March 9, 2010


When I call Robert to schedule an interview, he says, "I cook on rocks, I cook underground, I cook in trash cans, that sort of thing." Okay, so he's an extreme-sport kind of cook, a manly-man cook. He probably doesn't do everyday stuff, like dinner.

Wrong. Robert is a former boy scout who cooks for his wife most evenings—nice, normal things like pasta and salmon and potato pancakes.

Here is Robert with two pasties (pronounced PAST-eez, not to be confused with a certain fringe-y accessory). These meat and vegetable pies are a family tradition that comes from Michigan, where Robert grew up. It's a dish with history, too; it arrived in Michigan with the Cornish miners who emigrated there in the early 1800s to work in the iron and copper mines. Robert's father's father, a sheet metal worker, was the family pasty maker. As a child, Robert found that peeling potatoes for a batch of his grandfather's pasties was a pretty good gig.

His mother, with five kids to feed, found little joy in cooking ("Her idea of a perfectly cooked vegetable was one you could drink through a straw," Robert says), and she gave her son free rein in the kitchen as long as he cleaned up after himself. So he baked. He experimented. He cooked over fires with fellow boy scouts. To earn a merit badge, he made pot roast and cherry pie in an underground, rock-lined fire pit.

Decades later, Robert still goes for the occasional over-the-top (i.e. INSANE) project. With his partner in culinary INSANITY, Mike C., he recently took on a Turducken, a boned chicken inside a boned duck inside a boned turkey, stuffed with sausage and cornbread. Then there was a Timpani, the giant Italian concoction featured in the movie "Big Night" that consists of layers of sausage, cheese, vegetables, and pasta, all wrapped in bread dough and baked. And every Easter, Robert and his wife, brother, and sister-in-law feed sticky buns and eggs cooked to order to dozens of guests who take turns at the table; the record is 121. On camping trips, Robert roasts turkey in a trash can.

Whew. Back to the pasties.

There are different camps when it comes constructing this meal-in-a-crust. Robert's family always makes it with sliced vegetables and diced meat instead of the more typical ground meat. And some people try to get all fancy with additions like, gulp, nutmeg. Robert shakes his head. "People made pasties to use up meat scraps and other leftover bits," he says. "It's miners' food, workers' food, something you could wrap in a towel and eat with dirty hands." These days Robert slices his pasties into wedges and eats them with a fork. But nutmeg? Never.


This makes one very large pasty. Robert used to eat a whole one himself, back in the day, but now he says it can serve at least two. He always doubles the recipe and bakes two pasties together in one pie plate.

1 c. flour
1 pinch salt
6 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
6-8 Tbsp. ice water
1 small onion
1/2 lb. beef chuck, cut into strips 1/2 inch wide and 1 inch long
1 large russet potato, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Crust: Make a volcano with the flour, sprinkle it with two tablespoons of the water and stir briefly to moisten. Chop the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse meal, then add water gradually and mix with your hands until the dough can be gathered into a ball. Using the heel of your hand, press down hard on the dough and twist your hand three times. Wrap the dough in plastic, chill for at least 30-45 minutes, and then roll out to fit a 9-inch pie plate.
Assembly: layer the meat and veggies on one half of the crust, potatoes first, then onions, then meat, then salt and pepper. Repeat, and end with a layer of potatoes. Fold the rest of the crust over the filling, pinch the edges closed, and poke lots of vents in the top crust with a thin skewer or pointy knife to allow steam to escape. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.


  1. This is a a perfect example of "simple" food that is anything but simple. For years my partner has been hassling me to bake savory pies. I have baked several but although they are delicious they do not conjure memories of the pasties of his childhood. I just couldn't get it. Judging by the photo on the pink plate, I think this is more of what he has in mind. It looks simply delicious.

  2. I have heard Chef Robaire talk about the pasties of his Michigan youth - glad to see the great pictures and recipe. Looks very authentic and I will try my hand at them someday, sans nutmeg!