Yesterday I made the long trek up to Los Angeles to serve as a judge in KCRW's 3rd annual Good Food Pie Contest. I was in august company, with a roster of chefs (both pastry and non-pastry) and food writers. We tasted 220 pies--yes, that's right, 220 pies were submitted--in five categories: fruit, nut, cream, savory and Tim Burton, that last inspired by the Tim Burton exhibit at LACMA, which hosted the event.
Some of the pies were very good, and then there were pies that made us wonder what had gone into the thought process involved in their design (though, as host Evan Kleiman said, every pie is loved by someone). A green pie turned out to be a sweet pie made with artichoke purée; there was a savory pie with mutton and pluots; one of the pies in the Tim Burton category contained Dr Pepper, pepitas and pink peppercorn.
The pie that won best of show, though, was a standard apple pie that could have come straight from the basement of a Lutheran church in rural Minnesota. It wasn't fancy, and it wasn't overdone; it didn't have any bizarre twists. It just was done absolutely perfectly, crust and filling. It fed my unabashed American chauvinism when it comes to fruit desserts--we are quite simply the best at baked fruit pastries.
The Tim Burton-inspired pies were stunning to look at--the Nightmare Before Christmas vanilla pie above was outstanding, though unfortunately the filling hadn't set. There was a pie that looked like Oogie Boogie; there was a chess pie that just recalled the man's entire œuvre.
A pro tip for next year's contestants: for heaven's sake, please make sure your crusts are done! I can't tell you how many pies were knocked out of the running for having an unappealingly mushy bottom side. Par-bake the crust if you want to, use a more conductive pie dish if you want to, but rubbery crusts are bad.
After so much pie, I nursed an Aperol spritz for two hours, then went home and eventually made scrambled eggs and a green salad with plenty of acid in the dressing. I'm hoping I recover from being "pied out" more quickly than I've been recovering from March's Final Pho tournament. It was a great time--how is it possible to have a bad time when you're eating pie?
Here are the winners in each category. Think you can do better? Enter next year's pie contest!
BEST IN SHOW
Stephanie Shaiken - Classic Apple Pie
1. Stephanie Shaiken - Classic Apple Pie
2. Sam Robinson - Peach Blueberry Crumble
3. Jessica Kubel - Apple Cranberry
1. Stuart Faber - Pecan Toffee Pie
2. Kristin Anderson - Marcona Almond Pie
3. Claudia Guevara - Pecan Pie
1. Sandra Nuzzolilo - Banana Cream Pie
2. Morgan Simons - Banana Nutella Cream Pie
3. Linnea Weaver - Max's Cheese Pie
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1. Terry Sweeney - Persian Tart
2. Jennifer Wang - Tomato Pie
3. Marla Cusack - Zucchini Pecorino Pie
1. Emily Baker - "James and the Giant Peach" Pie
2. Bobbie Chi - Blueberry Pie for Tim Burton
3. Gretchen Getz - Chocolate Chess Pie