Making pasta by hand is a skill either learned over many years or passed down from generations of Italian cooks. But ABC7’s Steve Dolinsky says some of the best handmade pasta in Chicago is being produced by the hands of a 21-year-old Somali refugee.
Sahro Mollim has only lived in Chicago a few months. She came here via Boston, and before that, a refugee camp in Nigeria, where she sewed and made clothing. Turns out one of the camp’s employees knows the owner of a successful Chicago restaurant group, and just like that, the fine motor skills that were once used to make scarves are now being put to use feeding dozens of hungry locals every night.
She is just 21-years-old. But Mollim has lived a lifetime. Five years ago, while attending school in Somalia one day, war broke out. Her world suddenly changed.
“When I came back after a few days, in my home, there’s nobody there, and then I started to search for my family,” she said. “And I say, ‘I can’t stay here. I want to save my life.”
She made her way to Kenya, then Boston and finally, Chicago, in the kitchen at Cocello, an Italian restaurant near the East Bank Club where all of the pasta has to be handmade.
“I’m making ravioli, garganelli, orrechiette and gnocchi,” she said proudly.
Not just making it, excelling at it. Orrechiette requires nimble fingers. Her new bosses were impressed.
“She’s got small hands and that’s an advantage I’d say,” said Sam Engelhardt, the Chef at Cocello. “Just having to curl it back on her thumb, and she gets faster everyday.”
Garganelli must be cut into squares, rolled out onto a wood pattern then wrapped around a thin dowel. Imagine doing that a few hundred times a day. For the record, it eventually gets boiled then sauteed with a Calabrian chile-infused sauce enriched with pork jowls, onions and garlic, showered in cheese and chives.
The ravioli is even more impressive: ricotta, marscarpone and parmesan are piped on, then a yolk is placed in the middle. Sides are sealed, then indented with the tines of a fork; finally, the tell-tale ribbon shaping. Engelhardt said Mollim brings a shining light to a very professional kitchen.
“Her name actually means ‘flour’ in Somalia, and then there’s a bunch of loud, black t-shirt-wearing cooks right around the corner, but they all get along with her great, treat her like our little sister,” Engelhardt said.
“It’s nice, because I get this job and I have now experience to make pasta hand make pasta,” Mollim said. “Yeah, I like it a lot.”