I have a phobia of flour and butter. It’s not them, it’s me. Patisserie fails to be my forte. But one woman’s ability to botch a long practiced culinary craft is another woman’s thriving virtue. Take a young lady, Sarah O’Brien, add a rolling pin from her grandmother, combine this with a young lad, Deon Kay, worldly travels, and a food fling in Paris. Bake for a few years and out the oven comes The Little Tart Bakeshop.
Last year I noticed that the East Atlanta Village Farmers’ Market had mushroomed into many new vendors, including one displaying gorgeous pastries, tartlets, and other oven delights. Finally! A home industry! I no longer had to wait for my family visits to South Africa for my fix of free range egg golden quiches and ‘to die for’ buttery croissants. A taste of home is here… food is loaded with sentimentality.
I see this in Sarah. Her daily pastry-making is a sentiment to her grandmother. When asked about her grandmother sharing her art of all things patisserie to her little granddaughter, the expression in her eyes changes. It’s subtle, but she looks away quickly before returning her gaze to mine to respond. This is my first acquaintance with Sarah, but I sense that her grandmother means the world to her.
Her business partner, Deon, originates from South Africa. Apparently she made him listen to my voicemail. He picked up my accent immediately. While she cuts the butter into the flour, his alchemy is the fluffy egg and delicate fruit fillings for the quiches and tarts. Did I mention that Sarah and Deon fell in love while loving all things food? They met at Brown University. She was studying French, and he was examining English. Their love flourished under unlikely circumstances… serving food to fellow students to scrape up some pocket change. After graduation, travels abroad beckoned so they packed their bags and indulged in the sites, sounds and flavors of France, Italy, South Africa and several other countries. Although she fondly recalls delicious grenadilla ‘lollies’ on the magnificent Cape Town beaches, it was really Paris’s fault. Without realizing this at first, Paris entertained her destiny to flour and butter. On their return to the U.S., the couple began to consider artisan dough to make the dough.
On my arrival to the store, Sarah was tending to milk deliveries from a local farmer. The couple believe in local farmers and their fare. They support the likes of Love is Love, Crystal Organic Farm and the Johnson Family Farm to name a few. After their worldly adventures, and while acquiring masters degrees in Iowa, Sara and Deon’s appreciation for local food was cemented. She conducted a photo essay on farms, while Deon was exploring the magic of film-making. Their farm explorations heightened their awareness of sound and happily raised and grown food.
So the vegetarian couple bought a whole pig. The local pig farmer asked how they wanted to processed. Huh? The sheer scarcity of this question forced them to research pigs and pork cuts. Sarah’s parents were the fortunate recipients of a ham that Christmas. It was the best ham they had eaten… a light bulb went off. The beauty of local food is knowing the farmers, tracing food to its sources, experiencing the deliciousness of fare less travelled, and accepting that it can be a learning curve. Oh, and if you’re vegetarian with a carnivorous craving, all of these attributes serve as justification to gnawing some meat!
Supporting local? How about pumpkin or butternut squash quiche in the fall? Absolutely! Peach tarts in the late summer? Why not? Their creativity mirrors the seasons. Compared to Ohio and Iowa, Georgia offers a longer growing season, which is one reason why Atlanta became the natural choice for their venture. In 2009, a new farmers’ market was seeking vendors. The Little Tart Bakeshop had its break at the East Lake Farmers’ Market. Sarah attributes their initial success to this market and Emory Farmers’ Market. Before they knew it, they were on the Atlanta farmers’ market circuit. Less than three years later, they opened the store. Customers come and go, and with them a couple of tarts, a cookie or two and a pastry leave destined for fortunate bellies.
Sarah’s daily morning ritual is a cappuccino and croissant. She is tiny, her funky blue head scarf reminiscent of the woman in the ‘We can do it’ vintage poster. Dynamite really comes in small packages. I divulge that I’m actually a registered dietitian with a weakness for baked goodies. Calm down folks… it’s not about ‘Can’t have’. Just have it, savor it, and moderate it.
So, parting wisdom for the perfect golden, buttery, flaky…(throw in your own adjective here) pastry? Simple. Pastry dough loves little chunks of butter and doesn’t like to be overworked. Ok, sounds lovely Sarah, but I think I’ll just help myself to one of yours.
Jess Avasthi, Real Time Food Warrior, Winter 2012
Keeping Food Real