On finding NZ's best pie
It's all about the first impression - that first bite through the pastry - according to the chief judge of this year's pie awards.
A record number of pies, almost 5,000 from 532 bakeries, are being put to the test by a panel of 18 judges in this year's Bakels New Zealand Supreme Pie Awards.
Inventive combinations like rabbit and wild boar in wholemeal pastry, spiced duck with bacon and kumara and a Cheeky Cheese pie with beef cheek and cauliflower cheese grace the judges' menus at today's testing.
However, old Kiwi favourites such as steak and cheese, bacon and egg, and apple still make up a fair slice of the entries across the 12 categories.
Last year's winner was a good old mince and cheese from Botany's Greenland Bakery & Cafe.
Chief judge Tim Aspinall said the judges started their day warming their hands by the oven and their insides with a pie before taking to testing the tasty treats with their eyes and then their tastebuds.
Aspinall, who is also a margarine sculptor and principal at the culinary arts school of North Shore International Academy, has been involved with the judging since the competition's inception.
Most judges took one bite from each entry, but Aspinall usually devoured half the pie, he said.
The former army chef, who had been in the food industry for 48 years, said he had a love for savoury pies. However, this year's gourmet fruit pies would give the Kiwi classics a run for their money.
"The key for me is first impressions. If that pie looks at me and says 'eat me', that's my pie."
Pies had always been part of the New Zealand diet, he said.
Kiwis were travellers and outdoors people who needed something hot that was in an easy-to-handle bundle they could "hook into", Aspinall said.
Bakels executive chairman Duncan Loney set up the awards 18 years ago and would be bowing out of his official duties after this year's awards.
The awards helped the competing bakeries boost profits, with turnover at the winning bakeries sometimes more than doubling the day after the finalist announcements, Loney said.
The standard of entries had improved since the competition kicked off, but each judge had their own opinion on what made the best pie, he said.
During the years the panel had debated the big questions: should peas should be included in bacon and egg pies? And how much pastry needs to be on the top of the pie to stop it from being a flan?
Celebrity food judge and owner of Euro, Jervois Steakhouse and Shed 5, Simon Gault, has joined the executive judging panel this year.
For Gault it was what was on the outside that counted, with the pastry and innovative casings being the most important component, he said.
Pies were an iconic tradition in New Zealand, Gault said.
"We've all grown up with them. For me, pies are about family."
Forty-nine awards are up for grabs, with prizes including $7500 cash and the coveted Supreme Piemaker Trophy, while Gold award winners receive $1000 cash.
The Bakels New Zealand Supreme Pie Award winners will be announced at a gala dinner at The Rendezvous hotel in Auckland on Tuesday.