Before arriving at the Irma pasta factory in a central area of Milan, I had a mix of curiosity and amazement to meet a girl who, very young, started to do an ancient and tiring job, but precisely for this reason beautiful and important. Behind Corso Vercelli, in Via Mauri, there is Irma’s laboratory / shop, but it seems to enter the grandmother’s kitchen, pampered among scents and aromas reminiscent of the afternoons of when one was small.
Francesca, this is the name of our friend who has however kept the old name Irma, confides to us that it is her first interview a little fearful but it is not reluctant to tell us everything about herself, a life lived in constant movement and great aspirations, precisely the characteristics we need to “spread” well with a rolling pin in hand.
1. Hi Francesca, I’m very curious to know everything about you. How did you start and decided to do this job?
Mamma mia … I have always been linked to the world of food, I studied at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo and I also had to learn how to to cook as no one was cooking at home: After university I started working in catering, but in the office and that was not my place, I liked being with “hands-on”. Opening a pasta factory has always been my dream.
2. Where are you from, where did you live?
I was born in Rome, I lived in the Langhe 4 years and then I came to Milan. A great wanderings. In Milan I met Fabrizio and we had Agata. Just the birth of my daughter gave me the urge to do something different and build something concrete for her, since now it’s just me and her.
3. Where does the passion for fresh pasta come from?
I didn’t want to be a cook and I was never interested in having a restaurant and being a chef. I wanted to be an artisan, to do an ancient trade and bring it back into fashion by doing it like it used to, with no strange machinery or modern techniques. Here in the laboratory we use only a kneading machine and a dough sheeter, everything else is hand made like it used to be, day after day. I learned in London to make pasta, at a time when I wanted to change my life. I was in London and I learned there. I finished the University, I came to work in Milan, but after the first stage I decided to go to London and there I went to work in an Italian pasta factory in Shoreditch. I already knew how to knead, but there I learned what it means to do it at high rates: the London experience did not go well, a bit for the climate and a little for the city and so I returned to Italy to Milan monitoring places where I could open a pasta factory.
4. Yours is a fresh pasta workshop, with the sales point attached. How is your idea born? your project?
I always monitored the various possibilities, as already mentioned, but for me it was more like an almost unrealizable dream. I worked (she prefers not to say where) and I like it too..
However, I was separating from Fabrizio and this opportunity has arrived. I came to see the shop and without money in my pocket I signed the compromise … [laughs remembering the moment] … then I managed to get the mortgage and now I have my business. Now it’s mine.
There is work, the request is there and it is a lot, in fact I’m thinking of opening new businesses. I have a chef, Michele, who makes my fillings. He is a very dear friend: I called him at 3 am the day I signed the compromise saying “I fucked up I have no money and I signed up for the store”. Michele did not hesitate and told me “I don’t have any money but if you want to fire me tomorrow and I come to work for you”, so it was.
5. From that moment you have composed your staff and have started working. How was the customer response and how is it?
Very good, things went really well right away. We offer fresh and innovative products, but like grandma or mum did. When some elderly customers come to eat tortellini, they often compliment me by saying, “I’m from Modena and my mom used to do it that way.” It is for this gratitude that I do this job, see happy people.
6. Instead, how do young people approach these tastes and flavors that know a little about the past?
There are many young people who buy our products, the new generations are used to these new activities and rediscovery of ancient works. More elders are asking me, “But what if you graduated because you do this job?” [laughter] They are surprised that I started making the layers
7. Good Francesca, your business is in full growth and work certainly is not lacking. How do you think things will evolve and what plans do you have?
So … I started in October fighting the Christmas “battle” between dinners and gifts but I survived! On summer season we will have start to propose lunches, so it will be the novelty of making what we produce and eat it there!. A very tempting and difficult challenge.
I hope by 2020 to find a new place to build a new pasta factory, always with the laboratory for the in-house production of products. I want the people to see the production of pasta all the time : what we propose is a handmade product, where it is bought but also made where it is consumed. Directly in the laboratory. It’s my passion I can’t help it.