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What’s Cooking With Danny Freeman?

Passport Profile

by Lawrence Ferber
Danny Freeman (Photo by Sabrina Leviton)

The openly gay Hudson Valley, NY-based dad, a former attorney, is beloved for his colorful, delicious, and sometimes oddball fresh pasta recipes.

Danny Freeman (Photo by Sabrina Leviton)

If you’re a foodie who follows social media, you may already be among the 1.2+ million followers of TikTok star Danny Freeman, a.k.a., @DannyLovesPasta.

The openly gay Hudson Valley, NY-based dad, a former attorney, is beloved for his colorful, delicious, and sometimes oddball fresh pasta recipes, and occasional video appearances by husband Steven Wengrovitz and their 3-year-old daughter. With a mission of getting more people to create fresh pastas at home, this past summer the saw release of his first cookbook, Danny Loves Pasta (penguinrandomhouse.com), which is packed with recipes for pasta dough (using veggies, spices and herbs for color), shapes, and fillings, as well as tasty sauces and a bonus chocolate chip cookie for dessert. Speaking with PASSPORT, Freeman shared what led to his pasta passion and career change, how the carbaverse can embrace pasta, what it takes to become a full time professional social media presence, travel, and do’s and don’ts for would-be social media stars.

How did you transition from attorney to social media pasta guru?
I made pasta as a kid, it was always my favorite food. My grandmother was a great cook, my mother is a great cook, and they’re both Italian. I was working as a lawyer at a nonprofit in NYC, and when COVID hit in 2020 I went remote. My daughter was born a couple of months later and because of COVID we didn’t go home for Christmas that year. It was a little sad, so I decided I would cook all the traditional foods my family would eat including my grandmother’s fresh pasta. My grandmother was 96 and she passed away a couple of weeks later. It was tough because I was very close with her, and at the same time my parental leave was ending and I wasn’t sleeping through the night, it was a low moment. So I continued to make fresh pasta late nights after my daughter went to bed to be meditative and feel close to my grandmother. I started posting videos on TikTok just to document what I was doing, learning basic shapes and techniques, and then people on TikTok pushed me to try new things and I introduced colors using natural ingredients and making up shapes and designs. That’s when things started taking off.

You were working for a progressive nonprofit, correct?
So you weren’t fleeing a toxic workplace or homophobic workplace like some who pivot professionally do. I worked for Manhattan Legal Services, and we basically offered free legal services for low income folks. I was a housing attorney, and we had an LGBTQ/HIV unit focused on the particular legal issues facing people with HIV or who were queer. It was very progressive. My colleagues were amazing and very welcoming so I never faced any issues there, thankfully. It wasn’t that I wanted desperately to get out, it was because this pasta work had expanded and I wanted to spend more time with my daughter. Now that everything has picked up, getting to spend so much time with her has been the best part about all of it.

What specific posts first went viral?
I had a few that went viral early on when I would do different colors using spinach or tomatoes, but the one that really set my account off is a post explaining why I was making pasta. Talking about getting married, my daughter, my grandmother passing away, and how that inspired me to make pasta. A lot of people wrote in saying they had a lot of memories of the food their grandmother or grandfather would make and try to recreate those meals. That connected with people in a different way.

Danny Freeman (Photo by Sabrina Leviiton)

Danny Freeman (Photo by Sabrina Leviiton)

What is your most popular post to date?
I have two, and I feel they really typify what my cookbook’s like. One was ‘succulent ravioli,’ which looks like little succulent plants, and it blew up with like 20 million views with people sending me pictures recreating it. That was in the ‘cute pasta you’ve never seen before’ vein. More recently I did my take on lasagna soup, which is like an easy, deconstructed lasagna in a bowl with a lot of the same flavors. I try to do a lot of quick and easy recipes because I have a kid, and that was a throw it together meal you can make at home. My recipe calls for a lot of mozzarella, because I like a lot of gooey cheese in my dishes, and that went really viral and people sent hundreds and hundreds of photos recreating it.

I see that you’ve made pastas out of unconventional ingredients like Oreos. How do those attempts come about?
People on TikTok throw out a lot of weird ingredients and shapes I should try and make. I’ve done a pasta made out of Goldfish crackers, as well as Pretzels., and a strawberry pasta with pureed strawberries. I’m doing a series now on ravioli that look like cartoon characters, and my viewers suggest a lot of characters I’ve never heard of and have to look up!

Have you been pleasantly surprised by any of the people, including celebrities, who follow you?
Yes, one of the most amazing is SZA. She started following my Insta and I don’t know how she found me, but she would leave comments and share and call me the ‘king of cute pasta,’ so I feel honored she even knows who I am! Lance Bass on TikTok follows me, and I love that he also has children and is a dad and makes family content. When it comes to gay men, some view carbs as more evil than a Disney villain.

How do you combat carbophobia and get people to eat and love pasta?
It’s not something to be afraid of. Especially fresh pasta which is made with eggs. You can add spinach, beets, different vegetables, so it can be a good base for a really healthy dish. It also has good protein. Most importantly, it tastes good, so I’m not too worried about the carbs when I eat it. I’m not a nutritionist, but my husband’s a vegetarian, and pasta can just be a great base with protein on top, roasted vegetables, etc.

What are your thoughts on gluten-free pasta?
I have a gluten-free recipe in the cookbook. As part of developing it, I tried a lot of boxed pastas and recipes I found online. It’s tough because they don’t quite have the same texture and that characteristic chewy bite, and sometimes not as much flavor. But there are some good boxed gluten-free pastas like the chickpea one, and for my recipe I used a mix of rice, chickpea, and tapioca flours. I feel I got a pretty good approximation.

What were the biggest challenges when writing your cookbook?
When I cook for myself and my family, or on social media, I’ll add a little bit of salt, I taste it, I add something else, and adjust as I go. I don’t measure ingredients precisely, or might do some things out of order, but when actually writing a recipe it was tricky to recreate something so many times to really get it exact.

Danny Loves Pasta by Danny Freeman

Danny Loves Pasta by Danny Freeman

Pasta aside, what’s another food obsession of yours?
I like to bake too, and I do some on my TikTok. I made a little chocolate cake this morning. I love the s’mores flavors, so anything with those. And there’s one non pasta recipe in the book, a brown butter chocolate chip cookie, so I do have a bit of a sweet tooth.

What are some of the best destinations and restaurants to visit for amazing pasta and noodles?
Obviously Italy. Da Eraldo in Monterosso, in Cinque Terre. We stumbled upon it one night when we couldn’t find anything to eat. I had heard some people talking about it, and it had amazing pasta and some of the best pesto! I recommend it to anyone who goes there. My husband and I went on our honeymoon to Japan and ate some of the best food there. I love ramen, and soba noodles are amazing. We went to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Kinosaki, which is known for hot spring spas and was amazing and relaxing. In Kyoto, Kyoto Ramen Koji (Ramen Street) on the 10th Floor of the Kyoto train station is a whole row of amazing ramen places and you can go from one to the next. One ramen place opened an NYC location, Ichiran, and that was incredible. You live in Beacon, in the Hudson Valley, which has a pretty LGBTQ-friendly vibe.

What would an ideal day trip itinerary be?
Well, it’s a very easy train ride from NYC, and there’s a big art museum here, Dia Beacon. I would start at a coffee shop and design gift store called Little King for breakfast and to pick up some gifts. For lunch, if you want fancy, Stone Hill has a farm and restaurant. There’s another called The Roundhouse and in the summer they have a beautiful patio that overlooks a waterfall. There’s a restaurant that’s been here forever, BJ’s, that has diner food and soul food that’s popular and good. Then Brother’s Trattoria, with wood fired pizza and classic Italian American food. And another place called Palace Dumplings in an unassuming strip mall with dumplings from a Northern Chinese background which are amazing.

What destinations are currently on your wish list to visit?
I would love to go to New Zealand. A few years ago my husband spent six weeks working there on a vineyard. We met in Australia and went to some amazing places, but I never made it to NZ and he still talks about how incredible it was. We have a trip coming up to Paris for a wedding which I’m excited about. I’d love to go back to Italy, because there are so many places I haven’t been yet, like Southern Italy and Naples. Also Argentina. My husband has some family there and he’s been to some of the vineyards—he loves vineyards and wine.

What are some essential do’s and don’t’s for aspiring pasta creators?
Don’t be intimidated, it’s a lot easier than it looks. With the cookbook, if you never made fresh pasta before, it’s a good place to start because you don’t need any special equipment and you can learn how to incorporate colors and vegetables. It’s really not that difficult, especially if you want to make a basic fresh pasta dough, which will take you five minutes in a food processor. Do pay close attention to the feel of your dough and moisture content. That’s the one thing that gets a little tricky. A lot of people tell me it all clumped together in a big, gluey glob. That’s usually when it’s too wet, so add extra flour if it’s feeling too sticky. And with the book, if you don’t want to make fresh pasta, there are a whole ton of sauce recipes you can use with regular boxed pasta!

What about some advice for people who are thinking about leaving their current careers to pursue a passion on social media like you did?
Two pieces. It’s very easy to get started on social media, you can start filming a video or take a picture and put it up there and see how things go. But you have to be consistent. That’s one of the biggest things. It can take time to build an audience and following, but there’s no reason you can’t start posting on the side and keep it going. Second, if you want to transition to doing it more seriously or full time, you have to be clear about whether you want this to be a hobby or a job. Sometimes, if you depend on it for income, that can suck some of the fun out. I was really lucky that I was able to take a leave of absence from my job, spend time with my daughter, and if I was no longer enjoying it or if it didn’t go well I could go back to my job which I liked. So think about whether you want it to be a hobby or a job you rely on for income.


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