BY ANDREW COPPOLINO | JUNE 2022
As he plates an appetizer (which looks a lot like a slice of Wonder Bread), Fat Sparrow Group chef and co-owner Nick Benninger says the Jacob’s Grill house-made pickles and grainy mustard are “the perfect accompaniment” for the rustic dish.
“It’s indulgent, but it’s light at the same time,” he says. “It’s one of my favourite dishes. The only thing that’s missing is a pint of beer from Block Three Brewing, right up the street.”
Benninger is referring to pâté en croûte, a fancy-pants French name for a “loaf” of meat pie that, with a long culinary history, has been part of the traditional charcuterie lineup long before the trendy boards began appearing at a wide range of restaurants.
The dish likely has its origins as a part of “la cuisine Lyonnaise,” Lyon often called the gastronomic centre of France – and a city which boasts a “brotherhood of the pâté-croûte.”
Hundreds of years ago, French cooks packed chopped up meat, vegetables, nuts and other ingredients into pastry cases and baked them. The pastry itself wasn’t meant to be eaten: it, rather, had the job of preserving the meat inside.
Over the centuries, diners started eating the pastry along with its meaty pâté filling, either as hot dish or a cold one.
Medieval pâté en croûte might have little decorative “chimneys” on top, vents to allow steam to escape and prevent the pastry from becoming soggy. In the airspace between the pâté and the “en croûte,” you would find a succulent layer of gelée.
Combining Fat Sparrow Group’s best into Pâté en croûte
Fast forward to today and Jacob’s Grill where there’s another sort of brotherhood – and sisterhood – at work: the company’s butcher, baker and cooks combine to get the restaurant’s pâté en croûte on the menu.
Part of the team is sous chef Colin Lloyd, a Conestoga College culinary graduate who joined Jacob’s Grill just after the first lockdown. Like Benninger, Lloyd and his Fat Sparrow colleagues take a certain pride in serving an ancient dish in this, the 21st-century.
“The pâté itself is made at our meat and cheese shop. The all-butter shortcrust pastry is from our bakery. The pickles are made in-house too,” Lloyd says, adding that even the grainy mustard is made in the prep kitchen downstairs.
Ground pork and smoked pork shank make up the pâté with pork stock cooked down, cooled down and added to form the gelée.
“It’s a nice process and execution,” Lloyd says. “It’s flavourful and well-rounded. It’s a classic. We’ve done a pork terrine, which is similar, on our cold plate. So far customers have really enjoyed this dish.”
The cooks love it too.
“It’s a beautiful rustic French dish, charming and simple. But there’s a level of skill and finesse to it,” says Benninger, who has embraced the region’s historic Pennsylvania-Dutch and Germanic food heritage (including pork, of course) that’s characterized as “Waterloo County fare.”
About Fat Sparrow Group
The company’s name, Fat Sparrow, pays passerine homage to Edna Staebler: “fetschpatze,” or “fat sparrows,” are a drop donut recipe from her classic book of Mennonite country cooking, “Food That Really Schmecks.”
Appropriately, the pâté en croûte, in turn, pays homage to Jacob’s Grill, Benninger points out.
“The real beauty for me is how it brings the company together. Our bakery, our butcher shop, our wholesale foods division with the pickles and the mustard,” he says.
“It’s an ultimate expression of what Fat Sparrow is. All of these skilled people and culinary passion coming together to make beautiful food. The pâté en croûte exemplifies that.”
Andrew Coppolino is a writer-broadcaster, and is a food columnist with CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. Following a stint as a cook at a restaurant in Kitchener, Andrew chose to work with food from the other side of the kitchen pass. As a food writer, he is dedicated to promoting and nurturing culinary businesses and advocating for local chefs and restaurants. Andrew’s work has been published in newspapers and magazines across Canada, the United States and England. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.