Union StUnion St

By Matt

We are surrounded by world foods these days. We’re spoilt for choice in fact, with everything from Korean Kimchi to Mexican Mole vying for a turn to tempt our taste buds as never-ending waves of exotic flavours hit our towns. We Brits have never shied away from new tastes, however, there are some cuisines that have become so ingrained in our culture, it’s hard to imagine they were once thought of as foreign fare.

Our favourite meal? Plenty will argue for the great British curry, but I’m pretty sure that pasta is right up there on our most-loved meals. From the candle-lit Italian restaurant to spag bol at the kitchen table, we can’t get enough of the stuff. It’s enjoyed by everyone from pre-schoolers to pensioners, and it’s the unsung hero of many a successful university experience, sustaining skint students with comforting carbs at all times of day.

Article-image-1

In fact, Stevie-Lee Clark’s friends from University could probably have predicted his transformation to Pasta Masta long before his street food business launched onto Sheffield’s food scene. Back in his student days he was famous for tucking into the Italian staple at least five times a week, filling up on hearty bowlfuls to power him through his studies.

After he graduated, Stevie-Lee had ambitions to run his own business. When his mum suggested the two of them go into business together, it was an opportunity that he simply couldn’t pass up. The pair always had event catering in their sights: “We are both massive fans of live music, festivals and events and we had talked for ages about starting our own catering business.”

However, the idea really came to fruition when Stevie-Lee was at The Secret Garden Party in 2015. Having spent what seemed like an eternity in a queue, he handed over a shocking amount of money in exchange for one of the most disappointing sandwiches of his life. At that point, Steve’s dissatisfied stomach, empty wallet and entrepreneurial spirit all agreed that he could offer something so much better than that.

Article-image-2

I was thinking about all the street food stalls and it occurred to me that you never see pasta being dished up outside of restaurants. It seemed a bit bizarre – it’s my favourite food and I know it’s a lot of people’s go-to comfort food, too.” In fact, it occurred to Stevie-Lee that (with the exception of those intolerant to gluten) he had never met anybody who doesn’t actually like Italy’s greatest export.

Soon after, Pasta Masta was born. (So we all have a lot to thank that overpriced sandwich for!) For Stevie-Lee, making sure he could offer good-value grub became really important, so the food he served had to be delicious, filling and offer good value money.

To ensure the pasta was going to be dished up fresh and hot, Stevie-Lee had some serious culinary logistics to consider. After much research, he invested in a trailer that would become the perfect home for the Pasta Masta. Stripped back to basics then lovingly kitted out with shiny stainless steel and a solid wood counter, he created a portable kitchen that could house all his cooking equipment.

Clean, fresh, bright and welcoming, the trailer was exactly what Stevie-Lee wanted for his brand. The blue background and modern logo stands out amongst the plethora of burger vans and American meat stalls that tend to populate foodie events.

Pasta Masta’s brand new trailer was ready for its first outing at the Highland Fling in Graves Park in May but, looking back, Stevie-Lee admits it’s been a bit of a blur since then. “Since we launched, it has been crazy. We have had a packed diary of events all summer and our food has been more popular than I ever could have imagined it would be.”

At Tramlines we had people queuing for up to 45 minutes, which gave us a real taster of how crazy this business can be.” In fact, Tramlines customers gobbled a whopping 70kg of pasta from Pasta Masta – no wonder it is all a bit of a blur!

To ensure people get their food as speedily as possible, Stevie-Lee is helped out by girlfriend Rebecca and mum Karen. A human conveyor belt, Steve dishes up the pasta (diners can choose from white or wholemeal), Rebecca tops it with the sauce (he currently offers five veggie-friendly options of Napoletana, Hidden Veg, Two Cheese, Creamy Mushroom and his five-year-old nephew’s top choice of butter and marmite – named Charlie’s Favourite), and Karen is on hand to add those enticing extras (cheddar, mozzarella, Parmesan, olives and jalapeños).

The pasta can also be given a local twist with a few shakes of Henderson’s for those who want to eat it Sheffield-style. Something you probably don’t get in Napoli!

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 18.04.46

This is the perfect job for a mother and son who are as passionate about the events themselves as they are about the food they serve up. “It’s such a fantastic thing to be a part of. The atmosphere is alive and people are happy, so it’s great to be serving up food to queues of people who are in the middle of having a great day out.”

What the customers don’t see during the excitement of food festivals and events is the tremendously long hours Stevie-Lee spends on preparation. Before this year’s Tramlines, the Pasta Masta spent three days part-cooking and portioning pasta ready for the weekend.

For Stevie-Lee, though, the experience so far has made all the hard work worth it, and he has plenty of ideas for the future. “The next thing I want to focus on is getting gluten-free pasta as an option very soon,” he explains, so we’ll be keeping our eye out for that over the summer, as Pasta Masta pops up at events around the city.

Most excitingly, he will be launching a regular weekly pop-up café at Union Street starting on Wednesday 17th August, where he hopes to satisfy the midday hunger pangs of the city’s workers with a little taste of Italy… Sheffield-style. You can also follow Pasta Masta on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Matt
About Matt
Matt co-ordinates Union St and Champions Enterprise Nation in Sheffield. For feedback, questions or suggestions please email matt@union-st.org
Tea break with: The Pasta Masta