SALEM — Just down the street from The House of the Seven Gables in the historic district here, Jean Louis Pasta Shop breaks with tradition. French-born Jean Louis Faber is transforming the Italian skill of pasta making into an art form, decorating his ravioli with vibrant patterns colored by the likes of squid ink and saffron.
You might find it odd that a Frenchman chose Italian pasta as his specialty, but the well-traveled entrepreneur has been perfecting this craft for 20 years. Faber, 57, moved to Salem because his girlfriend and business partner, Connie Rosen, 62, wanted to return to her native city. The shop's location on Derby Street had been vacant for 10 years so the place needed extensive rehab before the duo could open. Earlier this month, Jean Louis Pasta was named 2012 New Business of the Year by the Salem Chamber of Commerce.
The open layout encourages conversation with the chef, who works in a kitchen at the front of the shop. A round-bellied Buddha sits watch over the low counter where customers can observe Faber rolling out dough. On a recent morning he is chatting with a patron while catching ruby red sheets of dough billowing from his pasta machine. Faber presses them into worn metal molds, completing each with a mound of goat cheese. "Customers come in and we talk about food, but we also talk about their life. On the weekends they come in and say, 'How was your week?' It is important for me to be part of the neighborhood."
To maintain their freshness, pastas are stored in one of the shop's three large freezers, but they spend little time there because customer traffic is so brisk. Tables scattered about the bright spot are piled with the makings of a flavor-filled Italian meal: pasta sauces, bruschetta toppings, and a range of condiments.
The self-taught chef's path to New England wound from France, through eight years in Africa with the French Foreign Legion, and most recently by way of upstate New York, where he owned the Naples Pasta Co. Since opening in Salem last December, business is booming. Faber has quickly gained a devoted following and handcrafts 600 ravioli a day to meet the demand. His 9-year-old daughter, Kayla, is a frequent presence at the shop, coming in after school, and developing her own culinary style. "We're a team. Without her help I could not make as much pasta," says her dad. "Customers actually prefer her gnocchi. They're smaller and more delicate than the ones I make."
Dough is a blank canvas for Faber's artistry. A batch of smoked salmon and spinach ravioli are adorned with pasta bands made from beets and basil, so they're bright red and green. Delicately folded pasta petals rim "sunflower" ravioli, inspiring customers to pause in appreciation before biting into a plump center of butternut squash, walnuts, and raisins. Filled pastas range in price from $5 to $14, but the shop also offers hand-made dried pastas and boxed
Piles of sliced Granny Smith apples fill a sheet pan, ready to be paired with gorgonzola and walnuts for other ravioli. In a nod to Faber's heritage, the escargot Provencale pairs tender snails with herby basil pesto. Vegan varieties are always available, including parsnip with ginger and white bean, rosemary with sun-dried tomato. These flavorful fillings dispense with the need for heavy sauces. The chef recommends cooking the pasta in boiling salted water for 6 minutes, then finishing them with just a light splash of flavored olive oil, also sold at the shop.
Neighbor Martha Krol was intrigued to see the long-vacant property undergo renovations last year. "The neighborhood was excited when we heard it was going to be a pasta shop. We didn't know what to expect," she says. "When he opened we were all blown away by the pasta — the variety, the ingredients. You will not find better ravioli anywhere."
Jean Louis Pasta
84 Derby St.,
Salem, 978-594-1088, www.face
Gillian O'Callaghan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.