Justice of the Pies
When people say “pie,” they often tend to draw out the vowels. It’s like speaking a word and drooling at the same time. Piiiiiiiiiiieeeee. I’ve never heard anyone say “cookie” this way.
Pies are nostalgic and timeless. Pies feel more grown-up than, say, a cupcake. But pies are also something many of us grew up with.
I most definitely grew up with pies. My father, Stephen Broussard, was a self-proclaimed “Pie Master.” Early Saturday mornings, he’d tie on his apron that read “Skinny People Make Bad Cooks,” throw on his toque (yes, he actually wore the iconic chef’s hat while cooking at home), blast his favorite jazz albums on the stereo, and bake a quiche. He felt that making quiches made him seem cultured. For him, quiche was like oui oui fancy.
My family migrated north, to Chicago, from Louisiana, a state known for its culinary prowess. And there was no shortage of oneupmanship in my family’s kitchens. Immediately after baking or cooking, my dad would call my aunt Sandy or my aunt Pat to taunt them about his food being better than theirs. The conversation went something like this:
“Hey, Pat, I made an apple cranberry pie last Sunday. It was pretty good. I served it with—”
“Yeah, you KNOW that I make a pretty good apple pie.”
“I know, I get it. But what I’m saying is I just made one and it was pretty damn good.”
“What did you put in it? Did you roll it around in cinnamon and sugar without cooking it down? I don’t do it like that. I like to cook my apples first and then let them cool before I put them in my pie.”
“Yeah, but, Pat, ain’t nobody talking about your apple pie right now!”
My dad passed away in 2009. He suffered a seizure caused by an inoperable brain tumor. We held his funeral at Holy Family Catholic Church in Chicago, a few blocks from the Robert Brooks housing project where he grew up. More than four hundred people attended the service.
As his only child, and as an introvert, I was overwhelmed with the number of people walking up to me to hug me, shake my hand, or offer a word of condolence. I was happy to finally escape to the church’s basement, where a handful of family and close friends were enjoying fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, greens, red fruit punch, and caramel cake. Miles Davis blasted on the portable speakers. Everything was just as my dad had requested.
I sat at a table by myself, happy to steal a moment alone to rub the tennis ball–size stress knot that had begun to form in my upper back, when my cousin Stefanie sauntered over and interrupted my quietude. “We should start a foundation,” she said.
I looked at her out of the corner of my eyes. “And why?”
“In memory of Uncle Steve. We should bake pies and teach kids how to bake pies. It can be a family thing.”
I was one week away from opening an art gallery and bar, and my dad’s passing was just an added layer of stress on my spirit.
The last thing I wanted to think about was pies or quiches. Stefanie understood and backed off.
“Okay, I’m just saying—think about it.”
Three years following his death, my tank was empty. I had poured all my energy into curating the gallery’s experiences and managing the bar. I wasn’t sure what my next move was going to be, but I definitely needed time to rethink and recuperate.
I flew to San Francisco to visit my cousins Justin and Shamieka. They had a new baby girl, Dawson, and I went to help them care for her while they managed a few work commitments.
They lived in the culturally rich Mission neighborhood, where streets were lined with family-run eateries. One day, Shamieka and I stumbled upon a bakery called Mission Pie. My skin began to tingle, and I felt a slight chill when we walked in the doors. I was supposed to be here.
I ordered a slice of pie with hot chocolate and my cousin ordered a slice of gluten-free quiche. I sat down and surveyed the place. It was small, cute, cozy, and reminded me of a few spots back home in Chicago. I noticed that there were a lot of teenagers working behind the counter. While we waited for our order, my cousin quipped, “I love this place. They hire a lot of displaced teens who are living in shelters.” My head felt light, and my ears started to ring.
I flashed back to the basement of Holy Family Catholic Church and heard an echo of Stefanie’s voice: “We should bake pies.”
My dad’s spirit had been trying to tell me all along, and now I heard him loud and clear.
I went back to the house, and I told my cousin Justin, “I think I’m going to start a bakery.” My cousin, who watched Iron Chef
as if it were a game of Monday Night Football, was on board with my impulsive decision. He immediately started throwing out ideas for savory pies and made a grocery list so that we could begin recipe testing the next day.
His enthusiasm confirmed, for me, that this was a good idea.
I am very decisive, and once I make up my mind I move with a purpose and walk with fortitude. The fatigue I felt from my first business was suddenly lifted. I was ready to tackle this new idea. I didn’t know what my menu would be. I didn’t know where I would operate a kitchen. I didn’t even know who I would serve, or if anyone would want to eat the pies I made. I didn’t even have a name.
“I have the perfect name,” my aunt Sandy offered. “You should call it, The Pie Master’s Daughter.” I hesitated for a minute and then replied, “I was thinking . . . maybe I could call it Justice of the Pies.”
Aunt Sandy brushed my suggestion aside and exclaimed, “But you’re the Pie Master’s daughter!”
Justin backed up my decision on the bakery’s name and it was settled: In the fall of 2014, Justice of the Pies was going to be my newest endeavor. We spent the remainder of that week cooking and baking and making daily trips to the grocery store. I felt renewed. I was really going to do this.
Once I returned to Chicago, I got my proper paperwork and licensing in place, I found a shared kitchen to work out of, and I applied to participate in a few spring markets. I didn’t have everything figured out, but I did have $7,000 and a willingness to go slow and steady. I also had a purpose.
I was not only celebrating my dad’s love of pies but also reflecting on his life. He was a man who grew up with food insecurity and he was also a criminal defense attorney. So, in building the bakery, I integrated a social mission element to fight against food insecurities and give people second chances.
One of our social initiatives is the I KNEAD LOVE Workshop. Through the seminar, we provide elementary-aged children from lower income communities instruction on good nutrition, developing basic cooking skills, and encouraging creativity in the kitchen. In cultivating these life skills, we are helping children become more food secure and more self-sufficient in the kitchen.
I started the company eight years ago and, ever since, Justice of the Pies has been known not only for our delicious sweet and savory pies, quiches, and tarts but also for how we positively impact the lives of others. This cookbook will do the same. It includes recipes inspired by my personal experiences, my travels, and the meals I’ve shared with friends. I’ve also included recipes that were created to reflect the spirits of impactful people—people who, like me, live a purpose-driven life and whose mission it is to positively lift others. I like to refer to these people as “stewards” because they are agents who stand for fairness and equality. As a tribute to them, Justice of the Pies
includes their stories, and recipes informed by their lives, histories, cultures, and missions.
In addition to helping people and continuing my dad’s legacy of doing good, what I love most about serving pie is seeing the reactions on people’s faces when they eat it. I am especially tickled when people walk away while taking their first bite, stop in their tracks, and then whip their bodies around to search for me in the crowds (likely at a farmers’ market where I often have a pie stand). Their eyes are usually saying, “Whaaaaa . . .” I think my superpower is my highly attuned sense of smell and taste—you see, since I was a baby, I’ve had significant hearing loss, and when you lose one sense, the brain adapts by giving more sensory information to another. Flavors and aromas for me are distinct and I love to bring complexity to something as homey and simple as pie (or quiche or other delectable treats). In short, it gives me such an exhilaration to blow the lid off of someone’s expectations of what an apple or peach pie should
taste like. When it really gets down to it, baking pies makes me happy because it allows me a way to express my creativity while spreading joy.