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When Thomas McNaughton and Ryan Pollnow, co-chefs of San Francisco’s Flour+Water Hospitality Group, met, they immediately clicked. “We very much speak the same language around food,” Thomas says. “From the general philosophy to the ethos towards sourcing, all the way down to management style.”
Thomas was two years into Flour+Water—a restaurant focused on Neopolitan-style pizza and fresh, handmade pasta—when Ryan joined the team in 2011. More than a decade later, the Flour+Water team has not only made a name for themselves in the Bay Area as a stand-alone restaurant, but they’ve also expanded into a full-on hospitality group that includes Flour+Water, Penny Roma, Flour+Water Pasta Shop, and a partnership with cocktail bar, Trick Dog. Soon, they will add Flour+Water Pizzeria to the restaurant family.
The pair describes themselves as coming from different directions of similar culinary backgrounds. “We were both kind of chasing fine dining and wanting that Michelin Star-exclusive experience, so we [individually] went to Europe for different stage opportunities,” Ryan explains. They shared the same goal of wanting to prioritize specific facets of the fine-dining experience—sourcing, cooking techniques, honoring ingredients, and showing them in their best light—without the exclusivity and stuffy environment that the highbrow dining scene often breeds. “Having a broad audience is something that the fine-dining world doesn’t get,” Ryan continues. “It’s a very narrow, almost elitist audience that you’re cooking for. So, being able to source the same ingredients as those restaurants that do 40 to 60 [seats] a night, but in an environment like Flour+Water or Penny Roma, where we’re feeding a couple hundred people, that was really inspiring. It kind of changed my mentality of why I cook. It’s to feed people.”
Each establishment within the restaurant group has its own focus, but is propelled by a shared mission: creating culinary experiences that reflect a commitment to quality, community impact, and transparency. “Really at the center of [everything we do], our cause and purpose is around regenerative agriculture,” Thomas explains.
Regenerative agriculture, also known as carbon farming, works to restore soil biology by naturally pulling literal tons of carbon out of the atmosphere, bringing the soil back to life, and replenishing nutrients. Zero Foodprint, which won the 2020 Humanitarian of the Year James Beard Foundation Award, is an organization that allows businesses to get involved in carbon farming by adding a 1 percent charge to each purchase. The proceeds from that 1 percent are then used to work towards “turning bad carbon into good carbon.” Not only does each of the Flour+Water Group’s restaurants apply this 1 percent Zero-Foodprint charge to its orders, but the brand’s dried pasta is also one of the first consumer packaged goods (CPG) to do the same. (You can read more about just how Zero Foodprint makes change happen here.)
Thomas and Ryan’s focus on the environment exists on a macro, climate-based level, as well as a micro, restaurant-focused level. “I want people to be inspired [when they come to work],” Ryan says. “Happy cooks make happy food. It tastes better, right?” They work to support their employees, something that isn’t always a given in the restaurant industry. Some ways they do this are via competitive compensation, medical benefits, a 401k option, and a DE&I task force. “[It is important to us that we’re] making sure that the environments we’re all in are ones that people truly enjoy being in, whether they’re working or dining with us. Anyone that enters our restaurants is looked at as a human being, as an equal.”
If you’re into the Flour+Water ethos or you’ve been wanting to try your hand at making a version of their pizza and pasta at home, Thomas and Ryan can help. Below you’ll find the 14 items they always have on hand, and recommend, for anyone wanting to recreate Flour+Water’s favorites in their own home.
“Consistency is one of the most important parts of the professional kitchen,” says Thomas and Ryan. “When measuring ingredients in volume, the true amount can differ depending on who is measuring and what they’re using to measure. By using a scale (especially when set in grams), we can remove variance, and therefore the opportunity for inconsistency. We use a kitchen scale to weigh out pizza and pasta dough ingredients along with a number of other kitchen tasks.”
“For traditional Neapolitan pizza, the tomato sauce [we make] is simply canned tomatoes run through a food mill to create the right consistency before topping the dough,” says the duo. “We also use a food mill for tomatoes used in pasta sauce and for processing cooked potatoes into gnocchi.”
Thomas and Ryan’s top pasta-making tip? “Save your pasta water!” They explain that a better plate of pasta almost always comes from “using a ladle of the pasta cooking water in your sauce to help season and add body.” The Flour+Water team also uses a small ladle to add sauce to pizza dough before spreading it over the surface to coat.
“Great pasta is all about texture,” they say. “By using a large wood cutting board as your work surface for forming pasta, you’re adding a small imprint of texture on each noodle. We also use the large surface for preparing pizza toppings and stretching out portioned pizza dough.”
5. An Electric pasta roller, $220
For Thomas and Ryan, “a pasta roller is key to speeding up your fresh pasta production.” The pair “loves the craftsmanship of the Imperia La Rame 150 machine,” but since they’re hard to find in the U.S., they suggest opting for KitchenAid’s electric version because it “helps the beginner pasta maker thanks to its consistent rolling speed.”
6. A Manual Pasta Cutter,
“These durable and stylish pasta cutters help make you look like a pro,” the pair agrees. “Whether cutting straight lines for short noodles or adding a fluted edge to your filled pasta, these hand-held cutter wheels allow you to cut your pasta with confidence and precision.”
7. A Cavarola Board, $42
If you’re looking to level up your fresh pasta game, they recommend adding cavarola board to your kitchen. “Try making some hand-formed noodles like cavatelli pressed over these artisanal cavarola boards,” Ryan and Thomas say. “The pattern not only looks great but also adds to the exterior texture of your pasta.”
Want something a little more budget-friendly? Try this Italian-made gnocchi stripper.
8. A Stainless Steel Stockpot, $280
“A big mistake that most people make when cooking pasta is not having enough water volume to keep the product at a rolling boil,” they say. “We suggest four quarts of water in a 6-quart stock pot to make sure your pound of pasta stays moving during the entire cook time.”
After years of perfecting the process of bronze-die-extruded pasta in their restaurants, the co-chefs launched a dried pasta line that applies the techniques they love and obsess over. “Bronze-die pasta is essential for making a better bowl of spaghetti at home,” the pair explains. “Dried pasta is formed by pressing the dough through an extruder that molds it into various shapes, and bronze dies impart an unbeatable texture to each noodle. The result is a textured pasta perfect for soaking up sauce.”
10. Boska Ceramic Pizza Stone, $30+
This stone is Ryan and Thomas’s choice for “turning any oven or grill into a pizza oven.” How exactly does that work? “The stone holds heat and therefore sets the bottom of your pizza crust, giving you more structure and an even bake,” they explain.
11. Ooni Pizza Cutter, $25
“We prefer a wheel-style pizza cutter for at-home use,” says Thomas and Ryan. “These wheels are great for almost any pizza style you’re trying to create in the home kitchen.”
12. Bushwick Kitchen Spicy Honey Duo, $28
It’s all in the details. “Want to really impress your dinner guests?,” the duo asks. “A little drizzle of spicy honey is the perfect finishing touch to a sausage or pepperoni pizza, but also works great with a four-cheese blend. Spicy, salty, sweet.”
13. The Smart Oven® Pizzaiolo, $1000
If you’re wanting to go all-in on an appliance, Thomas and Ryan suggest this electric pizza oven by Breville. “[It] does an amazing job of recreating the environment of a restaurant’s wood-burning oven. The high heat mimics our 900-degree wood-fired oven at Flour+Water.”
14. Nordic Ware Stackable Cooling Rack, $34
Unless you want to burn your mouth, you’ll want to let your pizzas cool before digging in. “When we pull a pizza out of the oven at the restaurants, we always let it set for a moment on a wire rack, which allows some of the moisture from the crust to escape before it has a chance to sog out the bottom crust,” they say. “We love the Nordic Ware Stackable Cooling Rack because it allows us to cook multiple pies at a time.”
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