When Evan Funke bought a ticket to Italy and went off to study pasta making in Bologna for three months in 2008, it changed his trajectory as a chef. Now chef-owner of the Italian restaurant Bucato in Culver City, he found a calling in his love for handmade pasta.
His obsession with pasta began long before, during the six years he was at Spago. The garde-manger station where he worked at one point was just beside the area where Wolfgang Puck's longtime pasta maker made agnolotti. "Small, as small as the end of your pinkie," Funke remembers. "That was the first shape of pasta I fell in love with."
The chef became fascinated with how the pasta seems to hug the filling. "It's a very elegant and sensual shape," says Funke. He began to experiment with different ways of pleating or pinching the pasta around the stuffing. That led him to Italy and to Bologna, where making sfoglia (an uncut sheet of egg pasta) is an art.
In Italy he apprenticed at La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese. When he arrived at the school, which was much smaller than it is today, there were just four other students, three of them Italian and all of them young women. "They looked at me like I had three heads," says Funke. "Why would a guy want to learn to make pasta?" Soon Funke was making pasta 12 hours a day, six days a week. "I found out who I wanted to be in Bologna."
In 2013, Funke opened Bucato, to his knowledge — and he's always checking — the only restaurant in the United States to make pasta entirely by hand with no machines involved at all
Last September, as a way of paying forward everything he's learned, Funke started putting videos and photos of his pasta making up on his Instagram account. "For me," says Funke, "Instagram is a tool. It's also a form of expression. I have just two apps on my iPhone, Instagram and a translator." Just 15 seconds long, the videos are beautifully shot — with his iPhone.
"I'm a photographer's son," says Funke. "My father is a [director of photography] and ... Oscar winner, so I have photography in my blood."
Funke's original idea was to film one shape a week to make a lexicon of pasta shapes. "In my mind, I can make about 180 shapes," says Funke, who goes back to Italy as often as possible to seek out pasta makers. But it takes time to shoot the videos.
"I have to make the dough, roll out the dough, make the shapes — and then use what I've made," explains Funke, "because there's no waste at Bucato." Then he has to edit the video and post it. So far, he's put up 18 15-second videos on his Instagram feed, which now has over 4,600 followers — chefs, customers, pasta makers, farmers, artisans, bakers, painters, architects, tattoo artists. It's a thrill for him to find that cooks are really learning from his short videos. "The beauty of pasta is in the details," he says again and again.
"The strascinati video (above) really took off because it's really vivid. You see the pasta reacting to the force of my finger and then bouncing back with its elasticity, and then I flick it away," Funke says about the comments he's gotten. The other video that has had a big impact is the one for sorpresini (below)."It's a little Bolognese shape that no one had seen before. And now a handful of restaurants around the world — in New York, Toronto, Vancouver, London, Portland and Brunswick, Ga. — are making that shape. It's an extraordinary feeling for me to be part of a global pasta community."
And it's all due to Instagram.
Visit Funke's Instagram account to see how gnocchetti sardi, strascinati, maccheroni di busa, crosetti, tortellini, casonsei, strozzapreti, ravioli verde, la sfoglia, la chitarra, tortellacci Bolognesi, il garganello, sorpresini, le caramelle, pici, agnolotti al plin, lo strichetto and lorighittas are shaped. And that's just what he's put up so far.
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