As sweet as country pie baked fresh in the city
Among the requisite pit stops to gas station restrooms and roadside eateries along the scenic route, nestled within the vast expanse of lush greenery, the country pie stand harkens back to an era of Southern hospitality, friendly neighbourhood bakers and homemade pies. Vancouver-born pastry chef Tamera Clark likes her pies fresh out of the oven too, and after working inside various kitchens in Europe and the Caribbean, since 2013, she has been busy whipping up classic, American-style treats at Rustique Pie Kitchen, Montreal’s “country pie stand in the city.”
“I grew up with a family of home cooks, so we always had great meals,” says Clark, who is also co-owner — along with Ryan Bloom and Jacqueline Berman — of the homey specialty bakery-cum-café located in Saint-Henri. “I grew up with chocolate soufflé for dessert, crème caramel, those kinds of things that I thought were normal but aren’t that normal!”
Clark’s career in food and hospitality began at age 14 with a job at a pizza shop. In 2003, she left Vancouver to travel the globe, residing in California, Whistler and the Cayman Islands among other destinations, and working as a server, bartender and manager in various restaurants and catering houses. In Australia, she found her calling. “I worked in a catering company where, in order to be a server at night, you had to work in the kitchen during the day,” explains Clark. “I was learning new recipes and it sparked my love for being in the kitchen.” However, it would be at EJ Catering in Cardiff, South Wales, that she would find her niche: desserts. Clark trained at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts in Vancouver and upon completion of a six-month program, became head pastry chef and general manager at Black Trumpet, a gourmet delicatessen in the Cayman Islands.
“I got the feeling I wanted my own place at this point,” recalls Clark. While at Black Trumpet, Clark met Bloom, and — sold on his idea of bringing classic, American-style treats to La Belle Province — moved to Montreal and, along with Bloom’s sister-in-law, Berman, opened Rustique Pie Kitchen.
“Montreal is full of incredible classic French desserts,” says Clark. “Having childhood desserts is something that people really grab on to as well. It’s nice to have both options.”
Apple, cherry, blueberry and lemon meringue, the classic pies of our youth have a permanent spot on Rustique’s seasonally changing menu. But with 12 to 14 different pies on offer daily alongside other decadent handcrafted desserts, Clark has ample room to experiment. And experiment she does, whipping up “rustique-style” takes on classic British desserts like Eton mess and Banoffee pie, among other culinary sleights of hand.
“For my Caribbean desserts, I use a lot of coconut, lime and pineapple,” says Clark. “I take flavour and develop desserts from that.”
So what’s in a pie? “The perfect combination of a flaky crust, a right ratio of filling and some sort of finishing topping,” she opines. “Right now, we have a rhubarb crumble, so we have that flaky crust, tenny filling and crumble-streusel topping. It’s always nice to have those three elements. And butter of course!”
As of this writing, Clark plans to hang up her Rustique apron and move back to Vancouver. “I’ve been traveling for so long, I need to set my roots,” she says. But with plans of setting up her own pastry shop there by next spring, and with two of her recipes featured in the new book Montreal Cooks: A Tasting Menu From the City’s Leading Chefs by Jonathan Cheung and Tays Spencer (2015, Figure 1 Press), it’s likely not the last we’ll hear of her. And her lemon meringue pie. “It’s something I brought here [at Rustique]. It’s something I grew up with,” says Clark. “Lemon meringue pie will always be my thing.”