It’s Pasta Time

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Della Terra's Chef Chris Becker.
Della Terra's Chef Chris Becker.
Della Terra's Chef Chris Becker making pasta.
Della Terra Pasta.
Della Terra Pasta.

Della Terra Pasta from the Urban Agrarian

In the back corner of Urban Agrairian’s cooperative kitchen, Chef Chris Becker is mixing white, fluffy Extra Fance Durum Wheat with water, each tablespoon measured as carefully as a  bombmaker would, to create a dough that will become rigatoni or spaghetti or fusilli.

Becker is meticulous about his pasta. He knows more about pasta than most chefs, and even the pasta that spirals out of the pasta machine has its own personality.
Owner of Della Terra Pasta in Oklahoma City, Becker worked in New York City with some of the most acclaimed chefs in the country.
He discovered his passion for pasta in those Italian kichens and he began his career at Lupa, a Roman style Trattoria in Greenwich Village owned by celebrity Chef Mario Batali.

Under the tutelege of his mentor, Chef Mark Ladner, Becker soaked in the spices and skill for Italian cooking, a skill he brought to the Heartland and to the pasta he now makes and sells.

Although most of the Della Terra brand is available locally at specialty grocers and in local restaurants, the star-trained chef has a dream to market Oklahoma City-based pasta worldwide.

“At Lupa, I was very young, but I worked my way up to the pasta station,” said Becker. “I learned a lot about pasta cooking, saucing and how to cook pasta. I went for several years to learn in Paris at Le Bernardin and the Modern.”

Two years later, Mario Batali asked the chef to help him at Batali’s flagship restaurant, Del Posto, the only four-star Italian restaurant in America. Becker said he took the experiences and skills he had learned to understand the passion, determination and use of only the highest-quality ingredients to create inspired cooking.

“We made fresh pasta, each piece formed by hand, and I worked at Del Posto for several years before moving to Oklahoma,” Becker said. His wife’s family lived in Oklahoma, and the Beckers made the choice to leave the food capital of the world to travel to home to red dirt.

“We made the decision that was best for us,” he said. “We may have left the food capital of the world, but the craft doesn’t leave you. Like a lot of immigrants, it’s about bringing in traditions. It’s not about where you are located, but about holding on to the traditions and bringing that taste to where you are.”

The concept of a pasta company had been boiling about in Becker’s head for about three years. As a new Oklahoman, he started holding seminars and cooking classes on pasta, showing eager students the art of pasta making and the idea kept popping up.

“I wanted to develop an international product, and we were operational in about a year,” said Becker, who moved in late 2008. “Urban Agrarian was an incubator kitchen, so we were able to split a lot of the overhead costs with others.”

Becker named his pasta Della Terra, which translates to “of the earth.” His pasta is made with  with research – he only uses organic durum wheat semolina and water with no preservatives or additives whatsoever. Becker chose Extra Fancy Durum Wheat from North Dakota Mills as well as as well as 100 percent Semolina Durum Wheat for line of whole wheat pasta.

“My pasta is a broze extruded product, which means I use bronze dies that create the pasta shapes,” Becker said “The bronze makes the pasta rougher and more artisinal. It grips the sauce for a more enhanced pasta dish – it’s a very traditional method of creating pasta.”
Another reason for choosing the Durum wheat was its strength. Other wheat creates a less hearty dough, which causes it to whimper in the face of the rough bronze dies.

“We chose organic because after a series of taste tests, I just though the organic had a better taste and texture. It was just a better product,” he said. “I chose the whole grain version from a distributor in Montana – they grow the flour there and when you order it, they grind it for you. The reason most whole wheat pasta tastes like cardboard is because the flour had been ground so long ago.Whole grain has a shorter shelf life.”

As the pasta tumbles out of the bronze dies, it almost seems to wear a light white coat, but it’s the rough texture that give it that look. It’s not a wimpy pasta, but one full and heavy and flavorful. He offers fresh pasta, found at Urban Agrarian and Whole Foods in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, as well as other boutique stores like Forward Foods. Restaurants like The Coach House and Local in Norman cook dishes using Della Terra Pasta. A dried pasta line is also available.

“A lot of my old contacts in New York are interested in the pasta,” Becker said. “They want me to be further along with it. There’s a lot of potential in Oklahoma, but for a national or international market, I see a larger potential with the dried pasta.”

For now, Becker’s role is to lovingly create a pasta that’s full and rich. He also sees his role as one to help shape the food culture of Oklahoma.

“I think a lot of the chef’s role is much less cooking than shaping the food culture,” he said. “Food now is a lot more farm-to-table, and people want to know where their food comes from. People can see the difference in hand-made pasta. There’s a lot of interest in it and people are excited about it.”

For more information about Della Terra, visit www.eatmywheat.com or www.urbanagrarian.com.

– (published May 3, 2013)

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