Originally from Whitestone in Queens, Nicole Karr moved to Sugarloaf with her family after graduating high school. It was there that she first got involved in professional cooking, working for years as a chef at the renowned Glemere Mansion in Chester.
Now — after attending New York Restaurant School, traveling around Italy, appearing on the Food Network, and working in restaurants throughout Maine and New York City — this longtime Orange County resident has released her very first cookbook(!), which hit shelves just yesterday.
Handmade Pasta Workshop & Cookbook: Recipes, Tips & Tricks for Making Pasta by Hand, with Perfectly Paired Sauces is a clear introduction to the techniques involved in scratch-making pastas of all shapes and sorts. Karr’s personal voice and sense of humor shine brilliantly as she guides you with step-by-step instructions, starting with basic dough mixing methods and taking you through finishing each dish with the ideal sauce. In total, the book showcases 80 unique recipes — all of which are paired with stunning imagery — and empowers you to finally try your hand at making pasta at home.
We were so enthralled with our copy that we reached out to the chef for more about her life in the culinary world and path to pasta-making powerhouse. Here’s what we found out:
How did you first become interested in cooking?
“Growing up, it was always something the family did. My grandma cooked, and it was important to us to have at least one meal together every week. And I mean my whole family — aunts, uncles, cousins, everyone — not just the immediate family members. You didn’t miss a Sunday dinner. So it’s always been a part of my life, I just never knew the technical terms and stuff. It wasn’t until I was older that I thought, why not go to culinary school? And I’m lucky that I liked it so much; working in restaurants is tough. The hours are long and a lot of people can’t handle all of the pressure, but I’ve always worked with a good group.”
What has your career in the food world been like?
“There have been a couple times when I thought I couldn’t do it any more, so I would try something else. I’ve tried consulting, being a private chef, food styling, basically anything that involved food, I’ve done it… It’s been really helpful to have experienced all the different aspects. Everything sort of flows into each other, and I think that gives me an advantage as a chef. It’s been kind of wild, but also been good.”
Pici with black pepper
With so much work in restaurants and behind the scenes, how exactly did the cookbook come about?
“I would post pictures of my food online, but not give it much thought. A friend encouraged me to put them up on social media… I started posting more on Instagram, and a publisher contacted me to see if I would be interested in doing a book. But after that, you have to put in the work, too. You can’t just put your photos online and expect something to happen.”
What was it like to create the cookbook?
“Writing a cookbook is very difficult — I’m not used to writing down recipes, so writing 80 of them was challenging… in a kitchen you can show someone or visually explain what you mean. But you’re not there with whoever is reading the book to show them or even elaborate, so you have to be as detailed as possible. You don’t want them to mess up or fail — you want them to succeed.
Plus, you not only have to write all the recipes, but you have to test them and retest and read and reread everything. It’s a big process, more than I thought going into it. You work so hard and so constantly making the book that you almost get sick of it, but then when everyone else gets to see it, that’s when it becomes real and you start to get excited.”
Sweet pea raviolini
So, would you say that pasta is your specialty after all this?
“I think over time, every chef sort of finds that one thing they’re really good at or just love doing. And I love making pasta. I feel like it gives you the ability to make every part of the meal from scratch, and I learned so much just writing about it! There are so many different shapes of pasta out there, probably at least a hundred more than I even included in the book. I didn’t want to feature anything too crazy and have people be like, “what the heck is this?” But I did want to introduce some of the different shapes out there.
Every shape has a different story behind it, and families all over Italy all call them different things… Just recently, after writing the book, I was working down in the city in an open kitchen where people could watch us work. They would come in and see me making pasta, and I could tell them about it, but my favorite was to talk about farfalle. Commonly called bowties, people don’t realize that the name actually means ‘butterflies.’ While I could go on talking about different shapes they’d never seen before, they’d get excited — and you could see it on their faces — just to learn something new about a type that’s so common.”
Ricotta Cavatelli With Mussels
Is there one thing you think people should know if they’re just starting to make their own pasta?
“It’s important for people to know that they are going to fail — they’re going to mess up, or have things that don’t come out exactly right. But that’s okay. That’s the thing about pasta, it’s not supposed to be perfect — it’s supposed to be a little off. In Italy, people go out to restaurants and they expect, and want to see, something a little different. It shows that it’s been made by hand, and that it didn’t just come out of a box. People just need to give it a try. There are some recipes in there that are so easy; just two ingredients! I’ve had people try them that absolutely cannot cook, and they’ve worked out. It’s definitely more time-consuming, but once you master making the dough, it becomes easy. Most people fail because they start with a bad dough.”
Ready to get cooking? Karr’s book is on stands now! Check your favorite local bookstore first, but it can be always found through Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com. And don’t miss Karr, appearing soon, on Fox Live News!
Handmade Pasta Workshop & Cookbook: Recipes, Tips & Tricks for Making Pasta by Hand, with Perfectly Paired Sauces by Nicole Karr; 192 pgs; Page Street Publishing Co.; $21.99 (ppr)