Last night I made Pasta.
I knew I loved Ron Popeil, but I didn’t know how much until I read the first chapter in “What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures” by Malcolm Gladwell. The title of that chapter says it all; “The Pitchman – Ron Popeil and the Conquest of the American Kitchen”.
Gladwell begins by describing one of the world’s oldest professions:
You can take a pitchman and make a great actor out of him, but you cannot take an actor and always make a great pitchman out of him. The pitchman must make you applaud and take out your money. He must be able to to execute what in pitchman’s parlance is called “the turn” – the perilous, crucial moment when he goes from entertainer to businessman. If, out of a crowd of fifty, twenty-five people come forward to buy, the true pitchman sells to only twenty of them. To the remaining five, he says, “Wait! There’s something else I want to show you!” Then he starts his pitch again, with slight variations, and the remaining four or five become the inner core of the next crowd, hemmed in by the people around them, and so eager to pay their money and be on their way that they start the selling frenzy all over again.
He then gives a bit of background to let you know Popeil didn’t just stumble upon success:
Ron Popeil started pitching his father’s kitchen gadgets at the Maxwell Street flea market in Chicago,in the midfifties. He was thirteen. Every morning, he would arrive at the market at five and prepare fifty pounds each of onions, cabbages, and carrots, and a hundred pounds of potatoes. He sold from six in the morning until four in the afternoon, bringing in as much as $500 a day. In his late teens, he started doing the state and county-fair circuit, and then he scored a prime spot in the Woolworth’s at State and Washington, in the Loop, which at the time was the top-grossing Woolworth’s store in the country. He was making more than the manager of the store, selling the Chop-O-Matic and the Dial-O-Matic. … “He was mesmerizing, … there were secretaries who would take their lunch break at Woolworth’s to watch him because he was so good-looking. He would go into the turn, and people would just come running.”
Ron Popeil’s success came from hard work, and the design of unique and compelling products. When coupled with his unmatched ability to “pitch” them to TV audiences the resulting sales were staggering. His crowning achievement, The Showtime Rotisserie is set to soon surpass $1 Billion in sales! Unbelievable.
But I’m much more interested in the Ronco Popeil Automatic Pasta Maker. I mean anyone can Rotisserie a chicken, but when you have your peeps over and make fresh pasta for them right before their eyes, you are a hero! And Ron made me a hero many times over.
After serving faithfully for many years, my own Ronco Popeil Automatic Pasta Maker finally gave up the ghost a while back. When I tried to purchase another I was stunned to find out that Ronco was out of business and there was no joy to be had in my personal Pasta World. Drats.
So I tried to replace it with an Italian machine whose brand I won’t mention. Disaster. It didn’t hold a candle to my beloved Pasta Shooter. As fate would have it some friends had purchased a Takka Pasta Maker from Macy’s about 20 years ago and had never opened the box. They were gracious enough to pass it along to me and when I opened it I discovered that it has a virtually identical mechanism to Popeil’s version. The only difference is that my Takka is built like a Russian Tank with lots of heavy metal where the Popeil used plastic. This baby will be with me until the end!
Here is the video I filmed last night. Bob The Pasta Maker is back! I think of it as my homage to Ron Popeil. The first section shows the ‘mixing’ part of the process. Add oil olive and eggs to 50/50 semolina /white flour. Then next the breath-taking extrusion phase where the pasta is actually ‘shot’.
And although I make this look easy in the video, knowing how quickly to add the liquid and exactly when to extrude the pasta really does take some skill. It’s me and Ron on this one; but while I can mix with the best, I know I can’t pitch like the Master.
Finally as an extra credit bonus, if you want to see a typical Ron Popeil price countdown (and you should), here’s your YouTube link.