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Saturday, September 24, 2022

Traveling pasta instructor brings a taste of Italy to Gainesville homes

Pasta by Pollio cooks classic Italian entrees with Gainesville residents

<p>Elena Pollio&#x27;s handmade bowtie pasta at one of her cooking classes. (Courtesy of Elena Pollio)</p>

Elena Pollio's handmade bowtie pasta at one of her cooking classes. (Courtesy of Elena Pollio)

A classic lasagna paired with a modest pinot noir at a tasteable Italian restaurant — the ideal date night for many before the COVID-19 pandemic halted dinner plans everywhere. But one Gainesville resident plans to bring the restaurant to residents. 

Elena Pollio, a 27-year-old former event manager, was struck by the detrimental effects of the pandemic, when she was suddenly let go from her five-year position planning entertainment, business and political events in New York City during March 2020. 

As a fresh start, Pollio relocated to Gainesville when her now-fiance was offered a job opportunity. By combining her event management skills with her passion for Italian cuisine, Pollio sought to create a local business that would thrive in Gainesville’s food scene. 

In August 2020, she launched Pasta by Pollio — a business dedicated to visiting homes to teach pasta-making. The breadth of her classes range from preparing homemade pasta to pairing the right wine with a meal. Some of her signature recipes include her herbal goat cheese ravioli and pumpkin ravioli. 

The second-generation Italian-American grew up in the kitchen cooking pasta with her mother for holidays and family gatherings. Through Pasta by Pollio, she has the chance to pass along her family knowledge of Italian cooking for a living. 

“It really lights me up to be able to get people together and teach cooking classes,” she said.

The business allows Pollio to share something she loves, all while being able to make everything her own, from her schedules to her recipes. To her delight, getting her business on its feet came easier than expected.

“It’s not really something I have to actively try and sell. I’m just kinda me.” Pollio said. “It just really embodies who I am as a person, and I love that.” 

She developed a steady following on social media platforms like Instagram, garnering over 1000 followers in just over a year.

Although Pollio has turned her dream into reality, she faced no shortage of challenges to overcome.

Aside from the strenuous cleanup process following her at-home cooking classes, she sometimes fears starting conversations and being the social butterfly that comes with home visits. In her business, Pollio isn’t only the chef behind the meal — she’s the party host for her clients.  

“I get nervous,” she said. “I have to really bring the energy. I have to bring the game.” 

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During a pandemic that has limited social interaction, Pollio also struggled to balance a business centered on personal interaction with the necessary safety protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Her personal-chef style business is geared toward a small group of family or friends who are aware of each other’s statuses. 

Kristen Oliff, a 27-year-old UF intermediate biological scientist, became one of Pollio’s first clients after her social organization, Curvy Confidence, which plans events promoting body positivity, scheduled a group lesson with Pollio. She has since taken three more lessons including one in which Pollio partnered with Yelp to host an online gnocchi event. 

“Making pasta was really intimidating to me, and now I do it once a week,” she said. 

Oliff was enamored with Pollio’s story after meeting at a bowtie and fettuccine class. 

“She made me want to quit my job and find something that I love to do and then run with it because that’s what she’s done,” she said. 

After just one class, Oliff took to Amazon to purchase the same pasta roller, baking mat and ravioli stamps Pollio brings to her events. 

“It teaches you something that you don’t do once. You can do it once a week, once a day, or however often you want to be doing it,” Oliff said.  

Jessica Ostolaza discovered Pasta by Pollio after deciding to do something fun with the family after the holidays. For three and a half hours, Ostolaza, along with her mother, sisters and 21-year-old daughter, prepared ravioli and gnocchi. 

“She teaches you with a coffee cup and a fork. You don’t have to have all the fancy tools,”  the 43-year-old mammography technologist said. “She teaches you how to do it basic with what you have at home.” 

Ostolaza took Pollio’s “Make and Take” class, where she was taught how to properly store the pasta to prepare for family later. 

“She brings all brand new Tupperware, and she packages it up for you so that you can stick it in the freezer and it’s ready to go,” she said. 

In light of her success, Pollio has plans for expansion — in more ways than one. 

In addition to expanding her family with a recent engagement in February 2022 and a first-born child in November 2021, Pollio also hopes to diversify her business by beginning a catering service for small house parties. As a first step, Pollio will be making heart-shaped ravioli deliveries just in time for Valentine’s Day.  

Contact Jared at jteitel@alligator.org. Follow him @jaredteitel on Twitter.

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