“Pasta artist” isn’t really a job. There may not be any “pasta artists” in the world other than King County’s Linda Miller Nicholson, a.k.a. Salty Seattle. If you’ve heard of her, it’s probably because of her Instagram account, which has over 280,000 followers thanks to her over-the-top pasta creations. These include Ukrainian flag ravioli, mushroom-shaped gnocchi, and a Betty White made out of pasta. In other words, Nicholson specializes in making food in that social media sweet spot of both cutesy and nigh on impossible to make.
The former restaurant worker, teacher, and freelancer writer blew up on Instagram after she turned her hobby of making colorful pasta using vegetables (the only way she could get her son to eat veggies) into a cookbook, which was published in 2018. As her reputation grew, she started getting custom orders for pasta creations — most famously, she built “pasta cabinets” for Gigi Hadid, but she’s also done gigs for Katy Perry and Matthew McConaughey.
This sort of work took its toll, Nicholson tells Eater Seattle. “In order to create a big piece of art it could take days and days and days,” she says, and she found herself going back and forth between Seattle and New York City, which meant she missed time with her son. And being “pasta ninja” to the stars was fun, but not necessarily fulfilling. “It’s really fantastic to have your clients be the Gigi Hadids of the world, but that’s not my socioeconomic background,” she says.
When her father died in a bike accident, Nicholson had a “nonreligious come-to-Jesus moment” that made her “rethink [her] entire raison d’etre.” This coincided with her being contacted by Oprah Winfrey’s team, who were curious if she would be interested in doing something commercial and consumer-facing.
What she came up with was rainbow-colored croissant-shaped gnocchi, or “Crocchi.” Boxes of these fresh pasta concoctions have been available for order on Nicholson’s website for some time, but as of October they are in every PCC location, a big step for the pasta artist as she branches out into making food that ordinary people can actually buy and eat.
It’s also big news for Nicholson’s fans in the Puget Sound region. You don’t have to be a Hadid to order Crocchi, but a $24 box of pasta and sauce comes with a $40 shipping fee — a lot to pay for a single dinner (even when you factor in the Instagram posts you can get out of it). Because it’s fresh pasta, it has to be shipped on “about 15 pounds of dry ice overnight,” Nicholson says, which unavoidably leads to high costs. Buying Crocchi at the grocery store, she says, is a “more natural fit for this product.”
The PCC launch comes at the end of a wild year for Nicholson. Her Crocchi was put on Oprah’s “Favorite Things” in late 2022, and she had to scramble to put together a pasta factory in a matter of weeks. “I didn’t sleep,” she says. “It was an utter trial by fire.” She and her partners also had to figure out how to ship frozen pasta across the country as the Oprah-inspired orders rolled in. (Not everyone was deterred by the shipping charges.)
Nicholson also had to let go a little bit. With her custom pasta creations, she had complete control over every raviolo and every strand of noodle. When everyone can cook your pasta, she says, it’s a matter of “crossing your fingers and hoping the customer treats it with the love and respect that you’ve put into it.”
This is something not everyone does, she’s learned. When asked if people send her posts of them cooking her Crocchi the wrong way, she laughs. “I feel like I should answer that off the record,” she says. “I’ve seen egregious, loathful breaches of all pasta etiquette.”
For now, Nicholson says, her pasta production facility is making enough to send each PCC location 10 boxes per week. She hopes her team can “find our sea legs with this so we can do it right” and scale up production gradually. “We’ve had some fantastic interest from some really large retailers,” she adds, but because the pasta is made by hand, she’s not sure how to accommodate that kind of offer.
Above all, she wants to not “go too big too fast.” Nicholson currently very hands-on and spends a lot of time on the factory floor. “I don’t want to be the person who is chained to a chair and a desk too much,” she says. Even a desk made of pasta.
Salty Seattle’s Crocchi are now available in limited quantities at all PCC locations.