Yes, there are more Italian chefs with really good Italian restaurants in Oklahoma, but none of them — none — has more expertise or produces better pasta than the executive chef of culinary operations at the Francis Tuttle School of Culinary Arts.
Becker gained his expertise as any true paisan would expect it: repetition.
Pasta, you see, is extraordinarily simple to make. It calls for a modicum of ingredients. There is no secret code to follow or special incantations to recite. It’s flour, eggs, salt and patient, careful hands to make a dough, and perhaps some equipment to get a specific shape.
This is how it’s been done for centuries in Italy and spread all around the world. The difficulty in making pasta, aside from finding the time, usually comes down to handling the dough.
When you watch chef Becker handle dough, it’s clear he’s been well-trained. Even when he sprinkles a little flour on the work surface to roll the dough, Becker does it with style and aplomb. His hands treat the dough the way a mother handles her child — carefully, purposefully and with 100 percent adoration. This man loves his work, and it shows in the result.
Becker’s passion for pasta began at Lupa then continued at Del Posto in New York. He eventually ran the pastaria at Del Posto, which is regarded among the finest Italian restaurants in the United States. But then boy met girl from Oklahoma, and Del Posto owners Mario Batali and John Bastianich were left to find another pasta impresario.
New York’s loss was our gain, and on top of running the various restaurant concepts at Francis Tuttle’s Rockwell campus, Becker is celebrating two years in business as owner of Della Terra Pasta Co. He now offers both fresh pasta and dried pasta through the company. You can find out more about his products online at eatmywheat.com.
For Chef It Up, Becker decided to remove the mystique from gnocchi and expose it for what it is: extremely simple to make.
First he baked four potatoes on a layer of salt on a sheet pan, let them cool, then pushed them through a wire mesh tamis. Pronounced “tammy,” the device looks like a tambourine with mesh instead of hide — cymbals optional.
Then he added a small amount of dough to the cooled potato and some eggs to bind the dough.
“For gnocchi, we don’t knead the dough because we’re not trying to engage the glutens. The flour is really just to help hold the potato together for our dumplings.”
Next he built a large brick out of the potato dough, then carved away strips to be gently rolled out into snakes of dough. He then clipped the “snakes” into small balls. Those balls get a dimple before being placed on the back of a fork, where he gently rolled them hard enough to make indentions.
“The indentions help the sauce cling to the dumpling,” he explained.
The dumplings then went into hot, salted water and cooked a few minutes until they were done.
While the dumplings cooked, Becker made a simple sauce using melted butter and some of the starch-charged water in which the gnocchi pellets were brought to life.
Then he swirled the finished gnocchi in the butter sauce and topped it with some microgreens and fresh-grated Parmesan cheese.
The result was sigh-inspiring.
And when you make this dish that takes more patience than precision, you will understand from whence those sighs came.