This Sunday was the 2nd Annual KCRW Good Food Pie Contest. Last year, my mom and I entered together, as the only mother-daughter team, and took home 1st place in the Cream Pies category. It was quite a thrill and totally unexpected. This year, we didn't fare as well, at least not ribbon-wise. But here I am, standing before you with my head held high, chin up, to report that we are A-Okay. We survived our two-consecutive-wins-missed-opportunity and are here to talk about it!
My mom, who lives in Northern California, flew down for the weekend, just like last year, so that we could enter together. What more could a daughter ask for? Seriously! People! As corny as it sounds, that makes me a winner right off the bat. We spent a few weeks going from pie concept to testing crusts to testing full-on pies right up until the weekend of the event. And as we were making the official entry pie together, we also decided to make an additional one since we knew we'd have to give away the entire official pie. Good thing we decided to do that. Friends and coworkers really appreciated getting to taste the pie!
Our pie was no easy project. What's funny is, Evan Kleiman, the wonderful restaurant owner, host of Good Food on KCRW, and master of ceremonies at the pie contest, even noted on her blog that complex, over-the-top pies are not necessary for you to win a ribbon. And then she reminded readers of last year's Best in Show, a classic apple pie. But here's the thing, Evan, and anyone who read that tip. That is asking me to be a different person. :-P
The fun for my mom and me was inventing a pie that captured, in one product, a variety of our favorite flavors, carried out with great texture, visual interest, and overall intrigue. And with that intro, allow me to present our pie: The Orange-Maple-Hazelnut Pie with Thick Chocolate Glaze and a Garnish of Candied Orange Peel and Caramelized Hazelnuts.
Did we overdo it? Nah. Not if you ask our taste buds.
But that's not to say we were anticipating or prepared for such a labor-intensive project! I think we were in shock over what we had gotten ourselves into. I have to admit, we created something complicated enough that, at times, we were looking at each other going, "Wait a minute, why are we caramelizing hazelnuts? I've been stirring this saute pan of nuts, water, and sugar for ten minutes and my arm is going to break off! Owww!" Actually, it was a funny sight to behold. I finally finished the nuts, it must have been well after midnight, and then I literally collapsed on the floor. Maybe I was being a drama queen, but man, my biceps were bulging, pulsing with their own heartbeat, because of the effort I exerted stirring those nuts! Don't believe me? You try caramelizing a pie's worth of hazelnuts in the middle of the night, then give me a call.
Oh, and just the step of getting the shells off the nuts was time-consuming. And let's talk about the candied orange peel. Peeling the oranges and scraping the bitter white insides off the peel, then slicing into fine pieces was tedious. These are just a few of the steps people don't realize might go into making a pie. I'm here to tell you they occurred. And we did them with a smile on our face, and an occasional over-dramatization to get us through the night. But it was a girl's night, a gigglefest the whole way through; Mom and daughter were having a blast baking in the kitchen together.
There was an apron fashion show at the pie contest so my mom brought an apron down from the Bay Area that my sister Beth gave her, and I wore one that my friend Crystal sewed for me. It was neat to see all the different apron designs. Several of the participants came wearing their special apron and Evan Kleiman interviewed each of us on stage about our selection. That was a very fun, fresh new touch to the contest over last year.
2nd Annual KCRW Good Food Pie Contest was very different from last year, not just because of the apron fashion show. If I could give a little bit of constructive feedback about the contest for future years (and I hope there will be many, many more of these to come!), the following would be my tips. I say these not to take away from the event - because the bottom line is, as you can see from the grins on our faces, we had a lot of fun - but so that the 3rd annual contest can outdo the 2nd!:
- Judging. Last year, the judging happened right in front of the public at a mall in the valley. This year, the event was hosted at the Taste of Beverly Hills food event and was free and open to the public. But the judging did not occur in front of us, and I very much miss that from last year. It was behind closed doors before they opened the gates to the public. Perhaps the single most exciting thing about the contest for me is watching a celebrity chef or famous food figure take a fork and dig into my pie, my amateur, made-at-home pie. For one, brief moment, I'd feel connected to an otherwise "unreachable" person via my pie. Most people aren't going to win the contest, so the best gift you can give them is the knowledge, satisfaction, and perhaps the photo they'll take, of a famous judge eating their pie. My photos from last year showing Chef Eric Greenspan, Chef Mark Peel, and LA Times Food Editor Russ Parsons enjoying my pie are like gold to me! But by removing that element this year, there was no "parting gift" for the many entrants who worked so hard to be there.
- Slicing. Each entrant's pie had its place at one of the long tables, numbered and labeled, and with a large slice missing from it, clearly the one that went to the judges. I got to my pie at its table placement and saw damage to my pie from where the one judges' slice was missing. I wished then, that I could have been the one to slice and plate my pie for the judges (which I was allowed to do last year), since I knew the layers inside, the texture, and so I would know best what knife to use and how much pressure and so forth. Until the moment the forkful of pie goes into the mouth of a judge, it seems most fair that the entrants have complete control over their pie's presentation and integrity.
- Schedule. Finally, the format for the afternoon was a bit anti-climactic. In the early part of the event, the semi-finalists were announced and all of the non-winners were sent to their pie station to prepare to serve their pies to the public. So very early in the event, you found out you didn't win, and then all that was left for you to do before you go home was share your pie. But that meant I missed some of the judging of the finalists and the excitement happening on stage.
A special shout out to Harriet, Sarah, Evan, and the rest of the crew at KCRW for organizing an event chock full of personality. That is no easy task! And by the looks of it, people were having a ball and rubbing their bellies.
Some of the Blog Coverage
ShopEatSleep: So much pie: KCRW's Good Food pie contest
LAist: Pie, Pie, Pie! KCRW's Annual Contest Served Up Fun by the Slice
Good Food Blog: Good Food Pie Contest Photos
Good Food Blog: Good Food Pie Contest Winner!
Diana Takes a Bite: Eating Pie and Making STRIDES
The Duo Dishes: KCRW's 2nd Annual Good Food Pie Contest
Caroline on Crack: Photo Gallery: KCRW's 2nd Annual Good Food Pie Contest
Pie-Packed Photo Album!