The quest for quintessential pasta ends with a dumpster outside a nondescript cinder-block warehouse. This stretch of Bloomington, just a block off American Boulevard, is obviously thousands of miles from Italy. But a quick scan of the dumpster’s contents reveals containers that once held semolina flour, pan liners, and eggs. This must be the place.
While most restaurants serve pasta that has been dried or vacuum-packed, Twin Cities chefs who really noodle about the stuff tend to make their own or buy it from a guy named Guido. For the past 20 years, pasta by Guido—he often goes by first name only—has spread to restaurants from Stillwater to Blaine by nomadic kitchen workers. (I procured his phone number from a chef who made sure we weren’t being followed, then flipped through a duct-taped Filofax and found it under G.)
Guido Emmer opens the door dressed in a gray sweatshirt, slacks, and loafers, bearing some resemblance to Mister Rogers with a lilting Italian accent. He walks me through his small kitchen, explaining how he makes the dough in a Hobart mixer the size of a Vespa and extrudes it with one of his Italian pasta machines. (Emmer has some 50 different dies to make shapes, from angel hair to ziti; he offers a variety of flavors, including egg, spinach, tomato, saffron, and squid ink.) He dries the finished sheets or noodles on a rack for a few hours, then boxes and delivers them. In a typical day, Emmer turns out roughly 200 pounds of pasta, almost always by himself. “You’re your own assembly line,” he jokes. Restaurants are asked to place orders two days in advance so they receive the pasta the same day it’s made.
So why, exactly, is fresh better? Emmer pulls out his list of the Top 10 Reasons to Serve Fresh Pasta (he studied marketing at Cornell University and spent 14 years as a department-store buyer before resurrecting the culinary craft he learned as a youth in Milan) and mentions quick cooking time, better sauce-cling (the surface of dried pasta can be too smooth), and superior texture: delicate yet toothsome; springy yet soft.
Emmer, who says he eats pasta several times a week, warns against dallying between draining the noodles and serving them on a heated plate. “The single most common mistake is not to be ready to move quickly the minute the pasta is cooked,” he says, shaking his head. “In the space of three to five minutes, things can turn to mush.”
But you’ll have to practice on somebody else’s product. Emmer’s pastas are entrusted exclusively to cooks at such restaurants as Ciao Bella, Pazzaluna, NorthCoast, Triä, Bellanotte, Cue, Angelina’s Kitchen, and Stone’s. And after the noodles have been delivered, their fate is out of Emmer’s hands. “Pasta is only as good as what you put on it,” he notes.