What does an obscure pieman from Australia in the early 19th century have to do with a Japanese student living in Pasadena in 2010? Quite a bit, it seems. In a stunning feat of international wavemaking, amateur piemaker Yuichiro Sato walked away with KCRW‘s Best Savory Pie and Best Pie award at its Good Food Pie Contest in Beverly Hills earlier this month.
Sato was inspired by William Francis King, a somewhat bizarre entrepreneur who in 1829 became known as “The Flying Pieman” in Australia. King sold kidney, pork and mutton pies to passengers on the Parramatta Steamer, then would run–18 miles–to Parramatta with the leftover pies, to sell again as passengers disembarked.
Sato dedicated his Meat Pie to King and explained to the judges, “In this spirit, my pie is made to amaze you. This pie captures the essence of all great meat pies–a light flaky crust, crunchy, earthy vegetables, the intoxicating umami of porcini and other mushrooms, and of course, a juicy, beefy filling. As a nod to The Flying Pieman’s English roots, the bottom crust is a mash of Yukon Gold potatoes flecked with parsley.
I hope you enjoy it!”
The judges enjoyed it–very much, indeed. Evan Kleiman, chef and owner of Angeli Cafe and host of KCRW’s Good Food program; Jonathan Gold of LA Weekly; Eric Greenspan of The Foundry; and Roxanna Jullapat of Ammo were among the food pros and pie lovers lucky enough to get the tough job of tasting. “This is pie going back to its roots,” Kleiman says. “The first pie was a humble meat pie.”
Sato, a young man who is still learning English, says in his blog that he often skipped language class to learn how to make pies. In some inexplicable way, he became fascinated with Italian ingredients and flavors within a pie framework. His first attempt, by his own blog account, was a flop. “I made mistake that I put a lot of Italian ingredients without careful consideration,” he wrote. Seems his second time was a charm.
Return of the Pie Contest?
Pie contests are as American as, well, apple pie, dating back to the early 18th century as colonists readily adopted English piemaking as a staple in their diets and tested their recipes at local festivals and fairs. These competitions were mostly thought of as an agricultural activity but according to Gina Hyams, author of the soon-to-be-released Pie Contest in a Box (Andrews McMeel), that is changing. “I’m seeing pie contests popping up in very urban venues, particularly around farmer’s markets,” Hyams says. “Portland, Oregon and Brooklyn are both hotbeds of piemaking and competing.”
Other winners in KCRW’s second annual pie-off were Sarah Boulton for her Michigan Cherry Tart; Laurel Almerinda for a Baked Coconut Custard; Marla Cusack’s Macadamia Nut Pie; and Denise Beauchamp’s Pluot with Almond Cream and Almond Shortbread Crust. Coming in second place in the cream category was 15-year old Gabriela Haslip, a survivor of multiple strokes who had to train herself to use her left hand. Amazingly, it was the first pie she had ever baked. “My mom told me it was good for reading, math and science,” she writes. “I just find it relaxing and creative.”
“The healing power of pie” certainly factored into the enthusiasm of the day; KCRW organizers were stunned by a turnout of more than 350 people. “You don’t normally think of Beverly Hills as a pie mecca,” commented KCRW spokesperson Sarah Spitz. “But pie is certainly a great democratizer.”
Americans’ love affair with pie has not dimmed, and somehow that is a comforting thing.
For Yuichiro Sato’s meat pie recipe, click here.