of slipperiness along with the meatiness.
Dan Pashman: Yes, totally. I mean, that's what got me excited about this. I feel like, you have different textures happening at once in this shape. The whole experience of eating it is very dynamic and varied. I just wanted to keep chewing it. Because it’s an awfully thin needle to thread, Evan, you know, which is to get some variation in different parts of the shape, which, I think, we agree is a good thing. But if the variation becomes too extreme then you end up with uneven cooking issues and you end up with crunchy bits and mushy bits.
Evan Kleiman: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Are you telling me that we’ve threaded that needle?
Evan Kleiman: Yes.
Dan Pashman: This is huge. And now that the shape is thicker, the cooking time is longer... much longer. And this is one of the less obvious elements of toothsinkability. It’s not just how satisfying it is to bite into the pasta, it’s how easy it is to cook the pasta just right, for maximum toothsinkability. Like with angel hair, I’m sure at some point in human history some person cooked it for 74.836 seconds and it was fantastic. But for anyone who cooks it for 74.837 seconds, it’s terrible. With version one of my pasta if you left it in an extra 30 seconds it was mush. With version two...
Evan Kleiman: The greatest positive attribute of this shape is how resistant it is to mushiness.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, no, this thing is built to last.
Evan Kleiman: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: So understanding that most people who eat this pasta are not going to be chefs, what cooking time or range of times do you think we should put on the box?
Evan Kleiman: I think 15-18 is good.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, I know. 15 to 18 minutes is a lot, I know. But based on Evan’s tests, and mine, that’s what we think is right. Still, I’m worried that cook time will seem outrageous to people. I think we should put something about it on the box, to explain it. And really this explanation is an opportunity to tell people why this shape is special. So I tell Evan what I’m thinking the box should say.
Dan Pashman: It's gonna say, "Cook time 15-18 minutes", with an asterisk. And the asterisk below will say, "This shape's long cooking time is a function of it's think and ornate design, which produces subtle textural variations in different parts of the shape. This phenomenon, known to sensory scientists as dynamic contrast, has rarely achieved in a pasta shape.
Evan Kleiman: You’re nuts.
Dan Pashman: We’ll work out the copy for the box. Right now, I’m feeling very good about the shape because I think we’re really entering the upper echelons of toothsinkability, I mean we may be in uncharted territory already, and I believe the ruffles will take us even higher! So before we hang up, I make one last pitch to Evan about the ruffles...
Dan Pashman: I think what the ruffles will add is they’ll catch more sauce. They add a third textural component, because ruffles feel nice inside your mouth. They’re delightful to eat.
Evan Kleiman: But it might be distracting! I mean, I know you’re gonna go ahead and make the third version and I’ll be eager to taste it.
Dan Pashman: All right, thank you, Evan. I appreciate it.
Evan Kleiman: You’re welcome, my dear.
Dan Pashman: Evan’s right, I’m gonna get version 3 made. And good news, this time Giovanni comes through. He gets the latest revision back to Sfoglini within weeks. In December 2020, version three arrives on my doorstep.
[OPENING A BOX]
Dan Pashman: It's got ruffles.
Dan Pashman: It’s looking good! But I can’t know anything for sure until I cook it.
Dan Pashman: I decide to test this one out on my own. No kids, no distractions.
Dan Pashman: It’s cooking up very nice and plump. So far none of the ruffles are falling off. OK. I'm sitting down with a plate of this pasta. And good news, I don’t see any evidence of ruffles falling off. Well, hmm...we might have lost one. I can live with that.
Dan Pashman: First, let me test forkability. Oh yeah, I very easily can fork 2 or 3 of these at once. They all stay on my fork. I think thickness is working there. All right, now, let’s look at sauceability. All right, I'm mixing it around, I got some meat sauce here. Honestly, I could look at the diagram of this shape and tell you that it is off the charts in sauceability but I’m just confirming it now. I mean, not only the ruffles hold sauce, but that trough in between the ruffles where you have the half tube, it’s like a sauce trough. Now, for the all-important toothsinkability. For this one, I gotta eat.
Dan Pashman: Mmm. The spot where the ruffles meet the flat strip is the spot that cooks a little bit less than everywhere else on the shape. And if it’s too big of a difference that’s a problem because then you’ll have hard parts and mushy parts.You don't want that. But I think we may have it just right in between where it’s just a slight difference in texture.
Dan Pashman: The ruffles just like… there’s just… every bite is different. I just can’t stop eating it. As far as I’m concerned, this is it. This is it! We...we got it! We nailed the shape!
Dan Pashman: I think it’s done, but I’ve been working on this for so long, I’m worried I’ve lost all perspective. Do I even know what’s good anymore? This Thursday, in the series finale of Mission: ImPASTAble, I see what Evan thinks.
CLIP (EVAN KLEIMAN): I was really surprised, actually, that I reacted the way I did to version 3.
Dan Pashman: To get more feedback, I turn to an incredible assembly of all stars, including Samin Nosrat, Kenji Lopez-Alt, Claire Saffitz, Bill Nye, Christopher Kimball, Sohla El-Waylly, and more!
Dan Pashman:I make some final, crucial decisions about my shape, including picking a name for it. Then I travel to Sfoglini to watch the shape get made, but not before one more crisis
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Please tell me you’re joking.
CLIP (STEVE GONZALEZ): I’m not joking. It’s too close to the deadline to be joking.
Dan Pashman: And yes, the shape will go on sale and we’ll tell how you can buy it! The finale drops this Thursday, March 18th, so make sure to check your feeds then, especially, if you want to buy the pasta.
Dan Pashman: To see all the versions of my pasta, video of pasta dies in action, and much more from this series, follow me on Instagram @thesporkful. And please spread the word about our series on social media, tell your friends to give it a listen! Finally, make sure you get future episodes of our show, please connect with us in your podcasting app. In Spotify, click Follow. In Apple Podcasts, Subscribe. In Stitcher, Favorite. You can do it right now! Thanks.