Miles Tamboli makes his own pasta — thanks to his girlfriend and a plate of tagliolini.
He and Mollie Clark were on vacation. "I almost started crying over how good this plate of pasta was when we were in Italy," Tamboli says. "And she said, 'Is anybody doing this in Memphis?' I said, 'I don't think so.' She said, 'Why don't you try it out? Make a little pasta.' I was like, 'I don't know how to make pasta.'
- Michael Donahue
- Miles Tamboli
"We got back from Italy, and I just made pasta over and over again until I had the right ratio. Then I took maybe 15 containers to the farmers market and sold out. Every week I doubled that."
He now sells about 130 eight-ounce containers of Tamboli Pasta each Saturday at the Memphis Farmers Market.
"People think of pasta-making classes. You go to Tuscany and take a $500 class. Or you go get a $200 meal and get fresh homemade pasta. But poor people have been making pasta for 2,000 years. It's not fancy. And it's not difficult. It's feasible. All you need is a knife. You don't even need a rolling pin. You can use a wine bottle to make pasta. It's flour and eggs and a little bit of salt. It's like the Italian version of soul food; you're making something out of what you got."
Why don't more people make pasta? "I think there's a stigma about pasta. I think folks think it's really bad for you. And I think folks think that it's really difficult to make.
"Like farming," he says. "There's this weird dichotomy in farming where people think it's the hardest thing in the world, it's rocket science. In some ways it is. But in the basics to grow a plant, you need to make sure it has sun and soil and water and that's it. Past that, you're overcomplicating it."
Heirloom pumpkin vines trail over Tamboli's front yard in Binghampton. Other vegetable plants grow on his property. Chickens and a rooster reside in his backyard.
He has a tattoo of a fork on one of his forearms and a shovel on the other. "Those are my food tools. There's the whole connection there between what you serve being good because of the way you grow it."
Growing up in Memphis, Tamboli says he remembers "being hungry all the time. I got fed fine, but my parents didn't keep snack foods around."
Tamboli, who got a bachelor's degree in global and community health at Tulane University, became more interested in food while working at a restaurant in New Orleans. "I was unboxing these cases of rock-hard wax-covered tomatoes that just didn't taste like anything, and I was starting to get curious about why things taste the way they do."
And, he says, "That led me toward valuing good ingredients in food and trying to figure out how to make those ingredients better and better. Which got me into agriculture. At the same time my public health education was pushing me toward a place where I wanted to provide opportunities for people to have access to healthy foods. And provide health education."
Tamboli got an internship at the Grow Dat Youth Farm, a non-profit organization that grows produce on seven acres in New Orleans. "I realized I could work in food and nutrition and public health in a way that was non-condescending and in a way that empowered people."
After moving back to Memphis, Tamboli decided to make bread after he noticed nobody was selling bread at the Church Health farmers market. "I had never made a loaf of bread in my life. I just obsessively made bread over and over again. I spent a couple of days gathering up recipes and then looking at the portions of the most important ingredients."
Tamboli took about 30 loaves to the farmer's market the next Saturday. "I sold out."
That August, Tamboli worked on a Southern California biodynamics farm, which was part of the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. "The focus of everything is sustainability and cycling nutrients through a diverse ecosystem."
After a year working there, he and a friend began an urban farm in Portland, Oregon, where they grew kale, leeks, salad greens, and herbs that they sold to local restaurants. Tamboli also worked on a farm there where he grew vegetables for Community Supported Agriculture.
Tamboli didn't feel he was making any "social impact," so he moved back to Memphis and helped start a Girls Inc. Youth Farm, which was a "way to pair together the idea of working with young people with growing great food."
He also put the framework together for a new agriculture program at Bolton High School.
And he began growing lettuces, fresh herbs, and tomatoes in a garden near his home. He sold the produce at the farmer's market, which turned into a viable income stream.
He's currently involved with Binghampton's Caritas Village, where he and executive director Mac Edwards are starting to do a pasta special at the restaurant.
Tamboli's first pasta special will be made with his casarecce pasta. "We'll probably do mac-and-cheese," he says.