-By Emily Anderson
With a dash of energy, a sprinkling of creativity, a dollop of hard work and lots of love, Jeff Gardner is a 34-year-old chef from Eugene, Ore. who is cooking up one awesome business. While growing his pasta business, aptly named Pasta Gardner, Jeff is reaping the rewards of his pasta garden empire-to-be that he has so earnestly worked hard to sew. Jeff is a friendly, lanky, smiling entrepreneur who is very proud to be doing what he’s doing.
Gardner has cooked in Napa Valley, Calif., Georgia, and Italy (where he attended a school called ItalCook) before coming back to live in Eugene. Gardner is a huge fan of Italy in general, and he loves cooking because it brings people together. He is a “certified sous chef,” which is a designation he opted to receive about three years ago from the American Culinary Federation – a membership-based organization that provides exams to chefs to prepare them for certification – to let people know he can cook. Under one of his photos on his website reads the title “CHEF / PASTA-PRENEUR.” Perhaps his love of puns is why his business name works so well, or perhaps it’s his hard-working demeanor, but either way, a talented, hard working chef and businessman can and should deserve success.
In 2014 Jeff began selling his pasta which he makes from scratch using flour from a local mill and his own pasta maker. His seeds of hope began to sprout when his hobby-turned-passion came to fruition after spending several years perfecting his recipes before he found his perfect match in pasta heaven when he decided to use Camas Country Mill’s flour in his pasta noodles. But even then, it took him about a year of testing different Camas Country Mill’s flours to find the “right texture and bite,” as Gardner puts it.
Once this “aha!” moment came, he knew he was on to something. He realized he could bring his pastas to local farmer’s markets to see what other people thought. His dreams sprouted further in 2015 once he cooked for guests touring homes in the Tour of Homes tour (put on by the Home Builders Association of Lane County). As his web of culinary acquaintances grew, he received more offers to help cook at restaurants and events. He started selling his pasta at Eugene’s Saturday Market. A representative of Sundance Natural Foods tried Gardner’s pasta at Long’s Meat Market in Eugene, which is the first place Gardner sold his pasta. Then someone from The Kiva Grocery in Eugene tasted his stuff and as time went on, Gardner’s pasta business flourished. His pasta is also for sale at the Whole Foods Eugene location, as well as Sundance Natural Foods in Eugene. It’s like the movie Field of Dreams – If you Build It, He Will Come! But replace he with they, as in customers, and they have come. And as of this past spring, Gardner’s pasta is now sold in all Market of Choice grocery stores.
Gardner sells his fresh pasta at variety of farmers markets in Eugene and, more recently, the Portland region. Jeff connected with people at the Food Innovation Center in Portland. (The Food Innovation Center is part of the College of Agricultural Sciences of Oregon State University. This center helps people test and bring their products to market.) And as Jeff’s circle of friends grew into the Portland region, so did his ability to expand his sales reach. Customers can purchase 10 types of pastas from his online store: https://www.pastagardner.com/store. A few restaurants also use his pastas in their establishments: Membrillo, Noisette, and Party Downtown in Eugene and Homegrown Public House in Florence, Ore. He does not sell all 10 pastas at his farmer’s market tables nor in the stores that stock them. He sells only a few flavors. His favorite shape is the radiatore, and the first pasta he ever sold and pushed the most was the organic red wheat radiatore. “Radiatore” is the Italian word for radiator, and this fun pasta shape is named because it resembles small radiators.
Being busy and having fun is what attracts Jeff to cooking. He loves eating good food while socializing. He loves that foods connects people.
Gardner is often invited to help friends cook at private dinner parties. Most recently, he cooked at a dinner party on Saturday, Oct. 21 at Gran Moraine Winery in Yamhill, Ore. He has cooked at this winery over the years, on an as-needed basis.
Gardner likes to experiment with creative flavor profiles. He sells cricket-flavored pasta as well as cocoa-flavored pasta (sans crickets). He was recently featured on a local Eugene-area news channel’s segment called “In The Kitchen” in which he showed the host how to make a noodle kugel. (A kugel is a Jewish word used to describe a baked casserole that has pudding-like consistency.) In this segment, Gardner makes his own variation of a kugel with Pasta Gardner
cocoa pasta. The recipe can be found on the news site:
His business associate is also a chef. Chef Clive Wanstall teaches culinary arts at Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore and has since 1998. He’s just as friendly as Gardner, and the two make a great dream team. This is evident in the videos Gardner has shared on his Instagram and Facebook feed when the two of them demonstrate their pasta at Market of Choice grocery stores. Pasta Gardner makes its own bags and the logo is simple, yet well-designed.
Gardner is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, which was an academic cooking journey he embarked upon after receiving a scholarship. He attended Lane Community College when this opportunity arose and Chef Wanstall gave Gardner friendly advice that he ought to take the opportunity in New York. Chef Wanstall is a long-time friend and mentor.
Gardner’s been a vendor at the Portland Saturday Market, which is held in downtown Portland every Saturday most of the year (March through December 24). Jeff used to participate in pop-up food events, but they require a lot of prep work, so in the near future, he probably won’t do any. Gardner’s been gearing up to teach a Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management class at Lane Community College for the upcoming winter term.
Pasta Gardner officially became a business in early 2014, and it’s been a busy, fun journey for Jeff these past few years. He’s excited for his next adventure teaching others how to cook, and is definitely excited to be doing something where he’s not the boss. Following a curriculum is different for him – he’s used to whipping up dishes that delight his fancy at a moment’s notice, but one thing is for sure: If he builds it, students will come. And his future students will undoubtedly become fans, and they will become customers and friends. And as his and his gregarious nature continue to take hold in peoples’ hearts, and as his amazing pasta continues to tease more taste buds, his pasta garden empire-to-be will be … his empire.