Thomas McNaughton is the executive chef and co-owner of flour + water, central kitchen, and salumeria in San Francisco. He has also worked at some of the most respected restaurants in San Francisco, including La Folie, Gary Danko, and Quince. McNaughton has twice been nominated for Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation.
Q: Tell us about going to Italy and falling in love with pasta in Bologna.
A: I traveled to Europe to learn and to stage in kitchens, from Michelin three-star restaurants to a pasta lab in Bologna. It's something that's very much based on tradition. I was more intimidated working in a shop with 12 old ladies who'd been doing the same thing for 40 years of their lives than I was beside three-star Michelin chefs. How it's steeped in tradition – it fascinated me. I was working in Bologna, seeing these very old techniques and how much reverence they have for them.
Definitely for Americans, there's a mystery that is behind pasta. The best meals I've had in Italy were all in someone's home, not in a restaurant. Going home and cooking for hours is part of their daily experience; it's not slaving away, it's a family event. It's part of their culture. Part of American culture is making cooking faster and easier. So that was an awe-inspiring moment for me, seeing this faster style of food. Pasta takes time and room to produce.