A Visit to Portland’s Pacific Pie Co.
Who: Sarah Curtis-Fawley
What: Pacific Pie Co.
Where: Portland, Oregon
While I’ve always considered myself a chocolate cake over fruit pie person (I’m a diehard chocoholic, what can I say!), a slice of Sarah’s apple sour cream streusel just about converted me. The flaky, buttery crust paired with local gala apples and crunchy topping bowled me over with its delicate balance of flavor, texture and natural sweetness. Just in time for Thanksgiving (prime pie season!) join us for a tour of this Portland-based pie shop.
Sarah and her husband met in Australia where Sarah worked as a criminologist on a fellowship. What was meant to be a one-year stay turned into eight before they moved to Portland to open Pacific Pie Co. They started with what they knew best (the comforting Australian tradition of meat pies) and eventually expanded into sweets and a full menu with other Oz heavy hitters like split pea soup with a pork pie floating in the middle of the bowl (serious comfort/hangover cure!) and peanut, raisin and chocolate pie.
Sarah’s lifelong interest in cooking is reflected in every detail at the Pie Co. She took about one year to perfect her crust, which is made with local European style butter and has a fantastic bite which balances with all the fillings perfectly. The local produce and ingredients allows Sarah to have a relationship with the farmers in her community and for her products to sing with fresh flavor. There are easier, cheaper and faster ways to do this, but Sarah’s mission is to make delicious pies highlighting seasonal, local meats and produce.
The Test Kitchen
The kitchen at Pacific Pie Co. is a bustle with activity during my visit. A tight-knit staff of five employees are all working on different stages of various pie projects: one person stirs a vat of apple pie filling (the smell is sublime!) while another peels more apples for a second round; someone else works on assembling a turkey pot pie (a good alternative for those searching for an alternative to a traditional holiday bird); in a corner room, there’s a place devoted entirely to dough, which is pressed through a machine to the appropriate thickness and used for both sweet and savory pies.
The Secret Sauce
The secret here is the love and dedication! Just check out Sarah’s pie server tattoo on her left arm to remind her “to serve each slice with love.” Pie has allowed Sarah and Chris, partners in life and in business, to work together, and there is a lot of laughter and joy to be had in working alongside each other. Sarah really enjoys this. Yes, it’s hard work, running their own business and growing it, but to spend the days working it out together is such a benefit.
The Business Plan
Sarah’s mission to create fresh pies loaded with local, natural ingredients is at the heart Pacific Pie Co.’s business plan. When tempting wholesale offers come in that compromise too much on these core values, they decline. These are tough decisions for any small business (how to grow in different ways while maintaining quality and love in all the pies) but by sticking with their original mission, Sarah and Chris have flourished, garnering national press and a loyal local following. They cater to many different businesses around town (usually someone with Australian roots tells all their coworkers) and host many expat events in their restaurant. By partnering with a different non-profit each month in Portland, they are able to feed people with and donate proceeds. A win-win!
The most important characteristic of Pacific Pie Co., other than the perfectly cooked pies, is their relationship to the Portland community, which is considered at each juncture: from the inception of each pie flavor to sourcing just the right fruit, veg or meat from a nearby farmer; to the service at the restaurant and the special attention paid to regulars, both from abroad or the US. The pies are a medium to interact with the people who work the land around Portland (growing and raising the most spectacular produce and animals possible), and then to feed them with a food that makes everyone’s eyes light up. Pie is a happy food, and Pacific Pie Co. makes us Portland eaters very happy.
• Visit the Website: Pacific Pie Co.
6 Quick Questions for Sarah
Favorite online resources for your kitchen?
Often when I am scaling up recipes I use an online measurement conversion tool: food.com. To be honest we are pretty old school here at Pacific Pie Co — I have a big collection of cookbooks that I adore and refer to all the time. Pie is a rustic, old fashioned food, and that’s the way we cook — handmade, from scratch, without a lot of technology!
The one thing you can’t live without?
In the kitchen I absolutely could not live without my Japanese chef’s knife. My husband bought it for me as a birthday gift several years ago and it has seriously changed my life cooking-wise. We are also ardent fans of Pyrex pie plates — hands down the best way to bake a pie. We love that Pyrex can go straight from freezer to oven, plus you can check the bottom of your pie crust to ensure it is fully baked. We buy our Pyrex pie plates by the pallet, and I have to say that every time we get a delivery of literally hundreds of pie plates I get a little chill inside knowing how much delicious pie is in the future.
If you could spend a day with anyone, who would it be and why?
My cooking heroine, Nigella Lawson. Something like 15 years ago I was on vacation in London and happened to catch Nigella’s first cooking show, Nigella Bites, on the BBC. I was instantly mesmerized by this bold and beautiful cook, and I have never looked back. Nigella is hands down my favorite cook book author — her style and sensibility about food is so real and her recipes just work. Nigella’s approach to food and the joy of feeding people has totally influenced my vision for Pacific Pie Co. Can you tell I adore this woman? If I could spend a day cooking and drinking wine with Nigella I would be in heaven.
What’s in your Google reader?
My husband jokes that I am constantly thinking about the next thing to eat, which for me means the next thing I will cook. I love:
• Cooksillustrated.com. Cooks Illustrated is such an amazing resource, I totally geek out on their scientific approach to cooking and baking.
If you won a million dollars, what would you do with it?
Definitely travel. I am so hungry for all of the delicious food the world has on offer, I never get enough of traveling to a new city and then just walking endlessly and eating my way through a cultural landscape. Oh, and I would buy my hard working husband (and co-owner of Pacific Pie Co) a Porsche.
What’s the best accompaniment for a slice of pie?
I think most folks would say a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a cup of coffee, but I am going to say a glass of champagne! I really love the combination of sweet pie, flaky buttery pastry, and cold sparkling champagne! What better way to celebrate life?
(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)