Episode 95
🎙  LIVE SHOW
đŸ“ș   SERIES: FOOD MEDIA AWAKENING
đŸŸÂ Â DRINKS WEEK 2019
🧁  BAKING WEEK 2019
đŸ„§Â Â PIE WEEK 2021
Tuesday, January 26, 2021
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39:50

How bold, innovative pie art catapulted Lauren Ko to Instagram stardom

"I identify as an artist first. But, you know, my medium is edible—and it's really important to me that these things also taste good, so I think 'baker' figures equally into that. My favorite part is the design invention or creation process."

đŸ„§ It's Pie Week 2021 đŸ„§

This week, we're excited to welcome Lauren Ko to Salt + Spine, the podcast on stories behind cookbooks, for our Spring 2021 Pie Week!

You might be most likely to know Lauren from her now-famous Instagram handle: @lokokitchen.

Lauren’s geometric designs and stunning pie creations have taken the Internet — and really, the world — by storm. And as you’ll hear in this episode, Lauren fell into pie-making and her signature style by chance. Before long, she had more than 400,000 Instagram followers and her work was being featured everywhere from Vogue and O Magazine to baking pies alongside Martha Stewart.

It all just fell into place, she tells us:

I always gravitate towards very modern design, I've always had an appreciation for art and good design. Things that have a lot of repetitive patterns and bright pops of color. And so it felt natural that that kind of ascetic would inform what I do here. And I initially kind of got into this "pie art" stuff motivated by the art of it. I loved creating; it felt like a really great creative outlet. And it just so happened that pie was my medium, or that my medium was edible.

And now Lauren’s sharing her tips and tricks in her first cookbook, titled Pieometry: Modern Tart Art and Pie Design for the Eye and the Palate, with 50 recipes for both sweet and savory creations. Plus, of course, there are step-by-step guides to recreating the famous stunning designs, like her signature Spoke or the Wave.  

Lauren joined us remotely from her Seattle home for this week’s show as we discuss her rapid rise to success. But not everything has been a success, like two of the recipes she couldn't get right in time to make it into the book. She says:

There were two kinds concepts that I really wanted to make in there. Frosé pie: something with like watermelon, it was going to be frozen, and I just couldn't get that to work. And I think with more experimentation, one day I might have some sort of Frosé tart. But that one just got crossed off the list.

And then I really wanted to do something with pear and hibiscus, and just went through way too many rounds of experiments where it just like didn't turn out. The pears were really mushy. I couldn't get that flavor balance right.

And then, we put Lauren to the culinary test in our game, drawing inspiration from global architecture paired with random ingredients.

VOICES featured in this episode:

RECIPES featured in this episode:

COOKBOOKS featured in this episode:

Episode Transcript:

Lauren Ko

[Episode tease]

I identify as an artist first. but, you know, my medium is edible and it's really important to me that these things also taste good.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Hi there. I'm Brian Hogan Stewart, and you're listening to Salt + Spine, Stories Behind Cookbooks. You're tuning in for our special Pie Week to kick off 2021. Yes, I know some folks celebrate Pie/Pi Day in March. I also know Thanksgiving was like four weeks ago. But as this week's guests will tell you—as well as some of the past pie book authors who we've sat down with—there's no wrong time for pie.

And we're taking this week to celebrate all things pie, including three all-new episodes with authors of pie cookbooks. Stay tuned all week to hear these really great conversations, and make sure you're following along on our social media and our website, where we'll be featuring pie recipes and other "pie-tastic" content.

Now, you just heard from our first Pie Week guest, Lauren Ko.

You're perhaps most likely to know Lauren Ko by her now-famous Instagram handle, @lokokitchen. Lauren's geometric designs and stunning pie creations have taken the Internet—and really the world—by storm. And as you'll hear, Lauren just kind of fell into pie making and her signature style. Before long, she had more than 400,000 Instagram followers and her work was being featured everywhere from Vogue and O Magazine to baking pies alongside Martha Stewart. Today, she does it full time.

And now, Lauren is sharing her tips and tricks in her first cookbook titled Pieometry: Modern Tart Art and Pie Design for the Eye and the Palette, with 50 recipes for both sweet and savory creations. Plus, of course, there are step-by-step guides to recreating her famous, stunning designs like the signature "Spoke" or the "Wave."

Lauren joined us remotely from her Seattle home for this week's show. Stick around: We're playing, of course, a pie-themed game at the end of the episode, plus we've got featured recipes from Pieometry for you. So let's head now to our virtual studio where Lauren Ko joined us to #TalkCookbooks.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Hi Lauren. And thank you so much for joining us on Salt + Spine.

Lauren Ko

Hello. Thanks so much for having me. I'm happy to be here.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Yes, we're thrilled to have you and to talk about your new cookbook, your first cookbook, Pieometry. That's how we've pronounced the name, right? Pieometry?

Lauren Ko

I mean, it's a made-up word, so we can pronounce it however we want. [Laughter]

Brian Hogan Stewart

Sure, sure, a made-up word, but I think one that perfectly encapsulates your work, which we'll dive into—and for folks who are familiar with your work, I think would probably agree. So we'll get back to what that actually means, and what your work looks like in a second. But I always like to start just by learning a little bit more about you and your life and what sort of brought you to the food world.

So, I think you grew up in San Diego, is that right?

Lauren Ko

I did. I was born and raised in sunny San Diego. And I love living in Seattle, but I'm dying to move back one day.

Brian Hogan Stewart

You are? What do you miss?

Lauren Ko

I am based in Seattle now, so we're pretty happy here.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Sure. What's pulling you back to San Diego from your Pacific Northwest home?

Lauren Ko

Um, you know, sunshine and the beach and surfing and really delicious Mexican food [Laughter], among many things. But those are probably the priorities. Oh, and you know, my family is there, but


Brian Hogan Stewart

Yeah, those are great reasons.

What role did food play in your life when you were growing up? I know I've read that you say you come from a "family of phenomenal eaters." Can you talk about what that means and what food was like? And also desserts, since we're going to talk about pies and tarts.

Lauren Ko

Yeah. So I have—or had—the great gift of growing up in a family of what I like to call phenomenal eaters, which means I was lucky enough to be surrounded by food, surrounded by amazing home cooks, eating delicious meals all the time. It's kind of this running family joke that we'll sit down to a giant lunch that my grandma will cook us, and before we even start eating, we will be talking about where to go or what to eat for dinner already.

So, yeah, I was lucky to be kind of exposed to a wide range of cuisines as well. So my family is a Chinese-Honduran-American kind of mixed cultural blend, and so my mom cooked us, you know, traditional Chinese meals, American food, Honduran food, you know, everything in between. So, I was lucky to kind of have that exposure.

And I also spent every summer at my grandma's house in Honduras, ate lots of Honduran food and a lot of kind of those tropical, central American flavors played a big role in my upbringing and had a big influence on things that I enjoy and things that I bake now.

My grandma had a cafe at one point where they baked a lot of different things—so the typical Chinese pineapple buns, but also caramel flan, and tres leches cake, which I ate a lot of as a child.

Yeah, I think one of the biggest ironies of this whole journey is that I don't really have a sweet tooth. I don't really gravitate towards desserts in general in terms of eating or cravings. But my family does celebrate with flan and tres leches, but in this Chinese-Honduran-American family, not a lot of traditional apple pie. So I don't have really any memories of eating pie or, you know, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my mom and grandma, but we never made pie; I don't have those kind of traditional, nostalgic like, "Oh, around the holidays, we rolled dough," and that kind of thing.

So pretty much grew up cooking and eating and baking all sorts of things—everything but pie. And that was kind of this thing I stumbled into a few years ago.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Yeah, I think that's so interesting. So you were baking and cooking along with your mom and grandmother, although not pie, right. You were sort of interested in in being in the kitchen throughout your childhood?

Lauren Ko

Yeah. I mean, I have a lot of memories of kind of holding the mixer while my mom was baking cakes and cookies. I think it was generally understood that my brother was the one that had the the bigger interest in cooking and baking, and I was just kind of there because it seemed fun but didn't really have an interest in a sense that I would take initiative in that.

I was just kind of around it. I loved helping in the kitchen with my grandma as a child, but, it wasn't, you know, by any means a passion or, you know, something that I was really reaching for—and really didn't start to do a ton of it until I was living on my own, post-college.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Sure. And so you, I believe you studied international relations, is that right?

Lauren Ko

I did. It's always nice when people do their research ahead of time. [Laughter]

Brian Hogan Stewart

Yes, I try to find out as much as I can about your background


Lauren Ko

Thank you.

Brian Hogan Stewart


 to make a good conversation. So you, of course, I don't think at the time were interested in food as a career—you were interested in international relations, clearly, and then started to work in nonprofits. Right? What was sort of your initial thinking going into college and coming out of college?

Lauren Ko

Food was not even a thought. I mean, pursuing a career in the food industry or any of that, it had never even occurred to me.

Yeah, I got a degree in international studies and specialized in Latin American studies and sociology, assuming that I would kind of do something that would be helpful for the world in that like young person, idealistic state. I just felt like I grew up very privileged, and really lucky, and wanted to kind of be responsible to that kind of privilege and having this really wonderful upbringing and, you know, growing up in a middle-class household.

So I graduated with a degree and my first job out of college was as a family advocate at an emergency and domestic violence shelter. And pretty much thought that was kind of going to be the path that I would pursue for the long-term.

But, yeah, social work is a really tough field and ultimately discovered that that wasn't something that I could probably continue sustainably for a while. And then just kind of hopped into different roles in various nonprofits, you know, kind of wanted to stick within the field and still be adjacent to work that I felt was really important and essential, but maybe in a role that was better suited to my skills and also for career longevity.

You know you never know where life will take you, so now I'm clearly a pie artist and it's totally wild. [Laughter] And unexpected.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Yeah. So tell us a little bit about how that happened. I think it sort of was prompted by your move to Seattle, right? Walk us through the steps that sort of led from you working in nonprofits and social work to suddenly becoming an Instagram celebrity and a pie designer—pie artist.

Lauren Ko

Yes. So I moved to Seattle in August of 2016. We were living on the East Coast at the time and wanted to come back to be closer to family. And I was super over snowy blizzards, all of that.

Anyways, I was looking for a job, had some extra time on my hands and was just messing around on the Internet as one does, and happened to stumble across some really beautiful pictures of pie on Pinterest. And, I thought, "Oh, I've never made a pie. I wonder if I could do that."

We kind of talked about how I have cooked and baked a lot of other things, but somehow never made a pie. So felt compelled to do it. Tried it. Made my first plaid lattice apple pie, and it was fine. Didn't change my life. I didn't instantly transform into a pie lady. It was just something that I kind of added to my repertoire of things that I would make for fun or, you know, on the weekends, that kind of thing.

And then a year later, I started my @lokokitchen Instagram account, and that was also kind of a fluke, not super intentional. I just felt like I was becoming that friend and putting too many food photos on my personal accounts, and just wanted kind of a separate holding place for documentation of things that I was making for fun. And really, it was just supposed to be for me, and it was supposed to be, you know, like everything: summer salads and blueberry muffins and chocolate chip cookies.

But it just so happened that the first photo I uploaded was a geometric peach pie. And against all odds or expectations or whatever it is, I had like, you know, 50 followers and it was probably all my family and old friends. That first post got something like 500 or 600 likes, which totally blew my mind—and was kind of scary and crazy. And I thought, maybe I should put this on private. Like, these must be bots? This is weird.

So a few days later I was like, OK, let's see if that was, you know, an accident or what. So I posted another photo of a tart and that similarly got a couple hundred likes and 
 my follower account started growing. And a month in, I posted what has now become a "signature spoke pie".

And I hit a thousand followers. And then a month after that Design Milk shared one of my pie photos and that was kind of when things exploded and like went seriously viral. So, yeah, three years later, I am now doing this full-time and my book just hit shelves. So pretty well.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Yeah, it is pretty wild. And you mentioned the spoke design, which I think you would say has become sort of one of–if not the–signature design of yours. Folks have probably seen it if you're on Instagram and follow food accounts, because you've inspired a lot of other folks. Can you explain sort of that design, and what your other designs are like for folks maybe who haven't actually visually sort of seen your work before?

Lauren Ko

Yeah. So I, in a general sense, always gravitate towards very like modern design, I've always had an appreciation for art and, you know, good design. Things that have a lot of repetitive patterns and bright pops of color. And so it felt natural that that kind of ascetic would inform what I do here.

And I initially kind of got into this pie art stuff motivated by the art of it. I loved creating, it felt like a really great creative outlet, and it just so happened that pie was my medium—or that my medium was edible.

And those initial pies that I saw on Pinterest were very floral, lots of foliage and leaf cutouts, really rustic and beautiful, but not my style at all. And I also am kind of this person that is always looking to do something that isn't being done elsewhere, and I didn't see anybody else doing kind of modern design on pie. There are a lot of artists doing these really beautiful floral pies or, you know, doing hyper-realistic portraits of people's faces.

And so it felt natural that I would kind of branch off and do kind of this new thing. And also, I was pretty new to pie baking. So I figured designs made of straight lines and, you know, sharp angles that I could easily cut with a knife or shape cutters would be easier to execute. So kind of path of least resistance is how this style was born.

And then with this particular spoke design: it was kind of inspired by those spirograph—I don't know what they're called—puzzles or games or like drawing stencils that I used to use as a child. And it was also this mentality of, well, the design is constructed of straight lines and I can easily cut straight lines out of dough, so it should be a fairly simple design to construct, which is also, you know, the beauty of kind of what I do.

I think a lot of it looks more complicated than it is to execute. And I hope that this book kind of underscores that—in that it makes these recipes and these designs accessible to everyone. Because if I, as a self-taught hobbyist home cook can do them, then anybody can.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Yeah. I think one thing that's so interesting about your designs, too, is that at the time—two, three years ago—when you were starting to do this, as you noted, we were seeing like a lot of floral things, a lot of things that were sort of cut from dough using cutters or using the dough to create designs itself.

But I think you almost equally, if not more so, also employ the filling, the fruit, the other ingredients outside of the dough to create beautiful designs. Was that something you thought about early on or did that sort of just happen naturally as well?

Lauren Ko

Yeah. I don't know that any of it was like an intentional kind of undertaking. But yeah, I love creating new designs and in doing so, I'm always looking for variety and ways to incorporate, you know, interesting flavor combinations, interesting color contrast, textural contrast.

And so, you know, looking outside of just strictly pie dough into fruits and vegetables kind of gave me a lot more options. And then kind of examining different types of produce and how they slice and how they kind of work into designs was like this added challenge that was really fun for me.

I think fruits like mango and dragonfruit and kiwi and papaya: all great sources of color, of flavor. They slice really well. They give those kinds of sharp angles that I love so much. So yeah, I think it was just kind of like a happy confluence of a lot of these things kind of working out and really formulating to this visual aesthetic that I really enjoyed.

Brian Hogan Stewart

You mentioned that often your pies look like they would require more skill than they might 
 that they're easy to achieve once you understand the process. You write in the introduction to the book that there's this general impression, too, that you must either be—or that you must both be, rather—a world-renowned pastry chef and also a theoretical mathematician to execute some of these designs, and that you're neither of those things.

Do you consider yourself to be more of an artist or designer, or do you consider yourself more to be a baker, or is it sort of equal? How do you situate yourself in the middle of those two things that you're bringing together here?

Lauren Ko

I think foremost, I identify as an artist first. But, you know, my medium is edible and it's really important to me that these things also taste good. So I think "baker" figures equally into that.

My favorite part is the kind of design invention or creation process. But again, because I'm working with food and working with edible products, I don't want to waste food, don't want to waste time. And I also share pretty much everything I make with friends, family, and neighbors.

So bottom line is that it has to taste good. I obviously want it to look good, look fun, but ultimately it should taste good and be something that I am proud to serve to people.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Right.

[COMMERCIAL BREAK]

We'll be right back with the second part of our conversation with Lauren Ko. Don't go anywhere.

Remember you can follow us on Instagram @saltandspine. This week, you'll find a chance to win your own copy of Pieometry.

You can also find two recipes from this book: The Happy As A Gram pie: It's a cranberry curd topped with tangram-style pieces of mango, dragon fruit, and kiwis. The second is the famous Wave of Wonder: an ombre-inspired design with wavy layers of pairs and served with a spiced coffee cream.

We love sitting down with another of your and my favorite cookbook authors to tell the stories behind cookbooks. From Jacques Pépin and Nigella Lawson to Samin Nosrat and Carla Hall to today's guest, Lauren Ko, Salt + Spine is the leading podcast featuring interviews with your favorite authors. Plus, we publish delicious and exclusive recipes, hold cookbook giveaways for listeners like you, and so much more.

We also just launched our new Salt + Spine Cookbook Club, where we cook along with one of our featured authors every month and then come together for a virtual dinner party with the author. Salt + Spine truly brings cookbooks to life and we can only do it thanks to listeners like you.

You can join the Salt + Spine community today and support our effort to bring you top notch interviews and the best cookbook content starting at just $2 a month. Find out more and join the Salt + Spine community at Patreon.com/saltandspine.

And now back to our conversation with Lauren Ko, author of Pieometry.

[INTERVIEW RESUMES]

Brian Hogan Stewart

And can you talk a little bit about your recipe development process? Because you've sort of become much more of a pie baker than you were. I mean, you mentioned you hadn't really even baked pies until you sort of started this a couple of years ago.

What have you learned about pie baking? How do you approach coming up with the variations of doughs that you have 
 the different fillings?

Lauren Ko

I would say I've learned everything about pie dough because I knew nothing  to begin with. [Laughter] You know, people always ask me "How should I get started? I've never made one." And I just say, "Just jump in and pick a recipe. Get your hands dirty and then just practice over and over and over."

That's kind of how I learned by, you know, making dough over and over. That's kind of how I acquired the basics. And of course, you know, I'm always learning, there's always new things too—you know, lots of knowledge to acquire. So I still feel like I'm very much on a learning journey.

In terms of finding different recipes or coming up with different doughs—again, it's largely design motivated, so any way to incorporate more color and, you know, I have this challenge that I've kind of set for myself that I only use natural coloring. So looking at produce—vegetables, fruit, powders—how I can kind of infuse color and flavor into things without, you know, altering texture.

And yeah, in terms of the recipe development process: I would say that was the hardest part of writing the book for me because, you know, I was so new to the food space. I didn't have a food blog. I hadn't been doing this for years, so I had to learn how to recipe develop while I was supposed to be recipe developing.

And, you know, part of that journey was just failing a lot or making a lot of things that didn't taste good or just didn't really work out. And, you know, practicing, experimenting, making adjustments until I had a final product that I was proud of and I thought other people could replicate with success as well. Lots of trial and error.

Brian Hogan Stewart

You mentioned some of the places you get inspiration for the design of the pies. Were there places that you got inspiration for the actual recipes themselves and, we're a show on cookbooks, so if there's particular cookbooks or cookbook authors that were important to you too—maybe not—we'd love to hear that as well.

Lauren Ko

I guess my sources of inspiration are kind of everywhere, both in design and in flavor. I'm always kind of looking around at what's in season what's available. I tell people I'm a regular person, so I'm just shopping at my neighborhood grocery store. So if I have coupons or something's on sale or, you know, somethings on discount, I will probably gravitate towards that.

Or I just have something in my fridge that needs to be used up and that often kind of shapes what I will make next. And, you know, I think boring is boring, so I always try to look at classics or take, you know, regular flavors and put a twist on them and try to brainstorm ways to make something interesting.

So obviously, apple pie is a classic—but how can I make that more than just a simple apple pie? Whether that's adding a flavored caramel, or maybe finding a different spice to mix in. And similarly with, you know, combining different flavors—fruits, vegetables, that kind of thing.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Did you have any big of flops?

Lauren Ko

Yes, of course. [Laughter] I really wanted to try.


There were two kinds concepts that I really wanted to make in there. Frosé pie: something with like watermelon, it was going to be frozen, and I just couldn't get that to work. And I think with more experimentation, one day I might have some sort of Frosé tart. But that one just got crossed off the list.

And then I really wanted to do something with pear and hibiscus, and just went through way too many rounds of experiments where it just like didn't turn out. The pears were really mushy. I couldn't get that flavor balance right. And, yeah, the color was so pretty, but, yeah, another one of those that didn't make it.

And it's probably on my  back burner list of maybe I'll continue experimenting with it when the traumas of these disasters have passed. And you know, maybe one day we'll see those flavors in my feed or, you know, elsewhere.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Was it important to you when you were putting the book proposal together and working on the book, that it included recipes too?

Because I think a lot of folks have looked at your work and want to emulate your design first and foremost. Did you consider like a how-to book on how to create your designs that did not include recipes? Or was it always sort of the intention that you wanted to include recipes too?

Lauren Ko

I think it was always the intention to kind of create this comprehensive cookbook that had both design tutorials and recipes because, you know, the building blocks of what I make is, you know, the actual fillings, the doughs. And because I haven't previously shared my recipes—you know, I don't have a blog, I don't post these recipes on Instagram. It's pretty much if you have come to one of my workshops, then you have access to, you know, a handful of recipes.

But it felt logical and important to me to be able to share kind of those recipes so that people could make, you know, some of these art pieces from start to finish and not just the design.

But I mean, the book was structured in a way that I encourage people to mix and match a lot of the tart shells and the fillings and the designs. So now that the book has been on shelves for a week, it's been really cool to kind of see how people take their own ingredients and adapt designs or use the fillings in different ways and pair them with, you know, other kinds of toppings or shells.

For somebody who is really interested in the art aspect, I love seeing people exercise their own creativity in interpreting a lot of these things.

Brian Hogan Stewart

I love something you did recently too: The "My American Pie Series." Can you talk a little bit about that and what inspired you to do that—and to broaden the pie content in that way?

Lauren Ko

Yeah. So the ad agency BBDO, that's based in New York, they have this kind of residency program called "The Residency NYC." And they had reached out—I guess they kind of partner up with creators and makers and artists to kind of provide additional resources to help them work on projects that, you know, they might not otherwise be able to pull off with their own platforms or their own reach.

And so together we got some brainstorm a couple of different ideas, and then ultimately landed on this "My American Pie" project, because obviously it incorporates my medium, which is pie, but also kind of this desire to use my platform as kind of a tool for storytelling.

And I think when we were first starting to discuss a collaboration, there was a lot of talk in mainstream media and in the news about, you know, immigration and citizenship and heritage and background, and kind of who gets to determine that who gets to define those things. And we felt like it was really relevant and that this could be a powerful way to engage people in some sort of productive conversation.

So, in this "My American Pie" project, we basically casted for individuals who were willing to share their stories. And then they had 
 BBDO had a photographer take really awesome portraits of these individuals (or families) telling their own story in their own words. And then I got to kind of use their story and build a pie that was inspired by kind of this mix of cultures and their self-identified background and kind of what they viewed as their definition of American.

And we were so pleased with the response. We got to start with my own story—you know, with my dad being from Hong Kong, my mom's family being from China but she was born and raised in Honduras, and I was born and raised in California. That kind of thing.

Yeah, it was really awesome to see the kind of positive response that people had. And I think one of the best things—or the best feedback that we got—was from people saying that we kind of reframed or helped them look at this definition of "Americanness" in a different light. That there was such a diversity of stories that we were able to tell and it was done in a way that, you know, people might not have otherwise considered, particularly in relation to something like pie.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Yeah. Do you think that that sort of project that you did—the "My American Pie" project—is that indicative of the fact that maybe pie is, more so than other baked goods, like a real platform for things?

It seems to me like such a personal baked good, right? You really have to be in there with your hands to create one of your pies—whereas you can make a delicious chocolate chip cookie without ever like really touching the dough and with a wooden spoon and a bowl. Is it more of an intimate baked good in that sense, a more personal baked good? Or how do you sort of think about pie versus other baked goods? I know I'm asking it to you as a self-described non-sweet tooth-person, too.

Lauren Ko

Yeah. I mean, I think it can be. I mean, obviously we used this as a really cool tool for this collaboration or for telling stories.

But, you know, I'm a strong proponent of people kind of using their own platform whatever it is. So if you bake cookies, like there's a way to kind of utilize that if that's how you want to tell your story or, you know, use that as your form of advocacy. Or if you bake cake or, you know, whatever it is that 
 if we're talking about food things, whatever it is you make, I think it is what you make of it and kind of how you wield it as your tool and platform.

So, pie is particularly well-suited for me, but, I don't think that should deter anybody who doesn't make pie or, you know, make something else.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Sure. Do you have a favorite pie? And I have a feeling you might say a savory one. Maybe you can give us like a favorite savory and a favorite sweet pie. [Laughter] If you had to pick one of each. And I know that's hard because they're all so wonderful.

Lauren Ko

Totally. There is this potato tart in my book that has potato, caramelized onion, and Irish Porter cheddar. And I'm actually not allowed to make it that often in our house because it's too good and we will just keep eating and eating and eating. And it's delicious, but it's, you know, cheese and butter and potato. So that one's like a special treat that maybe I'll make once or twice a year.

And then as for sweet, there's a white carrot-miso pie in my book that I really love. And I feel like that's my cheater cop-out for dessert pies, because it's subtly sweet and still has this like touch of savoriness just to give it some something interesting. And then I pair it with a black sesame pie crest, which looks really fun because it's, you know, this black-and-white speckle, and also gives a really good textural crunch.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Yeah. So you, I think about a year ago 
 when did you make the transition to doing this full-time?

Lauren Ko

Actually, it was just a couple months after I started my Instagram account. So I started the account August of 2017 and by January of 2018, I was like, "Something is happening. I cannot manage this with a full-time job."

I just wasn't able to kind of follow through with a lot of the opportunities and, obviously, I was very privileged to be able to kind of take that risk. I thought, let's see where this goes and I'll give it a couple months. If not, I'll go back to a regular job or find a different job. But yeah, I have just kind of kept rolling and I think I will continue to explore it as long as it'll take me.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Yeah. Do you get pie burnout at all now that you're doing this full time?

Lauren Ko

Yeah. I definitely feel oversaturated by pie sometimes. [Laughter] I'm like, what else can I pivot to? Like, what else is out there?

But I think I still have lots of ideas and kind of lots of designs floating around in my head. So I don't know that pie is going to go away anytime soon, at least for me. But definitely open to like, what else is out there, you know, how else I can kind of expand. But I don't know. We'll see.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Yeah.

Well, we always end with a little game. So I thought we would play a game because I know you get inspiration for your designs from lots of places. And I've even heard you mention like patio furniture, like street drains, like it sort of comes from everywhere.

But to keep it easy, I thought maybe we'd pick some super well-known architectural structures because I think architecture, if I'm right, is also another place of inspiration for you. So I'll name a famous structure—let me know if you're not familiar with it for some reason—I tried to pick ones that are very well-known.

Lauren Ko

Okay.

Brian Hogan Stewart

And then we've got four decks of cards here that you can draw from in terms of the ingredients you'll have to work with. So we have Vegetables, which are vegetables. Proteins, if we're going savory, there's some protein options.

Lauren Ko

Excellent.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Flavors, which seems like a good deck for you. This is spices, herbs, flavoring agents.

And then Secret Ingredient, which can be just sort of a random ingredient or can be sort of a more obscure ingredient as well.

So, you can pick one or more of them and I'll reveal the cards to you. And then I'll tell you a famous building. And maybe you could tell us how you might make a pie that visually and also taste-wise might sort of incorporate those elements.

And I know it's kind of a challenge because your work is so visual and this is not a visual platform here on a podcast. [Laughter] So I appreciate you playing along and doing your best to tell us how that might work.

Lauren Ko

Yeah, I'll do my best.

Brian Hogan Stewart

OK, awesome. Which card would you like first?

Lauren Ko

I'm going to go with flavor.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Flavor. OK. I'm going to shuffle a little, pick from the middle. OK. We have, Oh, garlic!

Lauren Ko

Ooh, savory.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Do you want to stick with just the one or do you want to add another ingredient? And of course you can expand on 
 imagine you have a fully stocked kitchen as well.

Lauren Ko

OK, let's go with vegetable.

Brian Hogan Stewart

OK, bell pepper.

Lauren Ko

Ohh


Brian Hogan Stewart

So we have garlic and bell pepper. And let's begin our sort of "world tour of famous architecture" by starting close to you: let's go with the space needle, Seattle's Space Needle.

Lauren Ko

[Laughter] OK. Obviously I'm going to have to incorporate the garlic and the bell pepper in the filling. I would probably add a protein—just because bell peppers tend to be a little juicy, and I'm not sure that an entire pie filled with bell peppers would be wildly appetizing.

I guess I could add other vegetables like squash and maybe add some mushrooms. Maybe throw in some sausage, if it's a non-vegetarian pie.

I'm also curious if I could juice bell peppers and see what kind of color I could extract from them to color the dough. Let's see Space Needle


Brian Hogan Stewart

Or potentially could you dehydrate them, too?

Lauren Ko

Oh yeah, and then turn them into a powder? That's a good idea. And kind of mix it in that way.

I could also do, let's see, trying to think of the Space Needle. The "needle" is sticking in my head. Obviously something with like spikes and straight lines. I don't want to say radiating around a center point because that seems like a lot of designs that I have already done. Any sort of repetitive pattern, I think maybe I would
 Oh man, I feel super stumped.

Brian Hogan Stewart

I mean, is it like a variation of the spoke, in some sense?

Lauren Ko

Maybe
 Or maybe I would do like a rolled out sheet of dough that's white. And then I would have a couple different colors of dough—maybe bell pepper colored, so like a red and an orange and a green. And then kind of cut spikes out. And maybe because the Space Needle is so like straight and rigid, I would kind of construct a more abstract design out of kind of Space Needle shapes.

Brian Hogan Stewart

OK. Yeah. That sounds great. And like it would be beautiful. Should we do another round?

Lauren Ko

Yes. Let's see if we get a sweet one.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Which cards would you like? Flavor?

Lauren Ko

Oh, secret ingredient.

Brian Hogan Stewart

OK, let's go secret ingredient. Shuffle. OK, we have sumac.

Lauren Ko

Oh no, I've never cooked with that before!

Brian Hogan Stewart

You've never cooked with sumac? Do you want to draw again?

Lauren Ko

LISTEN: Samin Nosrat on Salt + Spine

I just listened to the Home Cooking podcast episode with Samin [Nosrat] and Hrishikesh [Hirway] and they talked about sumac and I was like, "Oh, maybe I should try that!"

Brian Hogan Stewart

Which is a great podcast. Here's another secret ingredient that I just drew, if you want to swap it: kumquat.

Lauren Ko

Oh, yes!

I've actually made a chocolate ganache tart with kumquats on top, and I don't know that I would do that again because it was a lot of work to kind of slice these tiny kumquats—and then I quartered those tiny slices and had to like pick out the seeds. I think on this round I would


Brian Hogan Stewart

Let me give you a building, too.

Lauren Ko

Oh, yeah. Getting ahead of myself.

Brian Hogan Stewart

So you have kumquats
 That's OK. You got excited about not having to work with sumac. [Laughter]

Let's say we're hopping on a flight now and we're going to the Sydney Opera House.

Lauren Ko

Ohh, OK.

I was going to say maybe I would candy the kumquat—or I would probably slice it up and then candy it. And then use those kind of as those like sloping lines and create some sort of design with lots of movement. Maybe even a design that's kind of water inspired.

Yeah, I think a kumquat lends itself well because you can kind of cut longer straps, you can cut slices, you can get a lot of different shapes out of that. Maybe even make a kind of mosaic-ish type of design on the surface of a tart.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Yeah.

Lauren Ko

Yeah. And you know, citrus flavors go well with chocolate, so I would probably go with a kind of chocolate ganache tart again.

And because I know that a mosaic design will be a little more time intensive, I'm probably going to pick some tart shell and tart filling recipes that are a little more simple and straightforward so I can focus on the design.

Brian Hogan Stewart

That sounds delicious. And yeah, I think citrus would lend itself really well to a Sydney Opera House-themed design.

I have to tell you that the one right below kumquat was dragonfruit, which


Lauren Ko

Oh, nuts!

Brian Hogan Stewart

An easy one for you.

Lauren Ko

Yeah. Maybe too easy. A challenge is good.

Brian Hogan Stewart

Well, this was so much fun. Thank you so much for joining us, Lauren.

Lauren Ko

Oh, yeah. Thanks so much for having me!

And now I'm going to have to go cook with sumac and also think more about those bell peppers. Maybe you'll see a tart or a pie on my feed and it will be inspired by you and this game.

Brian Hogan Stewart

I know, I can't wait to see what, what was it? The Space Needle-bell pepper tart.

Lauren Ko

With garlic. [Laughter]

Brian Hogan Stewart

Yes. Yes. Thanks Lauren.

[CLOSING]

And that's our show for today. Thank you so much for listening!

As always, you can find bonus content from today's show and all of our episodes on our website, SaltAndSpine.com. There, you'll find two recipes from Pieometry.

Remember, if you like hearing from your favorite authors on Salt + Spine—and I hope you do!—please click Subscribe wherever you're listening. You can also leave us a rating on iTunes and joining the Salt + Spine community and support our show at Patreon.com..

Our show today was produced by me, Brian Hogan Stewart. Our original theme song was created by Brunch for Lunch.

Salt + Spine is typically recorded at The Civic Kitchen in San Francisco's Mission district. The Civic Kitchen is now offering digital classes for home cooks. Find out more at civickitchensf.com.

Thanks, as always, to Jen Nurse, Chris Bonomo, and The Civic Kitchen team, to Edible San Francisco, and to Celia Sack at Omnivore Books.

We'll be back later this week with more stories behind the pie cookbooks you love.