Chow Town

At 360 Architecture, pie baking means business

By Lisa Waterman Gray

Katie Ragan (left), Jennifer O’Bryan and Harsha Royyuru bake pies at 360 Architecture in Kansas City.
Katie Ragan (left), Jennifer O’Bryan and Harsha Royyuru bake pies at 360 Architecture in Kansas City. Special to The Star

I walked into 360 Architecture at 9 a.m. Inside a spacious room beside the lobby, employees emptied shopping bags full of pie filling ingredients and personal rolling pins as others tied on aprons. Pie-making diagrams, two kitchen knives, and a fork waited at each work station.

By 9:30 the room was abuzz with conversation as more than 20 enthusiastic bakers got to work.

Wearing a bright polka-dotted apron, Deborah Spalding distributed plastic bags filled with flour and salt and employees began to ‘cut-in’ small blocks of Crisco before incorporating ice-cold water to help create perfect dough texture.

A construction administration coordinator for the architectural firm, Spalding is also the company’s first lady of pie. She has encouraged, and instructed experienced, and novice pie makers twice each year for at least five years. By the time every pie is baked, dozens of golden-brown crusts and bubbling fillings will engulf the massive counter.

“It started because we had a 360 University [with tech topics] and a lot of us don’t need much tech information,” Spalding said.

But pie-making isn’t the only non-tech topic covered in 360 University — employees have also learned couponing tips and how to roast coffee. And the multi-purpose room-turned-temporary-pie-bakery represents the flexible meeting spaces that 360 Architecture frequently incorporates into commercial building designs.

Spalding is a passionate pie baker and also has a prolific cherry tree in her yard. She typically announces the next baking session weeks in advance, providing a list of equipment and ingredients that participants should bring and offering possible recipes. Martha Barraza displayed one recipe page with instructions for apple, blueberry, blackberry, gooseberry, raspberry, peach and cherry pie.

But Jim Calcara brought his own recipe after purchasing some gorgeous figs; he found a recipe online. A founding principal of 360 Architecture, Calcara has already baked pies with his co-workers several times. Yet he’s more than happy to listen and watch intently as Spalding helps him achieve just the right dough consistency and later provides tips to create a perfect lattice top.

This was Kate Wind’s second pie-making session since joining the company a year ago. Her first pie received rave reviews when she shared it during the last holiday season.

“Deb makes it super simple and not intimidating for those who have never done this before,” she said.

Jim Rothfork and Jordan Bussanmas shared a table and a large bag of gluten free all purpose baking flour. “I’m taking this to the lake and it’s a fun way to interact with our colleagues,” Bussanmas said. Rothfork nodded as he meticulously cut in the shortening.

Already a veteran pie-maker venture, Katie Ragan offered helpful suggestions to Jennifer O’Bryan and Harsha Royyuru. Royyuru generally tries not to make homemade pie crusts but has decided to give it another try.

At the end of the table, several women had finished rolling their dough and were ever-so-gently lying it inside their pie plates before crimping the edges. Across the room, Tony Riddle peeled whole apples and then plunged them into a bowl of cold water.

“I’ve been doing this for four years,” he said. “I’m making apple pie with some blueberries for taste and a cherry pie. It’s gotten to be a family affair for some people here.”

Martha Barraza added sugar and spices to a stainless steel bowl full of brilliant-hued berries as her 12-year-old daughter, Lucia, perfected her crust texture and lattice-work. “My husband married me for my cherry pie and he has come in [to make pies] too,” Martha said. “But Deb taught [Lucia] how to make a crust and I haven’t made a good one since college. We work at our own pace and Deb rotates the pies through the ovens.”

Beyond the counter, golden finished crusts and pies emerged from stacked convection ovens before cooling on the top shelf of a wire cart. One crust would need to cool completely before cradling smooth banana cream filling. Another shallow pie pan held a lightly browned graham cracker crust.

Every employee was completely immersed in the creative process while conversing with co-workers from other departments about their weekend plans. What a great and tasty way to celebrate the 4th of July.