Scratch pasta chef, Stephanie Fees creates high-quality Small Batch pasta in lyh
By Robin Sutton Anders
Stephanie Fees isn’t Italian. She didn’t even grow up in a pasta-loving family. But she loves to eat it, and she loves to make it—two reasons that are good enough for the devotees who make a bee-line to her booth at the Forest Farmers Market to buy fresh pasta to get them through the week.
This week, they stocked up on her lemon-basil pasta and her spicy garlic pasta, a macaroni shape perfect for mac and cheese. “It has a little cayenne pepper in it,” she reveals. “The lemon-basil is great with pasta salad; just toss in a little feta, basil and herbs.”
While she’s at the market, Fees picks up whatever’s in season and throws it in her dough. “Chives, basil, rosemary, sage—just depends on the week,” she says. That, plus ingredients from her parents’ small Lynchburg farm, give her all she needs to make high-quality, small-batch pastas.
“Since pasta is inexpensive and super accessible, I’ve always felt comfortable experimenting with lots of different pastas.” Like her chocolate pasta and beet pasta, she explains. “When it’s something you eat multiple times a week, you’ll take a chance, even if sounds weird!”
Plus, at the end of the day, there’s nothing more satisfying than a bowl of pasta, Fees says. “I think pasta is amazing because it’s quick to make, and you can run the gamut from making cheesy pasta on a Monday night when you’re totally exhausted, or serving a big dinner party with a show-stopping main course. Not many foods can do both so beautifully.”
After graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City in 2010, Fees left her job in the city and worked as a chef at West Virginia’s Greenbrier. “It’s amazing and such a huge undertaking—they have about 15 different food outlets, between their main dining room and casual food options.”
Working at the Greenbriar, Fees trained under great cooks. “And great teachers,” she adds. “They have a huge selection of Italian food they make from scratch.”
Fees continued perfecting her pasta-making skills a few years later when she returned to her hometown of Lynchburg. Her mom was taking over West Manor, a Lynchburg wedding venue, and asked Fees to head up the catering arm—a stint she expected to be just a few months but ended up doing for four years.
“The wedding business is seasonal, so there’s a lot of downtime in the winter. I loved making pasta from scratch for weddings, and I read about a woman in California who was making pasta in her kitchen and selling it at local farmers markets.”
When Fees ran the idea by Jennifer Kennedy, the manager of Lynchburg’s farmers market at the time, she said “yes, yes, yes, do it,” Fees remembers. “She gave me the push I needed.”
And no pasta education would be complete without a trip to Italy, where Fees attended an intense, week-long pasta school.
Fees loves the simplicity of pasta—and she likens making it to playing with a Play-Doh machine, where you get to experiment with sizes and shapes. “My base is just two ingredients—Semolina flour and water,” she says. “Then you can have fun with spices, herbs, flavorings, and vegetables to give it color and flavor.
The proof is in the pasta: “A lot of people stop by my booth at the farmers market and say, ‘yeah, I’ll give it a try!’ And sometimes, you have a customer for five years.’”
That’s happened so often that Fees is opening a Bedford Avenue storefront this fall. “The building we bought is turning into a foodie complex,” she says. “My pasta shop will sell fresh pasta, dried pasta, and various other foods—things you need to grab and go for a quick dinner. Right next door, there will be a bakery where you can get a nice loaf of bread and dessert.”
She gives a lot of credit to her mother—“my number one employee!” Fees says. “She helps me with farmers markets, boxing pastas, wrapping pastas, you name it, she’s done everything.”
Fees is confident the pasta shop-bakery combo is just what Lynchburg needs. “I think our local community will really embrace an artisan food shop that sells house-made products. It’s fun to see how much people in Lynchburg support new businesses when they have a connection to their community.”
Robin Sutton Anders is a Greensboro, N.C.-based writer and the managing editor of Verdant Word Communications.