The art of pasta at The Worthington Inn
When The Worthington Inn needs a batch of pasta, executive chef Tom Smith calls one man: Terry Kerns. For about 10 hours every week for the last three years, the Bexley-based faux painter stops by the Inn to hand-make big batches of gnocchi and ravioli. The supply is measured day to day. If the kitchen runs low, Smith simply sends Kerns a text message, and in between paint jobs he comes in to make more. It's an easy relationship based on shared history and a passion for scratch-made food.
Kern's interest in pasta was piqued years ago while working at Rigsby's Kitchen. In the back, he would watch a fellow cook, known to him as Miss Paulette, craft plate after plate of gnocchi. From there, his interest in pasta making only grew. He read any book he could find. He was tutored by any "red-sauce Italian" who would take him up on the offer, including longtime cooks from Dante's Pizza and TAT Ristorante di Famiglia. When Smith, also a Rigsby's vet, asked if he would be interested in making pasta at the Inn, Kerns spent nine months researching for the role.
"He has a kind of painter's patience, an artist's eye," Smith says. "All the time he's perfecting it."
"Time and time again, I've basically been told: It's a feel," Kerns says of pasta making. "You'll know when the dough is right. It just flows. There's no way to explain it, really. When I make a batch, Tom and his sous chef-you can see it in their faces, if [the pasta] is there, or if it's not."
Kerns' recipe for gnocchi is simple: Yukon Gold potatoes, all-purpose flour, free-range eggs and a shake of olive oil. Sometimes he'll throw in a little milk and water to get the dough moving. No two batches are the same.
"A lot of it's about atmosphere-the potatoes, the heat of the kitchen," he says. "You kind of go into a zone, and you have to be patient. You can't hurry this stuff. When I go in [to the restaurant] to do it, I have to be relaxed, in the right headspace, and I can't stress that enough.
"It's like a religion," he continues. "When you talk to these older Italian guys, when they say the word 'pasta,' it has a magical ring to it. I'm honored to be a part of their art." worthingtoninn.com
Pasta fun facts from The Worthington Inn
- One night, Frank Serpico, the famed New York City cop, stopped into the Inn and ordered gnocchi. "He actually told us, 'I can't even find this kind of gnocchi in New York,' " Kerns says. "He was blown away by it. And I have to give credit to Tom [Smith], Kent [Rigsby] and all these guys who I learned from."
- Chef Tom Smith sources free-range chicken eggs for the Inn's pasta dough. "There's just a richness you won't have otherwise," he says. "It's just better when they're allowed to eat grass and grubs and worms."
- Smith loathes pasta dishes that force the diner to eat "20 bites of the same thing." So he strives to make the Inn's plates light, bright and balanced. Parmesan cheese, black pepper and lemon are three of his favorite add-ons for the restaurant's gnocchi.