When Kate Lebo arrives at High 5 Pie on 12th Ave, she mentions that right after this interview she will be buying a lot of lard.
“I love Rain Shadow Meat’s lard — Crisco is really great too,” she says with a sense of genuine excitement. “Without fat, your pie just isn’t going to taste as good.”
For Lebo, pie isn’t simply crust and a filling. It is an artistic medium with endless opportunities for self-expression. In the bestselling zine Lebo put out “A Commonplace Book of Pie,” she begins with a quote from Carl Sagan: “If you wish to make an apple pie truly from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” In Lebo’s world, pie is a folk art, a science, and a philosophy.
If this is starting to sound a little academic, you would be correct. Lebo started up her own “Pie School” on Capitol Hill in June. The quarterly Pie School takes students, places them in High 5 Pies’ kitchen, and exposes them to pie lore, pie facts, and pie history. Then of course, you learn to make pie.
“My philosophy is to try to teach students to go off recipe,” Lebo says, “I try to teach them how things will taste, how flavors will interact, how to make great crust. Students are amazed when they’re done and they’ve got this delicious pie that they made sitting in front of them.”
If you are wondering about Lebo’s Pie School teaching credentials — she has them in spades. Between her cooking/memoir blog Good Egg, her first place finish in CakeSpy’s Cake vs Pie contest (earning best in show with her Peach Ginger Pie), her participation as a pie judge at the Iowa State Fair, her pie zine, her “semi-secret” pie social called Pie Stand, and her appearance on NPR’s local KUOW station as a pie aficionado, it’s hard to doubt Lebo’s expertise.
Her passion for pie is evident in the way she speaks. As a poetry MFA from University of Washington, Lebo speaks about pie with an eloquent reverence. She has literally written prose on the subject. A quick smattering of Zen-like pie quotes from Lebo’s talk with CHS:
- “Making pie, I love the hunger and delight of the hands. You don’t have to touch cake—but you have to touch pie.”
- “Pie, as a form, is meant to be shared. The exchange is important.”
- “The level of expressiveness when someone reacts to eating a slice of pie is amazing. You see all kinds—delight, people physically melting, closed eyes, grins, the variety is beautiful.”
From her first pie five years ago (a lemon meringue that “tasted like petroleum jelly”) to her current pie-pro status, Lebo’s relationship with pie has been a journey. For those interested in gleaning pie-smarts, head to pie-school.com to sign up for one of Lebo’s four hour classes, which will start again on September 17. Catch Lebo before she takes Pie School to New York, something she is currently working on.
“The pies students have made have been fantastic,” Lebo says, “I can’t wait to see what kind of pie students will make next.”