Keep Calm and Pasta On

Photo of Meryl Feinstein rolling pasta dough on a wooden cutting board.
Austin Garza-Kilcullen
Meryl Feinstein ’12

Pasta, to Meryl Feinstein ’12, is art you can eat. More than that, she believes, savory bonds of good fellowship can be forged through noodles.

“So many people enjoy pasta,” says Feinstein, the creator of Pasta Social Club, which offers cooking classes and workshops. “It’s one of those universal loves. Most cultures have some version of a dumpling or a noodle.”

Food became a calling Feinstein couldn’t ignore. She gave up a career as a communications executive working with art museums to enroll in the Institute of Culinary Education, then went to work in the kitchens of two of New York City’s top Italian restaurants, Lilia and Misi. On her days off, she launched an Instagram account devoted to her passion for pasta (@pastasocialclub), which led to hosting a supper club to connect people over food.

Last year, she moved with her husband from New York City to Austin, Texas, and, when the coronavirus hit, she moved Pasta Social Club online. Soon she was teaching two weekly classes via Zoom, and contributing cooking videos and recipes to the website Food52. Her Instagram page now makes more than 123,000 followers drool.

Not what she envisioned as a Brandeis art-history major who went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of London’s Courtauld Institute of Art before spending several years in corporate communications in the art world. But she sees a common thread.

“Pasta ties in the artistic background quite well,” Feinstein says. “You’re making all these beautiful shapes — it’s kind of sculptural. Looking back, that’s what drew me to pasta, besides that it’s delicious. I really just enjoy making it. It’s my favorite way to use my hands.”

Her go-to dish is orecchiette, which means “little ears” in Italian. “The only tool you need is a butter knife,” she says, “and they’re made with just semolina flour and water. They’re delicious every time.”

Pasta Social Club draws inspiration from the Shabbat dinners of Feinstein’s youth. “My Friday nights were spent with family and friends,” she says. “It was the highlight of my week. So I wanted to create an environment that was like a casual dinner party, where you could meet new people.”

As an undergrad, Feinstein was active in the university’s cooking club and briefly considered pursuing studio art before focusing on art history, graduating summa cum laude. In June, she made a virtual return to Brandeis to lead a live video workshop called Pasta Quarantine, hosted by the Brandeis Women’s Network. Alumni who tuned in got a primer on hand-rolling Tuscan spaghetti.

At 30, the former communications exec serves up this takeaway for fellow alumni of all ages: “Don’t get too set in your ways. It’s never too late to change course.”

— Mark Sullivan

Pasta Social Club’s virtual cooking classes made our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide, which includes lots of festive ideas.