Pasta Provocateur Joe Sasto Pairs Live Rosin with Sunday Gravy
Ragu for You
Chef Joe Sasto’s work is about more than just cooking—it’s about creating an experience for those who gather at his table.
For this, he credits his mom. “We didn’t always have the newest, best things,” he says. “I think for her it was, why not make food the entertainment, the exciting, important driving factor?”
Every night of his Las Vegas childhood, she’d make her family sit and eat together. If she didn’t have time to cook, she’d carve a store-bought rotisserie chicken and serve it on a nice platter. Having mastered her native French cuisine and his father’s Italian cooking, friends would wake from weekend sleepovers to a seemingly endless parade of her fragrant, warm crepes and bowls of DIY fillings and toppings. No one could best her meaty Sunday gravy. “Rather than food being an afterthought, it was the main event,” he says.
Italian food became his main event, too.
I feel an obligation to make sure this is getting done in the best light… I want to be careful about removing stigmas, giving the best possible experience, and not overdosing people.
Sasto spent his formative professional years under Bay Area chefs Jason Berthold, Adam Sobel and Michael Tusk, working with local ingredients and Italian-influenced cuisine. He found further inspiration traveling through Europe. He started to develop a unique style of handmade pasta, incorporating blood-red beets, wine-purple cabbage and forest-brown mushrooms into dough for a stunning rainbow of lippy cavatelli, star-fringed ravioli and flowery campanelle.
Los Angeles-based Sasto’s roaming pop-up dinners combine his passion for local ingredients, classic French and Italian techniques and a powerful punch of evocative experience. He doesn’t care if you call the sauce a ragu, gravy or Bolognese—he just hopes the final dishes lead to happy places.
The slow-cooked ragu calls for pork belly in place of the sausages, meatballs and whole pig trotters used in his mom’s classic Sunday sauce. The beet Bolognese respects the root vegetable as a prime cut of meat, relying on a sofrito technique for maximum flavor. A creamy cauliflower puree evokes the flavors of an everything bagel with cream cheese and lox.
The three fundamental techniques—ragu, sofrito and puree—leave room for seasonal and regional adaptation. The same goes with the suggested pastas: Toss over grains like barley or farro for an equally satisfying finale.
As a young chef working his way up the line, Sasto used cannabis to ease body pain and emotional pressure after long shifts and he’d witnessed its therapeutic powers firsthand. Before she passed away from lung cancer, while he was in college, his mother used cannabis to help curb her pain and increase her appetite. So did his friend and fellow “Top Chef” competitor Fatima Ali, who died in January.
“I feel an obligation to make sure this is getting done in the best light,” he says. “I want to be careful about removing stigmas, giving the best possible experience, and not overdosing people.”
Rather than infuse an entire dish—which can add undesirable flavors—he pairs courses with live rosin selected for their terpenes, smoked out of vaporizers. “The terpenes of the plant are what make the best pairings,” he says. They “add an attractive approach for a chef because you’re painting with a whole new flavor palette,” he says. For the pork ragu, Sasto looks for terpenes with notes of garlic, umami, onion, and mushroom inherent in a strain like GMO. The beet pairs best with sharp, fruity notes and earthy aromatics like clove and spice, say from Cream Soda. For the cauliflower pasta, he suggests complementary pine and juniper or contrasting citrus you’d encounter from something like Cookies and Cream.
Vaping safely allows each guest to hit at their comfort level, and a shot of espresso or sugary soda can quickly counteract overconsumption. Because live rosin coats the mouth with the full flavor of the strain and its terpenes, this approach offers guests even more of a reason to slow down and savor the experience together.
Jacqueline Raposo is a New York-based interviewer, author, and podcast producer who uses medical cannabis to live happily with lifelong chronic illness. Jacquelineraposo.com
By Jacqueline Raposo
Photography by Eva Kolenko
Food Styling by Adam Pearson
Prop Styling by Stephanie Hanes