As the setting for William Shakespeare's famous Romeo and Juliet, the city of Verona, Italy, is affectionately named "the city of love". It is also where the famous pasta brand Giovanni Rana was born and is still headquartered in. Named after its founder, Giovanni Rana specializes in refrigerated, filled-pasta. Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Verona to meet Mr. Giovanni himself and tour the fabulous pasta factory. There were also 50 Americans on the tour, their prize for winning a contest by Giovanni Rana in the USA to invite Americans to his home in Verona. What an incredible experience it was – going to his home, seeing where it all began, getting my hands messy with some dough and making my own ravioli. Most memorable, though, was sitting with Mr. Giovanni and talking about his love of food, of course specifically pasta, and why he took his beloved ravioli to the States. 

wine, beer
Weichen Yan
Weichen: There are other foods besides pasta that are quintessentially Italian, including certain kinds of cheese, pizza, tomato paste, cannoli, etc. What made you choose pasta?

Giovanni RanaSince the beginning of my life, I’ve had my hands in flour and dough. My family owned a bakery and I worked there as a bakery boy since I was 13. I distributed bread around the city. Later on, when I was 20 years old, I decided to make pasta, fresh pasta, because I saw our society changing – women started working and no longer had the time to do a lot of cooking. There was a market for home-style, fresh pasta.

In particular, what drew you to filled pasta as opposed to other kinds of pasta? 

GR: I come from Verona, the city of love, and I fell in love with pasta . It’s good, it cooks fast and is also a complete meal packed with carbohydrates, protein and fats. When I started, and also today, refrigerated filled pasta remains the perfect dish because it is so easy to cook - everyone loves it.

(Notes from Weichen: Giovanni Rana pasta takes as little as 4 minutes to cook, which is fantastic when you’re short on time!)

mushroom, pork, sauce
Weichen Yan

What made you want to take Giovanni Rana to the US?

GR: One of my dreams had always been to go to America. In Italy, my pasta became such a big success, when my son Gian Luca took over the business (Gian Luca Rana is the CEO of the company), we started exporting to Europe and continued to flourish. In Italy we have become a household staple. In 2012, Gian Luca decided to go to the States, making my dream come true.

Do you have operations/plans to expand to other parts of the world? If so, where?

GR: We’re in 38 countries around the world and of course also in the USA, but my tortellini can go everywhere. We also arrived in Japan. In the States, we opened a plant so we can make the pasta there, due to the large size of the American market.

tomato, basil, shrimp, cream, sauce, ravioli, pasta, tortellini
Weichen Yan

Coming from Spoon University, I have to ask - what are your top tips and advice for college cooking?

GR: My tortellini! You just need water with a pinch of salt. When it is boiling, you throw in the pasta and after 4 minutes you have a meal! You only need a little drizzle of olive oil or some butter, and a sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Gnocchi is also great, it’s simple to cook and is delicious. You can also whip up some fettuccine with tomato sauce. (You see, Mr. Giovanni really loves his pasta!)

Why did you decide to have the factory for Rana in Verona, your hometown?

GR: I was born here. It was natural for me to start my job here, the city of love, the city of love for pasta. In the beginning it was just a small room we had, myself and a few women, making everything by hand. We made 15 kg of ravioli per hour. I delivered them around the city on a second-hand motorbike named “Guzzino” that I purchased for 9 Euros. As we grew, we invested in machines that replicated the gesture of human hands closing the ravioli. We now have 4 plants in Italy, 1 in Belgium, and 1 in the USA, and employ 2500 workers worldwide. A very big family!

Weichen Yan

Do you source your ingredients locally? Why is it important to you?

GR: It’s all about high quality ingredients. When ingredients arrive at our plant, they are all whole and raw. For example, we do not purchase ready-cut ingredients, we cut all our vegetables in the plant, even though it costs more, because we want to make sure their quality is up to our standard. All cheeses come in complete wheels and are processed on site. Ham arrives whole and is cut when we make the filling. We have employees whose job is to taste every ingredient, every day, to make sure they’re up to the common standard. The golden rule I tell my employees is that, when you are deciding if something is OK to be sent out to the market for consumers, ask yourself: is this something you would feed to your beloved children? If the answer is no, throw it out.

In our American plant, we source from Italy some ingredients classified as DOP (Protected Designation Origin) which means they must come from particular region and made in a particular way, such Genovese basil, Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano. (Notes from Weichen: this is similar to how only sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France is allowed to be labeled as Champagne). Some fresh ingredients such as soft cheeses, like mozzarella and ricotta, are sourced from Wisconsin where fantastic dairy is produced.

coffee, sandwich
Weichen Yan

What's your favorite thing to eat in New York City (besides pasta!)?

GR: I love steak. Every time I visit NYC I go out for steak

What's your favorite cuisine, besides Italian?

GR: I’m very curious. To me, all cuisines are interesting. Food is for everybody, but Italian cuisine is my favorite.

What's your view on Italian fusion? For example, pasta with Japanese elements like fish roe?

GR: It’s a consequence of globalization. Taste is global. Our R&D team looks at what is going on around the world. It’s important to be up to date with changing consumer demographics and tastes. I love all foods, as long as it’s top quality food and tastes great. This philosophy is also reflected in what special pasta we offer in certain countries: in Spain, we have ravioli with caramelized onions and goat cheese; in France, we have one filled with duck; and we offer one with chicken and curry spice in Britain. 

cake, coffee, beer
Weichen Yan

What inspired you to engage in such a generous marketing campaign in the USA, inviting hundreds of American consumers to visit Verona and experience Giovanni Rana first hand?

GR: When we entered the US, the American consumers welcomed us with open arms. I want to give back the love and hospitality they gave me and my company. What’s better than inviting them to my home, to the city where the Giovanni Rana dream all begun, so they can have a real-time experience, and enjoy all the pasta and other delicious local cuisines?

tea, beer, coffee
Weichen Yan

When Mr. Giovanni’s son Gian Luca Rana, the current CEO of the company, took us for a tour of the factory in Verona, we stopped near a window. He pointed to a humble cottage across, that is surrounded by the plant, and told us that it is where Mr. Giovanni lives. He tells us that people always express their disbelief that Mr. Giovanni chooses to live in the middle of a loud manufacturing plant, but for Mr. Giovanni, the noises those big ravioli-making machines make are music to his ears. He simply cannot part with his ravioli.