By: Cara Greenstein
Enter the Memphis Farmers Market on an early Saturday morning, and the suspended wooden “handmade pasta” sign will inevitably catch your eye.
Soon after, Miles Tamboli’s demeanor and eloquent descriptions will swoon you into purchasing spaghetti, basil and tomato—cueing an impromptu pasta night you hadn’t planned, but now couldn’t imagine your weekend without.
Before I plucked a dozen eggs and duo of spaghetti for the ultimate carbonara (see recipe), I sat with Miles to grasp the motive for his latest venture in the local food and farming arena.
Miles was pursuing a degree in public health down at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he also enjoyed working in local restaurants. Early on, he thought he’d become a doctor—but as he began to follow the curriculum’s path, Miles became especially fascinated with the nutrition and preventative community health components that influence health.
“The institutionalized inequalities that distribute resources unevenly and lead to poor health gripped me,” says Miles.
“It’s not always about decision-making. The problems go deeper than telling someone to live differently.”
As college continued, Miles would regularly spend the first hour of his restaurant shifts sweating in the storage room, uncovering waxy, rock-hard tomatoes and pondering the contrast between the tomato in his hand and “one that actually tastes good.” He soon began to grow his own delicate vines of tomatoes, embracing and absorbing the science of good food from the ground.
His gardening only grew from there. Miles traveled around California and Portland to contribute to (and co-found) small urban farms, and even studied for some time in South America.
Back in Memphis, Miles led farm operations and taught driven young women the meaningful work of growing food at Girls Inc. for four years.
To Miles, urban farming is public health work.
“If we bolster the economy with locally-raised ingredients, we can foster something that builds everybody up,” he says.
So how did the Memphis master of vegetables quickly become the most popular pasta maker at the Memphis Farmers Market?
“I used to think of pasta as something that’s put under food, something as a vehicle for sauce. Empty carbs, if you will,” says Miles.
Until he went to Italy.
With a twofold goal to reconnect with his namesake and eat excellent food, Miles traveled to a small town on the Adriatic coast where the Tambolis originated. Though he had connected with a distant cousin on Facebook, he discovered in-person an entire branch that his immediate family didn’t know existed. They spent evenings on end enjoying pastas and pizzas, celebrating food and family. Miles became infatuated with the dishes and the secrets behind their tomato sauces, doughs and noodle shapes.
While in Italy, Miles learned the art of pasta. Following the Italian philosophy, a batch needs humble yet high-quality ingredients: good flour and great eggs. Unsurprisingly but thankfully, Miles raises chickens in Memphis, so great eggs are plentiful and the end product surely benefits. Preparing his pastas out of Binghampton, Miles works in three egg yolks per hand-kneaded batch to develop as much natural flavor as possible.
Flavor found, Miles. Bravo.
Cara Greenstein is founder and author of award-winning, Memphis-based food and lifestyle brand Caramelized. A bonafide foodie and entertaining expert, Cara offers a wealth of inspiration for the kitchen and home, as well as food and itinerary suggestions for outings in Memphis and beyond.
Chip Chockley, an attorney by day, has been a professional photographer since 2008. Things that make him happy include tacos, mai tais and his wife and kids.