Pie Therapy

Photo: Chelsea Shapouri

Well, I definitely tried. I went to the Gather for Good website and checked out every single one of the drool-worthy pies that were offered as part of the Pies for Justice Online Charity Bake Sale on Juneteenth. They all looked amazing, but The Gourmandise School’s Rum Cream Pie (I mean, of course we’re giving you this awesome recipe here!) really caught my eye. Maybe it was the dark chocolate topped with pistachios. Or that it was described as a “sexy pie…fun, flirty, a little boozy…” and that it “embodied” [the amazing British comedy series] Fleabag.

The bake sale would go live at 9:00 a.m. with all proceeds donated to Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and The Gathering for Justice. And so, there I was. I pressed the button. I bid for my pie. Only it sold in three minutes flat—all of them did—and I was left pie-less and needing to know more.

It turns out this master pie was created by Gourmandise’s kitchen manager, Chef Crystal Slonecker. I also found out that the school is humming these days. Owner Clemence Gossett gets calls from bakers as far away as the Philippines and France, wanting to know what’s wrong with their sourdough starter, or why this or that flour suckered their pie. At Gourmandise, pie therapy is all in a day’s work, though the pandemic has put a unique spin on baking for mental health. In recent months, Clemence says, it’s out of control. This is more than okay because she’s a believer in the healing power of food. 

Take the pie therapy class she used to offer, complete with a couple of psychotherapists in the room. 

“People were coming with a great deal of expectation about the final pie, but then there’s things like muscle memory and motor skills that become obvious really fast,” Clemence tells me. “There’s something too about just forgetting everything and starting from scratch, about just being present and focusing on your movements, all the things you don’t necessarily think about when you think about artistry…I always know who’s going to need to just take a step back, take a breath and see their pie from about five feet away.” 

To Clemence, the story matters too as the ethnicity and cultural significance of ingredients is paramount. 

“When it comes to the information we give in our classes, we’ve always wanted to make sure that the instructors aren’t just teaching a technique, but can explain the reasons behind the technique or where this ingredient comes from, what culture it’s important to, how it’s grown, and that information is really what’s made [The Gourmandise School] very different,” she says. “We believe that culture and understanding growing practices are all part of the food-crafting system.”

That curiosity and integrity are challenged by the Black Lives Matter conversation sweeping our country today. Clemence and her partner, Sabrina Ironside, have been having soul-searching conversations about how best they can help. First, there’s supporting black owned businesses, farms, and restaurants (see one excellent list of black owned California farms here).

They’ve also been thinking hard about mentorship and that gap between middle school and college. Gourmandise already works with culinary schools that set up in South LA and Long Beach. “The really important part is making sure that that culture and voice feels as valuable as others,” Clemence says. “Part of what we teach is the context of dishes and food culture. We’re all about making sure that, as a greater food society, we understand the power of food in telling stories from people who are underrepresented.” 

For them, and for us, these are the stories that need to be amplified for change to work—perhaps one pie at a time.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let's stay in touch

Subscribe to the Edible LA e-newsletter for updates on local food issues, events, seasonal recipes, and special issue sneak peeks.

We respect your privacy