giovanni brex photo by izaiah johnson

What I Do: Giovanni Brex of Sardella and Pastaria

Giovanni Brex built his life around family and pasta. His childhood in Queens revolved around his Sicilian immigrant family and their elaborate holiday meals. A cousin helped get him into his first restaurant job at the nationally lauded Roberta’s in Brooklyn. 

Now the father of two (soon to be three) helms the pasta programs at Gerard Craft’s Sardella and Pastaria. Here’s how Brex went from a rookie at Roberta’s to making some of St. Louis’ best noodles. 

“I had no experience. I just remember [them] telling me, ‘Just bring a couple of knives, and we’ll get you started.’ I was so excited I went out and I bought my first set of knives. I bought a pair of Misono UX-10s, and the reaction I got was, ‘Well, when I said bring a pair of knives, I didn’t mean go out and spend $350 or $400 on knives.’ I was excited.”

“I think you need to be immune to that inevitable boredom that might come from doing something repetitious. It’s either that or you need to really enjoy what you’re doing and feel like you’re in some sort of pursuit of maybe not perfection, but mastery. … You have to be someone who is, I don’t want to say introverted, but someone who enjoys being in their headspace.”

“My favorite pasta to make is hand-shaped pasta like orecchiette or cavatelli. I really enjoy making those by hand. Most of the time it’s half and half, some sort of fine flour like a 00 and a coarse semolina. It just makes a really nice, chewy pasta. It’s really satisfying to eat. It feels a lot more homey.”

“For me, Sardella is more heady. I think a little more. I try to take things like my mother’s stuffed artichokes with breadcrumbs and pancetta and oregano and pecorino. … Sardella gives me a place to say, ‘What are the flavors I enjoy most about that, and how do I turn that into a pasta?’ Maybe someone else isn’t going to be reminded of stuffed artichokes, but they’re going to enjoy it similar to how I enjoy stuffed artichokes.”

“I grew up in a six-family apartment building. Four of those six apartments for the majority of my young life were family. … Christmas was in the apartment I grew up in. Thanksgiving was in my Aunt Giovanna’s apartment. New Year’s was in my Aunt Marcella’s apartment, and Easter was in my grandmother’s apartment. … I appreciate it so much now. I guess there aren’t a lot of people who had that experience. Me and my cousin talk about it all the time: ‘Remember when we weren’t adults with jobs, and we were just running around in the hallway annoying the only two tenants?’”

“I work during the day, which means I can come home in time for my boys to be excited to hear the front door open, which is great. I don’t think I could do anything that couldn’t offer me that. … It’s provided me the necessary flexibility to tend to and be a very active part of a growing family. On the career side of it, I feel like I’m granted a lot of autonomy. It’s good to feel like you can be trusted, even if it means you might make a mistake, so long as you can grow from [it]. It’s the kind of place that promotes personal growth.”

Catherine Klene is managing editor, digital at Sauce Magazine.