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On a Friday morning in March, Big Mouth Pasta owner Kelly Messori is prepping ingredients in the kitchen of Macha Tea Co. on East Johnson Street. Messori’s husband and co-owner Damian Messori stretches out a large piece of buttercup yellow dough as Kelly flashes a big smile. “This is fresh pasta right here,” she says. “Like, made-right-this-second fresh!”
Standing near bowls of prosciutto chips and shredded kale, Kelly looks around the shelves for a strainer. This isn’t her kitchen after all; today Big Mouth Pasta has staged a friendly take-over of Macha, a popular spot for tea and weekend brunch, and this morning’s host for a fresh pasta lunch. This is what the pop-up business does — Big Mouth hosts special lunches and dinners around town, the next scheduled for March 22 at the Robin Room. The business also offers monthly hands-on classes (which sell out in advance) for people who want to learn how to make fresh pasta at home.
Kelly grew up in Wisconsin but went to culinary school for pastry arts in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is where she met Damian. Like many people in Argentina, Damian’s family is originally from Italy and his grandmother used to make fresh pasta every Sunday. “It was a family tradition,” Kelly says. “His grandmother would make pasta in the morning and everyone would eat it for lunch.” Kelly was working in marketing at the time but also making sweet pastry items as a side business, including a lot of chocolate chip cookies for expat Americans. When Kelly met Damian and his family, she was inspired to use her pastry skills to start making her own fresh pasta at home.
After leaving Argentina, the Messoris lived briefly in Denver before moving to Wisconsin last year. Landing in Madison, a place with an amazing variety of local produce and cheeses, Kelly and Damian knew they wanted to start a pasta business but weren’t exactly sure what kind.
“We were having so much fun playing around with ingredients and knew we wanted to do something,” Kelly says. “A pop-up seemed to be the way we could start doing something without investing a ton of money like if we were opening a restaurant.” With a tight-knit food community, Kelly says Madison is a great place to start a pop-up restaurant — a temporary restaurant that operates out of someone else’s kitchen usually to gain exposure.
Kelly says their original idea for the business was to only make one type of Argentine pasta called sorrentino, a large filled pasta, and she came up with the name Big Mouth while meditating. “You would have to have a big mouth to eat sorrentino,” Kelly explains. “And Argentines like to talk a lot, too,” Damian chimes in. “So the name has multiple meanings.” The Messoris eventually decided to make other types of pasta as well, but the name Big Mouth Pasta stuck.
Big Mouth’s first pop-up event was a dinner last September at Milwaukee’s Amilinda before debuting in Madison a couple of weeks later at La Kitchenette on Willy Street. Since that time, Big Mouth has popped up at the Bar at Estrellon, Pasture & Plenty and Gib’s Bar. Menus change for each event and Kelly says while they originally planned to focus on Argentine ingredients, now they enjoy relying on local ingredients as much as possible.
“It’s so much more fun to go to market and see what there is,” Kelly says.
With not as much local produce available during winter months, Kelly turned her attention to cheese. A goat cheese from Fromagination was the inspiration for one of the pasta dishes at their pop-up at Macha, an arugula goat cheese cappelletti with hollandaise. Another dish featured butternut squash, a fall and winter staple. But Kelly is definitely looking ahead to the growing season. “Cooking seasonally is easy in summer!”
Check Big Mouth’s website for new events, including a seven-course spring pasta tasting menu with wine pairings on Friday, April 27 at a secret location. Pre-sale reservations are currently available. “It's kind of like an underground supper club or ‘puerta cerrada’ as they call them in Buenos Aires. It's a much more intimate experience than our pop-ups,” Kelly says. Big Mouth Pasta will also begin occasionally offering homemade pasta and sauce delivered to your door this month. But don’t look for a stationary Big Mouth Pasta restaurant anytime soon.
“So far, we really like doing pop-ups,” Kelly says. “We can be flexible and creative.”