By Layne Lynch
Photography by Marc Brown
Over the years, pâté has become one of the world’s most revered delicatessen; the crowning glory on warm slices of fresh-baked bread, toasted disks of crusty bruschetta and delicate crisps of multigrain crackers. Oftentimes, the cooks and chefs who prepare this silky, smooth liver spread must endure numerous trials and errors before perfecting the trademark texture and balance of pâté. There are the rare few, however, who just seem to have a knack for quickly getting it right.
Jackie Letelier, owner of the Letelier Food Company, is one of these deft few, although her first attempt at preparing the spread from a Joy of Cooking recipe during her teenage years is a memory she’d probably like to forget. “I remember slicing into it and seeing blood flow out from the middle,” Letelier confesses. “It turned out to be a disaster.”
Until the age of 13, Letelier lived in McAllen, but when her father decided to move the family back to his childhood farmhouse in Aculeo, Chile—40 miles south of Santiago—Letelier’s Texas life was uprooted to South America. The move to a foreign land didn’t sit well with her at first, but over time, her angst faded and she grew fond of the Chilean countryside—particularly the country’s native foods and wines. “It was life-changing to go from living in Texas and shopping at H-E-B to living on a farm and having cows, fruit orchards, chickens, fresh cheeses and all these seasonal ingredients,” Letelier says. “After I got to Chile, I started to realize how much I loved food.”
Years later, while visiting her aunt in Brazil, Letelier was perusing a charcuterie shop when she stumbled upon a delicious-looking locally made pâté. She brought it back home to share with her aunt, but Letelier was in for a huge surprise. “I remember [my aunt] looking at it saying, ‘That’s my pâté,’” she says. It turns out Letelier’s aunt had been using a long-standing family recipe to prepare the spreads for local shops. “It’s funny,” says Letelier, “because I had no idea she even sold them.” That summer, Letelier was able to refine her pâté-making skills into an artful science. “My aunt taught me how to prepare my great-grandmother’s pâté and I just kept making it,” she says.
Through years of living on her bountiful family land and eating feasts of roasted lamb, whole hogs, beef empanadas, bean stews, blood sausages, homemade preserves and cured meats, and drinking Chilean wines, Letelier cultivated an affinity for cooking and entertaining. It was during a semester abroad at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) that she decided to follow her passion and attend the Culinary Academy of Austin (now the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts). “I felt at home almost immediately,” she says. “At the time, it seemed like Austin had such a creative culture and a lot of potential in the food world.”
After finishing culinary school, Letelier returned to Chile, managed a catering business, studied enology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and eventually returned to Texas—fully intending to found a gourmet Chilean wine club. The wine-delivery business failed to succeed, however. “I was upset it didn’t work,” she says, “but I honestly believe it was for the best. I needed to take a break and figure out what I wanted to do.”
For a few years, Letelier worked as the head of sales at her father’s South Texas newspaper—El Periódico USA—before finally making her return to the cooking world two years ago. Initially, Letelier was resistant to diving back into the hospitality business, but this time around she felt like she would be filling a niche in the Austin culinary scene.
“I thought it was a good time to start selling the pâtés I had been making for friends and family for years,” she says. “At first, I was worried [that] getting the right ingredients would be a problem, but it absolutely wasn’t. I formed relationships with farmers and ranchers, and it’s been great to support them and feature their amazing products.” Some of the fresh ingredients she incorporates into her spreads are Dewberry Hills Farms’ chicken livers, Good Flow Honey wildflower honey, Johnson’s Backyard Garden onions and Garza Gardens fresh herbs.
Letelier’s eclectic, Texas-centric pâtés are unlike any most customers have ever tasted before. She ventures well beyond the typical goose liver and, instead, features smoked salmon, mushroom, white bean, bison heart, pork liver and duck liver. “I’ve tweaked [the recipes] a bit and added different local ingredients like honey and lavender to adapt to the Hill Country,” she says.
Pâté is only the beginning of Letelier’s culinary endeavors, though. Eventually, she’d like to go into cheesemaking and open a boutique hotel with a charcuterie and cheese bar that would also sell her trademark pâtés. “Austin is the perfect place for entrepreneurs, and there is so much room for growth. It’s been great to be in the midst of all this excitement.”
Find Pâté Letelier at Henri’s Cheese and Wine, Aviary Lounge, Fresh Plus Grocery, Hillside Farmacy and Coterie Market, and at the SFC Farmers’ Markets (Downtown and Sunset Valley), HOPE Farmers Market, Cedar Park Farmers Market and Mueller Farmers Market. For more information, visit pateletelier.com