February 2012

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live in a man's world Peter Robertson Making artisan pasta a Madison favorite By Kelsey Sorenson Peter Robertson says he's always been an entrepreneur at heart. As owner of RP's Pasta—a company serving up fresh, artisan-made pastas from its headquarters off Williamson Street—it's hard to argue with him. But Robertson's journey to becoming a local au- thority on pasta has been anything but predictable. Originally bent on a career in mechanical engineering, he changed gears in college and majored in theater at Northeastern University. The crafty college graduate then toured Europe as a stage carpenter, where he soon fell in love with another craft: the fresh, homemade pastas that make Italian cuisine renowned worldwide. Robertson returned to the U.S. and turned fresh pasta making into a delicious hobby. Now a husband and father, the Hershey, Pa., native has turned his passion into the artisan operation that has been open since 1995, and now sends fresh pastas to grocers and markets nationwide. And while selling pasta may not have been his original plan, following both his palate and his heart gave him all the ingredients for a run- ning successful business. How did you get started with making pasta? The [dance] companies I toured with spent a lot of time in Italy and southern France. I had no idea about fresh pasta until I realized they made pasta dishes taste different—in a good way. So I read a couple of cookbooks to get ideas. After that, I developed my own recipes based on what I liked. It was trial and error, and a lot of eating. I kept making it because I enjoyed it. Was opening RP's Pasta part of your plan? I fell into it completely. Around Christmas of 1994 I decided to give some of my fresh pasta to all my neighbors, who loved it. One of them took my pasta to a restaurant and the guy who owned the res- taurant liked it so much he wanted to buy it from me. I asked one of my friends, [Madison restaurateur] Henry Doane, and he said no one else in the area is doing it. I thought, OK, let's do it. Tell the truth: Do you eat pasta every day? And how do you work all those carbs off? Not anymore, but I used to! Pasta is something so variable I could eat it every day. But I have to practice what I preach, like modera- tion in your diet. To work it off? Run your own business. You'll be running around and on your feet all day. Quick Questions with Robertson If you weren't an artisan pasta maker, what would you be doing? Running some sort of a business with farming, along the lines of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I love working with my hands in the dirt. 28 BRAVA Magazine February 2012 Favorite RP's Pasta? Egg linguine—it's so versatile. What wines do you like to pair with pasta? Primitivos and tempranillos—the hint of sweetness balances the wheat of pasta. Favorite pasta dish in Italy? A Bolognese ragù or a carbonara. Favorite local food event? REAP Food Group's Burgers and Brew. It has nothing to do with pasta, but it's all good. Over the years, you've expanded your pasta line-up. What has been your most recent focus? Gluten-free is a strong focus, even though I love our traditional semolina pasta. I had a friend who developed celiac disease, and I saw the emotion and anguish that came with that diet change. So gluten-free got bumped up on our list of priorities, and it turned out great. You literally can't tell the difference. I almost prefer it, it's that good. Your pasta is a staple at Madison-area grocery stores as well as at the Farmers' Market, but now your website shows it's being sold from coast to coast! How has RP's Pasta grown over the years? We've grown from a one-man operation, to now having 13 em- ployees and producing 340,000 pounds of fresh pasta a year. That [widespread distribution] started over two years ago. We have a strong focus on staying local, but I also believe in providing a qual- ity product. If my product can be sold over someone else's, even in another region, I feel like we're doing a better job for the farmers in our region. What's next for RP's Pasta? Our goal right now is to continue working on our fresh pasta. There are always ways to make your business better, [but our focus is working to] improve business and keep our ideals. •••

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