Once, as an ice-breaker, we were asked to share our favorite shape of pasta. The standard answers included penne pasta, spaghetti, and elbows, but none of us had stopped to consider such ambitious shapes as hearts, ladybugs, or Santa Hats. However, since the dawn of TikTok, that has changed.
Danny Freeman is a TikTok creator best known for his artistic pasta creations, including a viral video in which he delicately crafts ravioli in the shape of succulents complete with their own terra cotta pots. We had the opportunity to speak with Danny about creativity, identity, and inspiration.
SoaPen: First, you’ve had a really interesting career path. How did you make the leap from practicing law to making pasta in the shape of paper cranes, witch hats, and Christmas cookies?
Danny: Before this I worked as a legal aid lawyer in NYC, and I really loved my job. When my daughter was born in July 2020 I was fortunate enough to take a six-month parental leave, and that time was so special for me. At the time we were living pretty far from my family, and so for Christmas that year we decided it didn’t make sense for us to travel home. That was tough for me, since I’m very close with my family and it was the first Christmas I didn’t spend with them. So I decided I would cook all our traditional holiday foods, including the fresh pasta my grandmother made every year. Two days after Christmas, my grandmother very unexpectedly was rushed to the hospital and ended up passing away. It was really tough on me, and at the same time my parental leave ended and I was back at work. I found myself in the kitchen late at night making more fresh pasta as a way to feel close to my grandmother. I started posting pasta videos on TikTok and it took off. After trying to juggle work, parenting, and pasta for a while I realized that I couldn’t do it all, so I decided to take more time off to be with my daughter. During that time my pasta hobby kept growing and I was able to start earning money from it while still being a full-time dad!
SoaPen: That transition definitely gives you a unique perspective. Do you have any advice for anyone at a crossroads in their own career?
Danny: Making a big change is scary, but it was helpful for me to think through the worst case scenarios and realize they were not so bad. It was hard to step away from my career as a lawyer, but I knew that if I were miserable I could always go back. My husband and I also looked at our finances and determined we had enough in savings to last for some time while I had no income. This helped me a lot mentally, to know that I was taking a risk but even if it turned into a colossal failure it would be ok!
SoaPen: You’ve mentioned that pasta-making is a tradition passed down from your grandmother. How old were you when you started learning how to make pasta, and can you describe the transition from learning the basics to making more artistic pasta?
Danny: I remember making fresh pasta a few times as a kid, but mostly I just ate it! When I first began posting pasta videos I was starting with the basics, and I mostly used my TikTok account to document what I was learning. Over time I started incorporating colors, patterns, and new shapes. The TikTok community really pushed me to be more creative - I got a lot of inspiration from other chefs and artists I saw, and people were always sending me ideas. I just kept at it and trying new things until I figured out my own style.
SoaPen: Will you pass that tradition to your daughter? What are you most excited for her to learn?
Danny: I definitely hope to! She likes to be with me in the kitchen when I’m making pasta, and she loves turning the cranks on the pasta machine. I certainly hope she doesn’t get sick of it as she gets older! I’m excited to see her develop her own passions and interests, whether it’s cooking or art or something else!
SoaPen: Do you feel that your identity as a father influences you creatively? Do the other facets of your identity play a role in how you make pasta art?
Danny: I’m a stay-at-home-dad, so all of my cooking and filming takes place at nap time. This had a big impact on what I end up creating - I have a lot of time to think through my ideas, but not a lot of time to execute! That definitely keeps me focused and pushes me to streamline my process. I think being gay also plays a big role in my work - I’m doing a series of pride flag pastas that I’m really excited about!
SoaPen: Where else do you seek inspiration for new pasta ideas?
Danny: I’m always looking for new ideas, and I look at pretty things as I’m out and about and wonder if I can turn them into pasta! I get a lot of inspiration from nature, and I like to make pasta flowers and plants.
SoaPen: What are some challenges you experience as a creator? Have any of your pasta ideas failed, and what did you learn from the experience?
Danny: Time is a big factor, and I often feel like the pasta I make for my social media accounts are really just a first draft. They sometimes don’t come out quite like I was picturing, or the colors are off, or I think I can make them a little nicer. But I usually don’t have time to start over, so this has really taught me that it’s better to get my work out there in the world even if it’s not perfect, rather than spending forever trying to get it just right.
SoaPen: TikTok has obviously made a significant impact on your trajectory. What is something unexpected you’ve learned since joining the platform?
Danny: I’ve learned how supportive and creative everyone on TikTok is. People leave me comments with amazing ideas all the time, and I love when my followers challenge me to make something I haven’t done before.
SoaPen: Do you have any advice for creators looking to get started on Tiktok or improve their TikTok presence?
Danny: Start posting! You don’t need to have your style or niche nailed down perfectly. Start posting and then see what works; there’s so much learning as you go, so you really just have to put yourself out there. And if what you’re doing is no longer fun, try something else!
SoaPen: What’s next for Danny Loves Pasta?
Danny: A cookbook! I’m working on it now, and it will hopefully be out next year.
You can find Danny on TikTok and Instagram, @DannyLovesPasta. Be on the lookout for his pride flag pasta for pride month, his forthcoming book, and whatever other fun shapes he might be cooking up!
All photos courtesy Danny Freeman