Growing up, Chef Jamie Freda would spend her summers in Puglia, Italy, alongside her Nonna Domenica. There, she said, pasta is made by hand daily in the narrow streets of old towns.
She would take her love for crafting culinary creations from her Nonna’s kitchen to culinary school, where her passion for making pasta “just exploded.” But while busy hand-rolling dough, she realized that many could never enjoy her pasta because of gluten and egg allergies, or because they chose to be vegan.
She couldn’t find any alternative that felt authentic enough, or healthy enough. So she found her own solution.
“I reflected on the alchemy that preserved my Nonna’s longevity,” she said of her grandmother, who lived until the age of 103. ”Nutrient-dense soil, organic food, sustainability, tradition and then began to experiment with unconventional ingredients to reinvent Pasta, recreate tradition and make pasta accessible to everyone.”
Right after she graduated from the International Culinary Academy of New York in 2010, she founded Project Pasta.
Q: What is Project Pasta?
Freda: Project Pasta is Top-9-allergen free, fresh, plant-based pasta. With its phytonutrient-forward base, 30 second cook time, and uncompromised texture, Project Pasta is where innovation meets plants.
Q: What’s the difference between making fresh pasta at home and Project Pasta?
Freda: Every form of pasta making is an art, but the difference between making it at home and Project Pasta is the unique formulation and process we use to recreate the texture of traditional pasta without any gluten, grains, or animal products -- just plants. Meaning: Years of formulating and R&D.
Q: A pound of gluten free pasta at a grocery store ranges from $5 to $10. Yours is approximately $15 per pound. Why do you think people should opt for your product instead?
Freda: When you have an innovative product, there are many, many, phases of product development that you need to go through before you begin to sell mainstream. Because Project Pasta is hand-made in small batches, using sustainable, nutrient-dense ingredients, and 100 percent compostable packaging, the cost per goods is naturally going to be higher because you are paying for a premium artisanal product.
Selling out at farmers markets [in Rhode Island] this past summer was an indication that we have proved our concept and now we have to bring our formulation to scale. What we can assure to all of our customers is that once we do, our costs will lower significantly. Until then, we ask that customers opt to pay the extra couple dollars in order to support small innovative businesses, like Project Pasta, because we are the future of sustainable, clean foods.
Q: Can you explain the process of how to make your pastas?
Freda: We start with simple, whole-food ingredients to formulate our dough: a proprietary blend of vegetables, a source of vegetable based starches, and natural fibers. We use the foundations of traditional pasta making. Once the dough is kneaded, we let the dough rest, and then it gets sheeted and cut just like traditional pasta dough.
Q: Do you make everything at your house or in a commercial kitchen?
Freda: We do lots of research and development at home as well as in our dedicated allergen-free workspace. When we are in production, we use the gluten-free facility at Hope & Main. (Hope & Main is a nonprofit culinary incubator. It’s helped launch more than 300 businesses since 2014.)
Q: Where can Rhode Islanders purchase Project Pasta products? Do you ship your products?
Freda: Due to a combination of limited production capacity and high demand, we are only accepting orders via our website for local delivery in Rhode Island right now.
Q: Do you sell anything other than pasta?
Freda: Currently, no. However, we have many new ideas in the works.
Q: How is Project Pasta funded?
Freda: Aside from a successful crowdfunding in 2018, Project Pasta has been 100 percent funded out of pocket, revenue from farmer’s markets, and orders from our website. We are also awaiting a response from Rhode Island Commerce in regards to an innovation voucher we submitted in November.
Q: Do you have any year-long goals for this year? Five-year goals?
Freda: My short-term goal for this year is to optimize the product line for extended shelf-life and improved production scale. By the end of this year, we would like to increase production capacity by 100 percent. In five years, I would like to see Project Pasta reach more demographics, be included in subscription boxes and also as an option for a healthy, allergen-free, and vegan meals in cafeterias of academic institutions throughout the world.
Once the production and distribution facilities are secured, we would like to lay out the path for locally sourced ingredients and identify agricultural producers who are open to exploring collaboration options. Sustainability is the foundation of scalability, and also a means to further preserving our traditions. We want to increase access to traditional Italian pasta by navigating the variable health needs of the population.
The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Alexa Gagosz at email@example.com.