Filmmaker Federico Fellini once said that life was “a combination of magic and pasta.” Mike Ruymen took that to heart 30 years ago, whipped up some handmade fettuccine with pesto and never looked back.
Now you can’t miss his ever-expanding lineup of Pasta Mike’s products, with their colorful labels created by James Aschbacher, in deli cases all over the region.
GT caught up with Ruymen to talk three decades of honing fan favorites, inventions gone awry and how often he eats his own pasta.
Did you ever think it would go on this long?
Mike Ruymen: I love food, which is why I became a cook at the age of 17. I left New York for California and missed my mom’s home cooking. After the first few years the business was going good, and that gave me confidence. I had some obstacles along the way, but in my heart I knew this was my destiny. Now as I look back I’m just like, ‘Wow.’ I really accomplished my vision to bring an honest quality product to the community.
What products have worked best for you in terms of consumer demand?
Ruymen: I have definitely streamlined my products to what people like. My fresh fettuccine with my classic alfredo sauce is a classic combo. Raviolis such as portabella mushroom, eggplant parmesan, and the spinach, feta and olive also sell well, catering to the more eclectic taste buds. There is also a following for my vegan raviolis. One has cashew and roasted red peppers, and the other has pesto with almonds and tofu.
Were there some false starts? Some experiments that didn’t make the cut?
Ruymen: Well, where do I start (laughs)? Somewhere into my third year of business, I was a crazed creative pastaman. I was coming up with some unusual ravioli fillings. There was the New Mex-style ravioli with goat cheese, black beans, chipotle, and mint. I had curried yam ravioli called “Yamosa,” and a Cajun-seasoned filling with smoked tofu.
I created an unusual sauce using caramelized red onions sautéed in a huge amount of butter, then mixed with honey, mustard and gorgonzola cheese. I loved it on fettuccine, although not everyone was on board.
What are the latest innovations?
Ruymen: My seasonal raviolis are my most recent. The sweet potato ones spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and a dash of cayenne are really good with browned butter and sage on a rainy winter day. The roasted asparagus with Jarlsberg cheese used to be seasonal. Now I can find organic asparagus throughout the year. I added my traditional cheese ravioli a few years back, which was my grandmother’s recipe told to me by my elderly aunt 25 years ago. She said so sweet and simply, ‘Ricotta, egg, parsley, and pepper. That’s all.’
Do you eat your own pasta? or do you find yourself fantasizing about other food, for example sushi?
Ruymen: I absolutely eat my own pasta, on average one or two times a week. How could I not after a long day of work and a fridge full of fresh pasta? So easy, so delicious. Having so many varieties keeps it fresh for me. I’ll crave cheese ravioli with marinara to satisfy my childhood memories of my mom’s cooking. Sometimes I need the comfort of carbs with cream and have a bowl of pappardelle with alfredo sauce. My personal favorite is my pesto tossed with al dente angel hair, boiled for one minute only. I’ll also add vegetables or Italian sausage to turn it up.
I’d like to thank all the Santa Cruz pasta lovers for their support. Thank you!
Congratulations Mike on 30 delicious years. And FYI—my personal favorite Pasta Mike’s product is the eggplant and cheese ravioli. Light, easy to fix and loaded with flavor!