How this Vancouver chef became Instagram’s ‘That Pasta Girl’

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Sometimes the best ideas are borne of necessity. For Vancouver chef Sonja Schmidt, necessity is what led her to evolve her professional life to become “That Pasta Girl,” with an Instagram feed full of her compelling creations to match.

Rigatoni. Casarecce. Fettucine. If it’s a pasta on the menu at Oddfish, Nook, and Tavola, Schmidt is making it. The Vancouver transplant says she had been working in the kitchens of Nook and Tavola, but the dinner service hours were a struggle for the single mom just back from maternity leave.

“It was difficult,” Schmidt tells Vancouver Is Awesome via e-mail. “So, when I approached my bosses regarding my situation, they found a new place for me in the restaurant as a pasta maker and prep cook.”

Schmidt morphed into “That Pasta Girl” on Instagram soon after.

“I started my Pasta Girl account as I was getting some request for follows on my private account through my works Instagram page, and that’s my personal life and basically not much pasta to see, it’s like almost every other parents account: photos of my kid,” she explains.

While Instagram is the playground for foodies and chefs and influencers, teeming with well-lit flat-lays and evocative close ups of beautifully plated food, melting ice cream cones, and decadents eats, an account that’s devoted to the simplicity of uncooked, unadorned, unplated pasta stands out…but still strikes a chord for many food fans.

But is it still the kind of “food porn” that Instagram’s foodies flock to?

“I feel pasta can be [food porn] before it’s cooked,” attests Schmidt. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder right?”

Beholders, for their part, are definitely finding Schmidt’s pasta pics beautiful. Her feed is mesmerizing, and offers a welcome balance from what’s become the norm in food photos on the social media service. There’s an elegant simplicity in her raw pastas that can still make you hungry–no small feat!

Schmidt says she opted not to put herself in the Instagram account name or feed, without thinking some might find the anonymity almost mysterious.

“I feel the pasta should speak for its self in the photo and that be the focal point, not my face,” the chef explains.

Although pasta was not how she began her culinary career–Schmidt trained in Ottawa at Algonquin College before moving to Vancouver to begin cooking professionally–she has quickly adapted to her role making the many beautiful pastas for the restaurants.

There’s much to be said for piles of freshly-made spaghetti, but Schmidt admits she prefers the ones that aren’t the standard.

“My favorite pastas to make are any specials the cooks order that aren’t the usual suspects. I like Mafalde, Tagliatelle, Gnocchetti, Fettuccine or anything with colour,” explains Schmidt.

Routine comes into play a lot when it comes to spending your day making pasta. It’s all about perfecting the craft and creating the best product possible.

“The challenging [pastas] are the ones I don’t work with too often, like an egg Tagliatelle,” says Schmidt. “I just want to perfect it and not have jagged edges. When you are staring at pasta for 7, 8 sometimes 9 hours you notice the little things and want to do better.”

While Schmidt is surrounded by pasta all day–she’s That Pasta Girl, after all!–she still loves to eat it.

“I eat pasta probably three times a week at least. My favourite hands down is the spaghetti Bolognese from Nook, it is just amazing.”

You can see what Schmidt is making via her Instagram feed @_thatpastagirl_, or once it’s cooked and dressed on the table at Oddfish, Nook, and Tavola.

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Lindsay is a Senior Writer at Vancouver Is Awesome. A fourth generation Vancouverite, she was previously the Food Editor of Daily Hive and Senior Editor of Vancity Buzz. Lindsay grew up in Vancouver and Toronto, then spent over 20 years in Los Angeles, where she was EIC of the city's top blog, earned her Masters in English, attended culinary school, and was an English professor. Lindsay's first published piece was December 1980 in The Province; it was her letter to Santa. E-mail: lindsay@vancouverisawesome.com