Operating under the theory that anything is better when it’s wrapped in pastry dough, the owners of Spilt Milk, a bakery in Oak Park known for its pies, have hired a barbecue pitmaster to boost their savory game. Mike Shaker, who has developed a following selling home-smoked brisket and hot links, joined the Spilt Milk kitchen this week as the savory pastry chef.
This is a newly created position for the bakery. The decision to hire Shaker was an inspiration on the part of Molly Svec, who owns Spilt Milk with her sister Meg. For the past five-and-a-half years, the sisters had run the bakery together, but late last year, both had babies and found themselves short on time. Last week, Molly was doing prep work in the kitchen and it occurred to her to ask Shaker if he might be interested. “He comes into the shop and buys pie pretty frequently,” she says. “He’s our buddy.” Much to her and Meg’s delight, Shaker said yes immediately, and during his first days in the kitchen got to work on a butter chicken hand pie and an oyster mushroom and sun-dried tomato quiche.
Shaker has been doing barbecue since he was 10 or 11 years old; he learned from his father, who was raised in Texas and trained in Kansas City. “It’s truly the best I’ve ever had,” Molly says. “The brisket melts in your mouth, and the flavor of smoke is so clean.”
Spilt Milk customers won’t get to eat it immediately, though. The bakery has to get a permit from the village of Oak Park to have a grill and a smoker on the back patio. So for now, Shaker will be spending 20 or 30 hours in the kitchen each week prepping savory quiche and hand pie fillings and preparing Friday night family dinners and Easter specials. But once the permit comes through, Svec expects Shaker to be a regular presence on the patio, especially on the weekends; he’s also interested in teaching barbecue classes. It remains to be seen how or if the smoked meat will be incorporated with the pastry, but, Molly says, it’s still very early in the partnership.
Molly posted the announcement about Shaker’s arrival on social media earlier this week, and, she says, the response has been overwhelming. “It’s a bigger deal than we realized,” she says. While there are plenty of savory pies around Chicago and bakers that are experimenting with savory ingredients, aside from Chinese pork buns and the smoky barbecue pork pie occasionally available at Hoosier Mama, the possibilities of barbecue and pastry together remain unexplored.
“A savory menu makes sense,” says Molly. “And hopefully we’ll be serving wine out on the patio, and people can come and smell the smoke and listen to music and eat some pie.”