Keep Calm and Eat Pasties
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICK BARAFF
We all know the tale of how most of our food travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to our plates. But in the case of pro baker and chef Tina Miller, it was she who traveled the long distance to Dallas to start up her locally sourced, traditionally handmade and properly British Proper Baking Company.
In the less-than-two-years since its launch, Proper Baking Company has grown like a Hobbit’s appetite. People have taken note of the craftsmanship and uber-fresh taste. “Meat pies, pork pies, sausage rolls, pasties, mince pies, cakes, hot cross buns… everything is made as traditionally as possible,” Tina says. “We get the pork in, butcher it, break it down, grind it, and season it. All pastries are from scratch, rolled out, punched out… Everything by hand!”
Hailing from the county of Lincolnshire on the eastern edge of the U.K., Tina made her way practically sight unseen to Dallas with her Texas-born husband Tommy (now head brewer at Noble Rey Brewing) after convincing him to spend the first handful of married years living in her tiny hometown hamlet. Tina was living above and working at the Ebrington Arms, a pub that her parents bought to ease into retirement. It became more than a full-time gig as they turned it into a successful venture requiring all the upkeep and overtime hours as befits any self-owned business. Quickly, Tina was onboard to help.
The gastronomical side of the business came easily since both she and her mother were culinary school graduates as well as true and proper food-loving citizens of the crown. After Tina’s younger sister started high school, her mum signed up for culinary school where she quickly rose to the top of her class. Even before becoming a recognized chef, her mum was constantly preparing classic homemade British dishes.
“It’s what you do in England,” says Tina. “Dad worked hard to make sure Mom could stay at home. We always had home cooked meals at 6. I used to complain about it—especially as it constantly attracted the neighbors over—but now I’m nostalgic. Mom baked fresh cakes every day.”
A frequent traveler, Tina met Tommy in Spain where he was a contract firefighter/medic on R&R from military service in Iraq. Upon getting married, she somehow convinced him to come back to England. Until one day, when practically on a lark, they packed their dogs into crates and hopped a jet airliner for his native Dallas, where they would “figure it out when they got here.”
Tommy quickly landed a gig at Deep Ellum Brewery, then Lakewood Brewing, before helping found Noble Rey Brewing. Tina worked in the kitchens of such notable establishments as the Marquee Grille where she met other local chefs and began to carve out her own reputation. Today, she’s the sous-chef at the meat-centric food purveyor, The Blind Butcher, as well as the proper British baker.
Being entrepreneurial and missing the tastes of home, Tina started whipping up the classic British fare that’s in her DNA. With a great vision and a simple “let’s see who bites” plan, she took a bunch of “pasties” (British pastries with savory fillings) and a few sausage rolls to the revamped Dallas Farmers Market in November 2015. She sold out in less than thirty minutes.
Tina only half-jokingly says that she didn’t even know there were any other British folks in the DFW area until that day. She knew she was on to something. Okay, so this “something” wasn’t— and isn’t—about selling meat and pork pies to a bunch of soccer hooligans looking for a fix. As with most successful businesses, it started first with a desire to make the best products possible, something that was also comforting and personal. Amidst the glut of American offerings here, she simply missed the down-home cooking that she grew up on. “Now I feel like I’m creating memories like my mom did.”
Look for Tina’s British flag-draped stand in The Shed at the Dallas Farmers Market and at various pop-ups. For those living further afield, Tina will soon take orders online and ship to any vale. A brick-and-mortar shop with a kitchen attached is also in the plans with the ultimate vision being a combination brewery/bakery to put everyone into a proper British culinary coma.