SEATTLE — Linda Miller Nicholson once constructed kitchen cabinets partially made of pasta for model Gigi Hadid.
The cabinets separating the kitchen and living room of Hadid’s Manhattan penthouse are brimming with dried orange and blue farfalle, bird’s nests of red tagliatelle and green garganelli, which you can see through the transparent cabinet doors. To complete the project, Nicholson flew from Seattle to New York with 70 pounds of pasta in her suitcase.
Nicholson’s Instagram account — @saltyseattle, which has almost 300,000 followers — features images of multicolored dinosaurs made of pasta, unicorns made of pasta, roses made of pasta, and even pasta portraits of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Breonna Taylor. Nicholson creates these colors by blending brightly colored plants into the dough.
“You name it, and I’ve pasta-ed it,” Nicholson said on a recent Wednesday morning while kneading a ball of orange pasta dough at her studio east of Seattle. “I will pasta anything under the sun.”
After forays into fashion design as a teenager and creative writing in college, Nicholson found her artistic medium in pasta, a food with which she’s had a lifelong love affair. With her book “Pasta, Pretty Please: A Vibrant Approach to Handmade Noodles,” in-person and online workshops, and various brand partnerships, Nicholson has also turned pasta art into her career.
Started at age 4
Nicholson first made pasta when she was 4 years old. Back then, she lived in rural Idaho but spent a few months each year with her grandparents in California.
That’s where her grandparents helped her roll out her first sheet of pasta with a wine bottle (they didn’t have a pasta sheeter or a rolling pin). It was her favorite thing she 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; she said she always thought “making a career out of food would be amazing” but was turned off by the rough working conditions.
At the same time, she became interested in art.
“I always thought I was an artist,” Nicholson said. “I don’t think anyone else did.”
As a teenager, she designed and sewed her own clothes. She wanted to go to college for fashion design, but her parents didn’t support her decision. She wound up getting a creative writing degree, with the plan of becoming a teacher.
Nicholson got a master’s degree in education remotely while living in the Piedmont region of Italy with her boyfriend at the time. But while she was student-teaching there, she realized she hated the constraints of academia and didn’t want to be a teacher.
In her free time, she obsessed over local pasta shapes and learned about pasta making from anybody who’d teach her.
When Nicholson moved back to the U.S., she dabbled in freelance journalism and flipped a few houses in the Seattle area. Her friend Patrick Stephens, who lived down the block from one of these houses, recalls Nicholson hosting dinner parties where she’d make pasta from scratch for a dozen people.
She had a son during the same time, Bentley Danger Nicholson — whose favorite food was pasta.
To get him to eat vegetables, she started blending them into the pasta dough. After some experimenting, she was halfway to a rainbow. She decided to take it all the way and started posting pictures of colorful pasta on social media.
Eventually, she caught the attention of Cassie Jones Morgan, an editor at HarperCollins. She told Nicholson, “You have to turn this idea into a book. If you don’t do this, somebody else will.”
Nicholson was filled with self-doubt. She’d never worked as a chef, and she was mostly self-taught. She was also disappointed with her artistic development.
“I always lamented that I didn’t have a medium that I was really great at,” she said.
But after a while, Nicholson realized she really was an expert. She’d been making pasta since she was 4, and she’d been an artist for years.
Nicholson signed the book deal in 2016; “Pasta, Pretty Please” was published two years later.
As she worked on the book, she posted pictures of her projects on social media. Her Instagram blew up. And at the same time, she realized she’d had an artistic medium all along: She was a pasta artist.
“I realized, ‘Oh, my God, I do have artistic dexterity; it just isn’t something that involves holding a pen and paper or paintbrush,’” Nicholson said.