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Kohler going gourmet with pie

Calling Richard Palm's work easy as pie seems half-right and half-baked.

Palm, a pastry chef at The American Club in Kohler, Wis., makes pie his primary job. His priority is recipe perfection, not assembly-line pastry production. His challenge is pleasing the fussy palate of billionaire and plumbing magnate Herb Kohler.

First came excellence in Kohler lodging and golf courses, which earn five-star ratings and PGA Championship contracts. Now the Kohler Co. CEO wants the culinary part of his upscale family businesses to become known for pie.

Palm, a 23-year American Club employee and mastermind behind pie development since July 2013, said his boss has a "profound interest" in the results. A recipe isn't complete until it earns a consensus from Kohler and the company's president of hospitality and the resort's general manager. The three score each tweaked pie on appearance, taste, texture and calories.

A dozen flavors have cleared this hurdle, and most are seasonal (like the summertime Buttermilk Sour Cherry and autumn Wisconsin Cranberry). Exceptions include Chocolate Symphony (dark chocolate custard plus white chocolate mousse), Mountain Lemon Meringue (lemon custard with vanilla-scented meringue) and Old Fashion Maple Walnut.

The goal is to favor indigenous ingredients, such as white sorghum flour and regional fruits, and reduce sugar content. Maple sugar and maple syrup are substitutes for brown sugar in the Maple Hazelnut Pie. Pumpkin and blueberry pies are sugar-free.

The kitchen experiments go beyond trial-and-error hunches. Palm aims to become a certified fitness nutrition specialist and said he has lost 120 pounds in the last three years.

If you're serious about baking, "use the good stuff," the pastry chef advised. That means high-quality vanilla, not more sugar.

The Five-Star Dine Around, a progressive dinner with stops at five Kohler properties 145 miles north of Chicago, ends with pie as a dessert choice at The Craverie Chocolatier Cafe (920-208-4933920-208-4933) in the Shops at Woodlake. Dining dates are April 24, June 12 and Dec. 4. Cost is $99, which includes the five-course meal, wine pairings and chef chats. Info: 855-444-2838855-444-2838, americanclubresort.com

Pie slices are standard fare at The Craverie. Whole pies from the Kitchens of Kohler are sold at Woodlake Market. Both businesses are in the Shops at Woodlake. 877-860-4441877-860-4441, shopsatwoodlake.com

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