Mark Ladner is the executive chef at Del Posto in Manhattan, but he’s got a side project that just might change college eating forever. His concept, Pasta Flyer, is gathering the support of college students across the country—and trust us, you’re gonna want in. We chatted with Chef Ladner about gluten-free cooking, Kickstarter rewards and, of course, college eats.
SPOON UNIVERSITY: What is Pasta Flyer?
MARK LADNER: Pasta Flyer is intended to be a quick-service restaurant that specializes in salad bowls, but, more importantly, pasta bowls, with a menu based on my experience making and cooking pasta in fine dining restaurants. I developed a patent-pending gluten-fee pasta that cooks in less than three minutes to get food out quickly.
The business plan is to make our pasta and sauce from scratch in certified gluten-free commissaries and send those to individual units at colleges around the country where they’ll prepare the pasta to-order for hungry students.
SU: So all the pasta is really gluten-free? And it still tastes good?
ML: I began making gluten-free pasta in my restaurant (Del Posto) when I realized how common gluten intolerance is—it’s a lifestyle choice that’s trending right now. So rather than have two inventories for pasta (one traditional and one gluten-free), I focused on making gluten-free pasta as best I could, and it turned out to be very good.
SU: What’s on the menu?
ML: The pasta bowls are customizable—you choose a pasta shape, sauce, protein and garnishes (or choose one of the classics that I really like). You can really mix-and-match anything. We’ll also have salad bowls, snacks and traditional Italian desserts.
SU: Where does the Japanese inspiration fit in to Pasta Flyer’s concept?
ML: From a design standpoint, I was hugely influenced and inspired by Japanese and Eastern Asian food cultures. While traveling to Japan, I saw the efficiency of how ramen shops operate to produce food that can be a quick, healthy snack or a nourishing meal—or both! In U.S. and Italian culture, there’s no precedent for that kind of operation. The food at Pasta Flyer is traditionally and classically Italian—it’s not fusion food, but it’s created in an Asian delivery style.
SU: Why do you think the concept is so appealing to college students?
ML: Easy—because the food is nutritious and incredibly flavorful, utilizes only whole foods, is inexpensive and it will (hopefully) be close to you!
We’re halfway through our Kickstarter campaign now, and we’ve created an instant pasta bowl. It’s like instant ramen, but it’s gluten-free Italian pasta that can be made in a microwave with a total time of 3 minutes. It comes with a dehydrated flavor packet that creates a traditional-tasting tomato sauce with classic Italian seasonings.
SU: Do you think your own college experience would’ve been different had Pasta Flyer existed?
ML: Absolutely! I love the idea of instant ramen and I’ve certainly consumed my share. I’ve been doing a lot of market research and there are more premium gourmet versions of ramen that exist now, but many contain more than 2000 milligrams of salt… I think you should be able to eat instant noodles that don’t dry you out like a raisin!
SU: How can students help make Pasta Flyer a reality?
ML: With a $10 pledge, you’ll receive one of the first of our instant pasta bowls on the market. You’ll also increase the likelihood that Pasta Flyer will be at your school!