Our Chef’s Training instructor, Cheryl Perry, recently embarked on an exciting new venture: a different kind of pie business she calls Pie Corps. I took the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her latest endeavor, following on the heels of her popular restaurant and catering business, Dish, and the extensive consulting work she’s done with start-up food businesses.
What was the genesis of this pie idea? Why pies, particularly?
My partner Felipa Lopez and I had been thinking a lot about starting a food business, and we actually tried a few things before deciding pie was going to be our baby. We had a brief trial with making sausage, but food safety regulations were too scary. We also did some lacto-fermentation of vegetables from our garden – but the idea somehow didn’t stick.
Pie really lets us explore all of our ideas and, since we are making both savory and sweet pie, we can incorporate many elements of our previous trials and interests into the pies we make.
You are recognized by many, including our students, for your pie mastery. How did you develop it?
When I was just starting out, I was of the firm belief that the mastery of making good pie dough and a good sauce were key elements to becoming a chef. I actually spent a summer about 15 years ago making a pie a day. That definitely helped deepen my understanding of pie!
Tell me about your product line. What types of pies will you offer? What’s unique about them? Tell me about the quality of ingredients you’ll be using. Tell me about the lard.
We offer sweet and savory pies in a variety of sizes and shapes. For right now, we’re not making the standard 9-inch “grandma pie.” Our round pies are deep-dish and 5 ½ to 6 inches – pie for two. We make some hand-held pies, some little empanada-type pies that we call “palm pielettes,” and we’re even baking pie in a mason jar.
Felipa and I want to stay in the local-seasonal range of ingredients as much as possible. We’re using some great New York State flours, and doing things like preserving fruit for year-round use.
In terms of crusts we’re making a fantastic all-butter crust as well as butter and lard crust for our meat pies. We decided to use lard to stay within our mission of using traditional and locally sourced ingredients. Lard had been so demonized as an unhealthy fat – basically shorthand for causing morbid obesity and heart attacks. We want to dispel some of the myths about what’s healthy fat. All of the lard you get in the supermarket is combined with hydrogenated oil to bulk it up and keep it cheap. The lard we use is from a great farm called Flying Pigs Farm, where the pigs are pasture-raised, hormone-free, and antibiotic-free. Here’s a link to a website I really like with lots of information about lard’s health benefits.
Tell me about your partnership with Hill’s Country Inn. Who owns it? What is the Inn about exactly?
The inn in its heyday was a summer resort for nature lovers in Sullivan County. I’m pretty sure it was a very popular place, but unfortunately it’s closed now. The owners, who are such nice people, are trying to sell, but in the meantime they rent the kitchen as an incubator commercial kitchen. It’s perfect for Pie Corps. For one thing, the kitchen is huge and so well equipped. Secondly, our interns get to stay at the Inn.
We’ve done some catering already and are planning to sell wholesale. Honestly, we’re not 100% sure where we’ll go with our pie; we have so many ideas about places we think our product would fit in. We are at the moment testing out the product, getting a feel for our market, and I’m pretty sure after this season I could answer this question in a more definitive way.
You’ll be taking Chef’s Training interns from Natural Gourmet starting this summer. What kind of experience can they expect? What will they learn?
We’ve just had our first round of interns, and they were so great and so helpful. They worked with us on all aspects of production! Aside from gaining lots of cooking skills while making all of our fillings, we rendered lard, made marmalade from heirloom Florida citrus, made some wonderful vegetable, beef and pork fillings for our savory pies, and made our delicious sourdough puff pastry. The interns are getting first-hand experience in working with a start-up business. Also, I think it is of great value to make the food, and then sell it to the customer. I think student interns will gain valuable experience in customer service and developing product awareness.
For many more pictures and much more buzz about Pie Corps, check out its Facebook page.