Dan Pashman, host of the podcast "The Sporkful," invents a winning noodle
Dan Pashman, A99, is rolling in dough. Pasta dough. The host of the James Beard Award–winning podcast The Sporkful, Pashman spent three years creating a new pasta shape—cascatelli. When boutique pasta maker Sfoglini launched the product last spring, its initial run of 4,000 pounds sold out in less than two hours.
The verdict of Food & Wine magazine? “Perfect for sauce.” “Very good,” cheered the New York Times. “The people need this shape,” insisted celebrity chef Sohla el-Waylly. Time declared cascatelli one of 2021’s best inventions.
Fans who missed the initial rush waited weeks for their orders to arrive while production ramped up. By year end, Sfoglini and Pashman, who says he grew up in a “food-obsessed” family, sold 300,000 pounds.
A foe of drab, droopy pastas, the exuberant New Jersey native shared his madcap manufacturing odyssey with Sporkful listeners in a podcast series titled “Mission: ImPASTAble.” Three fixed stars guided his quest. He wanted his design to have forkability, toothsinkability, and sauceability (all terms he invented). In other words, the shape had to be easy to spear, great to sink your teeth into, and able to scoop bodacious quantities of marinara.
After interviewing chefs, pasta makers, and people who create pasta machine dies (the molds in which pasta is made), Pashman experimented with shapes. He arrived at a graceful, ruffled-edged apostrophe the size of a child’s thumb. “I assumed the reason there haven’t been new shapes is because nobody thought to try, but that’s only part of the explanation. The other part is that the equipment used to make pasta and the way pasta is made are limiting,” he says.
Despite his creativity, Pashman struggled to find the right name for his pasta, a challenge made harder because he insisted Americans who don’t speak Italian had to be able to pronounce and spell it. After rejecting millipiedi (too creepy crawly) and Godzilla (legal concerns), he landed on a variation of the word that means “little waterfalls” in Italian and mirrors the pasta’s water-tumbling-down look.
National grocery chains smelled something profitable cooking. The Fresh Market sells a licensed version in its 159 stores across the eastern U.S. and Trader Joe’s stocks its version nationwide. A gluten-free cascatelli made from chickpeas hit stores earlier this year.
Pashman himself has become a hot commodity, too. Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which represents Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, signed him as a client in the fall.
So far, Pashman has earned back the $9,000 in up-front money he paid die makers, and he is using some of his profits to sweeten his children’s college savings accounts. As for the future, he’s keeping a lid on his plans.
"There are opportunities that CAA and I are exploring that I can’t say more about now,” says Pashman, who first got into media when he was at Tufts and hosted a wacky 2 a.m.-to-4 a.m. show on WMFO.
“I’m not necessarily interested in being a celebrity, but I am interested in using my creativity in as many ways as possible, whether that might be writing a book, working in TV, or creating other food products,” adds Pashman. He is a contributor to NPR and Slate and wrote the 2014 book Eat More Better.
Having been swept up in cascatelli’s success, Pashman hints he also may have an appetite for reimagining another cupboard staple—the tortilla chip. “There are some great ones out there,” he says. “I just wonder if there’s a way to engineer them to hold more dip and be less likely to break.”