Sometimes, we do not fully realize a person’s influence on us until they are no longer with us. Case in point, my friend Chef John Michael Lerma, who sadly, at the age of 52, passed away earlier this month.
John Michael, or JML as he is often referred to, was a native of my home state of North Dakota & also attended my alma mater, the University of North Dakota, though in the past years, he resided in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. In addition to being a noted food writer, cookbook author, and competitor in culinary competitions, he also taught in various demonstration kitchens, was a representative for Emile Henry bakeware, and he lead culinary vacations (!!) to both Italy & Mexico.
While I was working at the University of North Dakota Wellness Center, both in the marketing department and as an instructor for the Culinary Corner Demo Kitchen, John Michael did several guest demonstrations. He also cooked for us demo kitchen employees a few times & just talked to us about life and experiences. He had such a big heart & truly loved food (and people). I was so saddened to hear of his passing.
When I met John Michael, I was in an interesting place in life... I knew I would be moving to South Carolina the following year to fulfill my dream of attending culinary school, but I didn’t really know what life would bring beyond that. Having also earned an art degree in graphic design/photography and also having worked in a marketing department, I really appreciated an atmosphere of collaboration & helping your fellow artists become the best they could be. But it seemed to me as though kitchens were often more competitive than collaborative. John Michael really embodied the spirit of collaboration I found was lacking in many kitchens. It was easy to tell from conversations with him one-on-one and from seeing him teach a room full of eager pie fans how excited he was about sharing his knowledge with others. He genuinely cared about his audience & wanted them to be as successful as possible in their kitchen endeavors. He was genuine, not at all afraid to reveal his own tricks & tips.
John Michael was famous for many food items (I still love to make his pizza dough & this amazing creamed mushroom dish I saw him demo once), but pies were one of his specialties. He won seven (!) national pie competitions & his second cookbook is entirely pie themed. I thought the best tribute to him was to make a pie in his memory. And to make that pie in the pink Emile Henry pie dish he graciously gave to me (and autographed) on one of his visits. With Thanksgiving around the corner, making his pecan pie recipe, adapted to be gluten free, seemed the most appropriate.
In preparation to make this pie & write this post, I reflected on my experiences with John Michael Lerma. I like to think that perhaps his genuine, caring manner has influenced my own style, both when I was teaching in a culinary classroom, and now as I “teach” through blogging. I hope that I can portray even a fraction of his passion for food & for others. I will also forever remember him as the person who introduced me to the wonderful world of Vanilla Bean Paste(which truly is one of my favorite baking ingredients).
John Michael, you will be missed! But your legacy will live on in your cookbooks & in the many lives you touched!
adapted from Garden County Pie
yields 8 servings
1 recipe GF Pate Brisee
tapioca starch for dusting
4 large eggs, room temperature, well beaten
5.25 oz / 3/4 c Granulated Sugar
2.65 / 1/3 c melted unsalted butter
3.65 oz / 1/3 c pure maple syrup (NOT pancake syrup)
5.5 oz / 1/2 c light corn syrup
5.5 oz / 1/2 c dark corn syrup )i only had 4 oz, so i added an additional 1.5 oz of light)
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tsp Bourbon (optional)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 c pecans, broken, plus additional for decorating the top of the pie (for me it was 3.9 oz +2 oz inside)
Whipped Cream for serving, optional
- Make the pie dough & allow it to rest in the refrigerator at least 2 hours (overnight is even better.
- When ready to assemble the pie, remove the dough from the refrigerator & place it on a surface that has been well dusted with tapioca starch. Dust the top of the dough & the rolling pin with additional tapioca starch.
- Quickly roll out the dough, keeping it as circular as possible, until it is a little larger than a 9” pie pan. Move the dough around on the counter/board to make sure it isn’t sticking.
- Gently fold the dough in half & place it into the center of the pie pan. Unfold the dough & press it lightly with your finger tips & knuckles until it is formed to the pan. Use a knife or kitchen sheers to cut off any excess. Place the pan into the refrigerator while the rest of the filling is made.
- Preheat the oven to 375 F.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, granulated sugar, melted butter, pure maple syrup, corn syrups, vanilla bean paste, bourbon and sea salt. Add the pecans & stir to combine.
- Remove the prepared crust from the refrigerator & set on top of a rimmed sheet pan. Optional, use the edges of a spoon to make the scalloped pattern by gently rolling the tip of the spoon (I used an ice tea spoon) over the edge of the dough. Add a divot inside each scallop.
- Pour the prepared filling into the crust. Place additional pecan halves around the edge of the pie, if desired.
- Bake for 20 minutes at 375 F, then reduce the oven to 350 and bake for an additional 40 to 50 minutes. Check the pie often in the end stages & cover the edges of the pie with foil if they become too dark. When the pie is done, the edges should be set & the center will be just a little wobbly.
- Remove the pie from the oven & allow to cool completely. Refrigerate, if possible, a couple hours before serving--this will make cutting the pie easier.
- Cut into pieces & serve with whipped cream, if desired. The crust will be very crumbly, but delicious. Leftovers can be stored room temperature in a covered container, but the pie is easier to cut and serve when refrigerated.