Chef to Watch Jeremy Conner talks about a culinary mentor, Mary Patout
We cooks expend large portions of ourselves in the pursuit of our craft. We often slice and dice our souls into small pieces and feed them to the flames of service and excellence. The trouble is, we are human creatures with finite amounts of ourselves to give away. We can persist only so long before we must be replenished with good food, good drink, and good company. In this regard, the Lafayette culinary community has, for the last several years, been watched over by our own patron saint, Mary Patout.
I met Mary Patout several years ago when she began sprouting micro greens and selling to the chefs around Lafayette. At that point, using micro greens meant paying exorbitant shipping charges to have less than peak fresh product sent from out of town. An in-town resource for them was big news. Mary’s wares weren’t only local and therefore fresh, they were excellent. Her various sprouts soon found homes in many of my recipes and on many other plates around town as well.
Beyond offering a great product, she became a staple in the culinary scene because of her personality. She is infinitely kind and nurturing and any encounter with her includes being asked over and over again if you need anything and if you’d like her to grow anything else for you. Her deliveries often included two or three different snacks (homemade, umami rich morsels of vitality) and some sort of dressing, sauce, mustard, or condiment for you to “play with.”
What the deliveries did not include was a chance to thank her personally because Mary executed them like a ninja attack. My deliveries were often found in a prominent place in the kitchen adorned with sweet notes and snacks before anyone knew she had even been there, and once they were found, she had vanished. When I asked her how and why she did this she told me that she simply didn’t want to interrupt.
Mary Patout also began selling her sprouts on Saturday mornings at Lafayette’s Farmers and Artisans Market at the Horse Farm. She offered the same sprouts sold to her restaurant accounts as well as various sprouted beans and peas and some of those mustards (also sprouted) and condiments. It was when she decided to start serving a “market snack” on those Saturday mornings that her true impact on Lafayette’s chefs was realized.
From that point, Saturday morning at the market was like a party. Chefs from all over town arrived to purchase local food goods from vendors and to gather around Mary’s booth that became more of a street noodle shop than a market stall. Miso soup (homemade), Adorable little mason jar noodle parfaits (also homemade), tofu salad (yes, homemade tofu), and other delights lit up Instagram feeds and chef’s palates each weekend.
She began inviting chefs to her home in St. Martinville, built by her husband Roy, also a supernaturally kind human being. Sometimes there are a few guests and sometimes it seems like half the kitchens in Lafayette must be missing their staffs. Collaborative meals are prepared and you can tell that the hosts are replenished by the company as much as anyone.
A visit there is like a glimpse of Eden. Everything is green and thriving from antique roses trellised on the arbor to the forests of green shiso. The Patouts have helped foster a rejuvenating fellowship among cooks that didn’t exist before. Mary’s instagram handle is @marymarysanctuary, and that’s what she is to a cook in Lafayette, sanctuary.
Mary Patout is a Japanese-American wife, mother, grandmother, licensed horticulturist, and guardian angel. She is also “mother” to my peers and I. Her packaging bears the Japanese expression “Sansho.” It means “small but highly effective,” but really it’s her signature.