By Lenore T. Adkins
Special to the AFRO
Watch out, Patti LaBelle.
Anacostia resident Mary Satcher, 82, is coming for you with a riff on the sweet potato pie recipe that’s been a family mainstay for decades.
Satcher’s first step to dethroning Patti LaBelle’s world domination on the pie started Saturday, after the octogenarian won the Ward 8 World’s Greatest Sweet Potato Pie Contest, organized by and held at Busboys and Poets in Anacostia.
Her “Tempie’s Pie,” named after her youngest daughter and baked on a gluten-free crust with sweet potatoes, sugar, butter, condensed milk, evaporated milk, vanilla flavoring, and eggs, impressed a panel of judges, helping her beat out 24 other contenders, including four finalists.
As the winner, Satcher not only scored $1,000 — money she and her daughter Tempie Satcher will put toward a commercial oven to grow their baking business — but the pie will also appear by the slice on Busboys and Poets’ dessert menu across the chain’s seven locations. It’s due to debut there in a couple of weeks and stay through spring. They’re still working on pricing information and whether or not to sell whole pies during the holidays.
“I was just really expecting just to be here to go, and to actually help the others to move on, but I had no idea that they were going to vote for mine,” Mary Satcher said, resplendent in her motorized wheelchair with a sparkly tiara and a big smile. “But I did know that it was going to be good.”
In the days leading up to the pie’s restaurant launch, the Satchers will show its cooks how to properly make it. Because the retired DCPS teacher’s aide sustained a stroke in 2005 that weakened the left side of her body, daughter Tempie Satcher, 54, serves as her mother’s “left hand” in the kitchen. All told, the Satchers won $1,350 from the contest and a $50 gift card from the restaurant for entering. The additional $350 came after winning the earlier rounds.
Our food has always been an important way for us to carry on our culture and traditions, said Chef Furard Tate, one of the contest’s judges. As a little girl growing up in Columbus, Georgia, Mary Satcher for example, learned how to make sweet potato pie from her mother Lucile Smith Willis and she’s passed that tradition down to the next generation.
“We have to continue to tell the story of our community through our food,” Tate, one of three co-founders of DMV Black Restaurant Week told the AFRO. “Our culture is steeped in our food and we have to create opportunities for that culture to shine. And this competition did that.”
The Busboys and Poets in Anacostia, the seventh location in the restaurant chain, opened with fanfare seven months ago, drawing Mayor Muriel Bowser and other dignitaries to an historic, predominantly African-American neighborhood that offers few options for sit-down dining.
Conversations with diners there convinced the chain’s owner Andy Shallal that there was a sizeable market for sweet potato pie.
“When I first opened here, I was approached by two or three people who said, ‘I have the best sweet potato pie, you want to try it?,’” Shallal told the AFRO. “So we thought, ‘You know what? There’s a lot of people that think they have the best sweet potato pie. Let’s do a contest.’”
That the arsenal of judges included several food experts like Tate and Tim Carman, a food reporter and critic at The Washington Post, made the contest more legit, Shallal explained.
Carman admits he’s not an authority on sweet potato pie, but says he was impressed with the diversity of sweet potato pies he sampled. Some of them, he said, compared well with the one he’s had at Henry’s Soul Café.
“There was actually a gluten-free crust and I was surprised at how good the crust was,” Carman said of Satcher’s pie. “I think that says a lot about the quality of the gluten-free flours now.”
Four years ago, singer-cum-baker Patti LaBelle joined forces with Walmart to launch the now-famous sweet potato pie that flew off the shelves. The $3.48 pie was even going for $40 on eBay and $10 a slice on Craigslist.
The Satchers are hoping to expand their business centered around the pie to not only make money, but to also spread love to local youth and make people’s eyes light up once they sink their teeth into the dessert.
“The pies are something we would like to be able to see on everyone’s Thanksgiving table, holiday table,” Tempie Satcher told the AFRO. “And Patti, move over baby, because now you’ve got some competition- right here in Ward 8.”