A foodie in his spare time, Father Venker likes to prowl thrift stores for bargain kitchen tools and utensils. He started to notice a surprising number of pasta machines at some of the local second-hand shops.
Trouble is, not many folks are familiar with these gadgets or they think making pasta involves too much effort. “Pastaphobia,” Fr. Venker calls it. So these gleaming orphans of the culinary world sit at Goodwill, Value Village, St. Vinnie’s and garage sales. To his thinking, some of these machines might be missing a part, yet all deserve more appreciative homes.
This former Seattle University Fine Arts department chair who teaches calligraphy, printmaking and ceramics now takes time to preach what he calls “the gospel of pasta.” So far, Fr. Venker has spread the word to about a dozen friends and family enthused about developing this gastronomic talent.
He lends his artistic skills as a ceramicist to the craft of pasta making.
“Making pasta—or working in clay—can be a very focused and contemplative activity,” he says.
Other artists have found noodle making to be an intriguing creative medium. Nearly 30 years ago, a Seattle glass blower named Dave Brown channeled his art into what today is the very successful Northwest pasta company Carso’s. Fr. Venker isn’t destined for commercial pasta making, though. His Jesuit approach is to inspire others with the art and share his pasta machines with those who show a glimmer of enthusiasm.
“This is most fun to do with other people, especially kids,” he says.
On a recent afternoon, Fr. Venker unpacked a bunch of his pasta machines and the few ingredients he uses for fresh pasta in the Capitol Hill kitchen of Mary Linden Sepulveda, associate librarian and coordinator of collections for the Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons. Sepulveda was an enthusiastic participant, although she noted it has been many years since she attempted to make her own pasta because it struck her as lot of work.
In no time, the two of them cranked dough through one of the machines and turned out what looked like lasagna.
“See how I’m holding it over my hand?” Fr. Venker says. “Don’t pull, just support.”
While Fr. Venker says he’s against food that’s pretentious or faddish, he knows that pasta, like clay, can be finicky and fragile. The ceramicist recognizes the surprising similarities between working with clay and dough.
“A lot of folks are not attuned to the detail. Because I have a degree in ceramics, I know when the dough is too wet or dry,” Fr. Venker says. “I use a special drafting brush that architects use to dust the dough with flour. And the texture? That’s what traditional Italian women call, ‘the cat’s tongue.’”
Soon Sepulveda was making spaghetti and fettuccine and talking about buying a pasta-making attachment for her KitchenAid mixer.
“I definitely would do this again, especially with an attachment,” she says. “It just tastes so much better when it’s homemade.”
Fr. Venker carefully dusted their creations with flour. He warned not to smash the pasta before refrigerating or freezing. He sent some home with student photographer Gordon Inouye, adding maybe one more follower to his pasta congregation. Inouye gently cradled his pasta like a newborn all the way back to Murphy Apartments on campus.
Josef Venker, S.J., Fine Arts faculty, shows Mary Linden Sepulveda, associate librarian and coordinator of collections for the Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons, how to make some fresh pasta.