Mac Wright was 6 years old when he baked 40 single-serving sweet-potato pies in his mother's kitchen and sold them at school for 25 cents apiece. "The kids loved 'em," he remembers...
Mac Wright was 6 years old when he baked 40 single-serving sweet-potato pies in his mother’s kitchen and sold them at school for 25 cents apiece.
“The kids loved ’em,” he remembers. “I sold out before lunch.”
More than four decades later, Wright is still baking sweet-potato pies, and many other things, at his deli and catering service, Uncle Mac’s, in Renton.
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“I learned that when I created something, I could sell it,” he says of his childhood experience in Greenwood, Miss.
The learning didn’t stop there.
“I’ve learned everything I could about sweet potatoes,” Wright says, extolling their nutritional and other virtues as he stirs a deep-orange mixture more pies in the making in a gleaming, stainless-steel bowl.
Spices, butter, vanilla, sugar, evaporated milk and eggs all of these go in with the smoothly beaten sweet potatoes as Wright stirs and talks.
He’s at work in his deli’s long, narrow kitchen, where he can be found every day of the week making pies, barbecue, coleslaw, jambalaya, red beans and rice, greens and assorted other Southern-style fare.
Their scents mingle deliciously in the kitchen, promising good things to come a promise particularly well-kept by the rich, silken sweet-potato pie.
Barbecue, featuring Wright’s secret-recipe sauce, is the six-table deli’s main attraction, but pies also are his specialty no surprise, given his lifelong experience making them.
If you plan on baking pies for the holidays and find the thought a little daunting, consider the task Wright faces every day: baking about 200 pies of various sorts, including banana cream, pecan, coconut, peach cobbler and burnt French cream, as well as six variations of sweet-potato pie.
Doesn’t the marathon baking, plus cooking all those other menu items, wear him out? Not at all, he contends.
“Cooking is such a joy to me. I could cook a thousand hours a week and not get tired,” he says.
Of all his pies, the most popular is the Supreme Sweet Potato Pie, which features pecans and citrus flavors. Pecans also star in his Pecan Sweet Potato Pie, which he believes is one of only two such pies available in the country, the other in a New Orleans cafe.
He says it took years for him to develop his version, achieving a balance of pecans and sweet potatoes that lets the nuts lie on the top without sinking out of sight.
Tall and genial, Wright loves to talk about cooking but not to the extent of divulging his key secrets. Of the seasonings in his pies and barbecue sauce, he smiles and says only that they are “various spices and herbs.”
He also adds spices to some of his pie crusts, but don’t bother asking what they are you’ll only get that genial smile.
Born in Jamaica and raised in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, Wright, now 49, was the youngest of 18 children, though most of them had grown up and moved away by the time he came along.
His mother was an excellent cook, he says, but he didn’t like the way she made oatmeal, so as a young boy he started cooking his own, adding wheat germ, apples and other attractions.
“It was outstanding,” he recalls. “Even my siblings liked it.”
Soon his mother taught him how to make yeast rolls, preserves and those sweet-potato pies. He was on his way to a cooking life.
Wright earned a degree in business administration, but has rarely worked in that field, preferring to use his creative energy in the kitchen. He has cooked in restaurants, worked as a food consultant and contracted with the Army to supply prepared foods to Fort Lewis.
He lived for a time in Hong Kong and in France, where his wife, Lorna, had relatives and where he picked up cooking influences, particularly about making the flaky crusts famous in French pastries.
“What I was really interested in was the croissant and applying (those techniques) to pie crusts,” he says.
His Renton deli opened in September. His 15-year-old son, Myles, sometimes helps out, but at the moment seems more interested in computers than cooking, Wright said.
Although Wright keeps a lid on many of his cooking secrets, he says that could eventually change. He’s thinking of one day revealing all in a book.
Editor’s note: If you are baking or buying egg-containing pies for the holidays, or any other time, be sure to keep them refrigerated before serving.