Tom and Terry live in an unforgotten corner of Arizona. Most days, their parents are away from home. It doesn’t bother them. They unlock their 5th and 4th grade imagination to evenly divide the world.
Tom dislikes strawberries. It’s bitter and tart. However chocolate sings to his soul. To Terry, chocolate tastes more like dirt than the dusty field across from the house. He prefers to slide on sweet strawberry silk.
This friendly categorization continues with everything. Even in joint play. Tom is Captain Kirk. Terry is Mr. Spock.
Colors are divided. Seats in the car. Favorite Star Wars characters. Everything.
Tom marches off to engineering school to master chemistry. Terry skips off to art school to draw comic books. Even bachelor degrees can be evenly divided: the sciences and the arts.
Their worlds expand. Intelligence sharpen. Then the Holidays. Tom stands for tradition. He wants meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Terry cries for Asian fusion.
Conversation steers to social economic issues. Tom argues the conservative point. He demands that the new direction is reckless. It tosses out beauty of the status quo. “We got here for a reason, you know!”
Terry quotes Einstein’s definition of insanity: “to repeat the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome.” He takes up the progressive view.
They argue until they are red and blue in the face. Tom, red. Terry, blue.
This is where their father intercedes. As a son of an immigrant family he sees the value of both stability and novelty. He takes them into his home office and dusts off a book. A faded picture reveals Nonna. Her hands are not gnarled and spotted like the way Tom and Terry remember. They are slender and graceful.
Nonna’s face is serene as pasta dough is flattened under an oak dowel. A tall pot stands at attention like a soldier waiting for orders. She is making ravioli. A recipe that her mother taught her. And her mother before her.
Some Americans are lucky enough to have a Nonna who cooked from the old country. The very recipes buried deep inside of their bones.
For the rest of us, invite yourself to Trattoria 10 in downtown Chicago if you dare taste the old country. The chef cooks like a Nonna. But there is a bigger lesson here.
Tom and Terry stand at odds over innovation.
Terry insists that innovation requires something new. Something bold. Something that does not exist in the world today. The next iPhone.
Tom dismisses this logic. He argues for flawless execution. He sees process improvement as innovative. Fewer steps. Less energy. Perfect form.
Both Tom and Terry miss the third mindset. It’s easy to understand innovation as Terry’s break from the here and now. Yet we must also realize that Tom also breaks tradition.
Tom’s ritual for ravioli is simple. Cheesy pillows smothered in red sauce with graded Parmesan straight from Parma. He thinks that in order to live his belief system, he must eat the way of his ancestors. So he buys perfectly formed ravioli from the freezer section. Then unjars Lydia’s organic basil-infused marinara. Viola. Tradition on the table.
Trattoria 10 lives all three mindsets. They know that not a single Nonna grew up with a freezer section. So they roll their own pasta dough. They fill it with deliciousness cooked up from nimble hands and creative ideas.
They are not afraid to bend classic recipes to delight the novelty-seeking diners either. Ricotta, roasted corn and pancetta under a blanket of marsala cream frolic on the palate in one dish.
Meaty goodness and spicy ariabiata pander to the traditionalist mindset.
However what makes their art and science remarkable is an embrace of ridiculousness. It is easy enough to buy factory pasta. Instead they stand behind the imperfection that comes with hand-rolled, hand-stuffed and hand-cut pasta. They know how to look forward and keep a mind on the present. And know how to honor the past.
This is the power of higher conscious cooking. They know that to innovate, sometimes it’s important go backwards. To throw off the tethers of both convenience and inventive mashups. Those are easy tricks. Modern tricks.
They demonstrate that improvement can be a flywheel that moves in the opposite direction. To embrace the past as a teaching lesson. Something to emulate rather than evacuate.
It’s my hope for this readership that they appreciate these decisions. These small acts of courage to treat authenticity as a form of innovation.
And if travel to Chicago is not in your near future, then watch an expert balloonist, a decedent of a famous paper making family and an archivist attempt to recreate man’s first air travel.
They mean to rebuild what Benjamin Franklin witnessed in Paris in 1783. Two brothers lift from the earth in their own “air-filled ravioli.”