Linda Miller Nicholson once built kitchen cabinets that were partially made from pasta for model Gigi Hadid.
The cabinets separating the kitchen and living room from Hadid’s Manhattan penthouse are full of dried orange and blue farfalle, red tagliatelle bird nests, and green garganelli, which you can see through the transparent cabinet doors. To complete the project, Nicholson flew from Seattle to New York City with 70 pounds of pasta in his suitcase.
Nicholson’s Instagram account @saltyseattle, which has nearly 300,000 followers, features images of colorful dinosaurs made from pasta, unicorns made from pasta, roses made from pasta and even pasta portraits of Ruth Bader. Ginsburg and Breonna Taylor. Nicholson creates these colors by mixing brightly colored plants in the paste.
“You name it, and I made it with pasta,” Nicholson said on a recent Wednesday morning while kneading a ball of orange dough in his studio in east Seattle… “I’ll make pasta anything under the sun. ”
After forays into fashion design as a teenager and creative writing in college, Nicholson found her artistic means in pasta, a food she had a love affair with her entire life. With a book “Pasta, Pretty Please: A Vibrant Approach to Handmade Noodles,” in-person and online workshops, and various brand partnerships, Nicholson has also made the art of pasta his career.
Become a pasta artist
Nicholson made his first pasta at the age of four. At the time, she lived in rural Idaho but spent a few months each year with her grandparents in California.
This is where her grandparents helped her roll out her first sheet of pasta with a bottle of wine (they didn’t have a sheeter or rolling pin). It was her favorite thing she had learned that summer, and Nicholson made pasta at least once a week for the rest of her childhood.
As she got older she worked in restaurants and says she always thought “a career in food would be amazing” but was put off by the harsh working conditions. At the same time, she is interested in art.
“I always thought I was an artist,” says Nicholson. “I don’t think anyone else did.”
As a teenager, she designed and sewed her own clothes. Nicholson wanted to go to college for fashion design, but his parents did not support his decision. She ended up earning a creative writing degree with the intention of becoming a teacher.
Nicholson obtained her Masters in Distance Education while living in the Piedmont region of Italy with her then boyfriend. But while teaching there, she realized that she hated the constraints of the program and didn’t want to be a teacher. In her spare time, she was obsessed with local pasta shapes and learned pasta making from anyone who taught her.
When Nicholson returned to the United States, she dabbled in independent journalism and knocked down a few homes in the Seattle area. Her friend Patrick Stephens, who lived next door to one of those houses, remembers Nicholson having dinner parties where she made pasta from scratch for a dozen people.
She had a son around the same time, Bentley Danger Nicholson, who, like many children, went through a difficult period. His favorite food was pasta.
To get him to eat vegetables, she began to mix them with the pasta dough. After a few experiments, she was halfway to a rainbow. She decided to go all the way and started posting pictures of rainbow-colored pasta on social media.
Eventually, she caught the eye of Cassie Jones Morgan, editor at HarperCollins. She told Nicholson, “You have to turn this idea into a book. If you don’t, someone else will.
Nicholson was filled with doubts. She had never worked as a chef, and she was mostly self-taught. She was also disappointed with her artistic development.
“I’ve always lamented that I didn’t have a medium that I was really good at,” she says.
But after a while, Nicholson realized that she was truly an expert. She had been making pasta since she was four years old and had been an artist for years. Nicholson signed the book deal in 2016, and it was released two years later.
While working on the book, she posted photos of her projects on social media. Her Instagram has exploded. And at the same time, she realized that she had always had an artistic medium. Nicholson was a pasta artist.
“I realized, ‘oh my God I have an artistic dexterity, it’s just not something that involves holding a pen and paper or a brush. “
Since the book’s release, Nicholson has grown into a minor celebrity. There are articles on her in dozens of national publications like People and Saveur. She leads team building workshops for large companies like Microsoft. And she is the current artist in residence of the Italian food chain Eataly.
The Anatomy of Rainbow Pasta
At Nicholson’s studio in Fall City one December morning – a converted garage with counters and shelves filled with pasta supplies – Nicholson finishes kneading the orange ball of pasta dough and lays it next to others covered with a plastic wrap: red, purple, blue, green and yellow.
She wears flared blue jeans with a rainbow arched down the back. His gray T-shirt has a rainbow on the front. There are even rainbows on the heels of her black slippers.
“I’ve always been very drawn to color,” says Nicholson. “I am also very pro-LGBTQIA rights.”
Nicholson is straight and cisgender, but his family was close to many gay men as a child. His mother also wrote a thesis on HIV during the AIDS epidemic when Nicholson was 6 years old. She says she drew parallels between the persecution of gay men during this time and the racism her multiracial family endured while living in rural Idaho (her mother is black and her father is white. ). So while much of his pasta art is purely fun, it is also sometimes political.
In the caption of her Breonna Taylor pasta portrait post on Instagram from August 2020, she wrote: “Stop the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.” And much of his pasta art is filled with symbols of LGBTQ + pride.
At the studio, Nicholson makes a rainbow tortellini reel. She says her favorite hashtag is # pride365, which means the alliance for the LGBTQ + community shouldn’t be limited to Pride Month (June).
To make the windmill, Nicholson runs the rainbow-colored balls of dough through the pasta machine to make sheets and cuts the sheets into squares. She places a spoonful of the filling (ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano) on each square, then folds them into tortellini that bind together, finally forming a solid wheel.
While the rainbow pasta and clothes match Nicholson’s personality, she says she uses them to signal her values as well.
“If people can’t handle the rainbow, then I don’t need it in my life.”
Find more information about Nicholson’s book, upcoming workshops (including some in the Seattle area), and other projects at saltyseattle.com.