Enough pie to reach the sky in KCRW contest

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Bring on the pie! And the pie ... and the pie. One hundred and fifty pies. Sour cream apple blueberry. Apple and more apple in every variation, including one with bacon and smoked paprika. Lots of pumpkin pies (no surprise in November). Maple sweet potato pie with pecan brittle topping. Chocolate banana cream pie. Savory duck pie.

Welcome to the KCRW-FM (89.9) ‘Good Food’ show pie contest, an event inspired by host Evan Kleiman’s summer project of baking a pie (almost) every day. Kleiman, the emcee at Saturday’s contest, wore a pie pin embroidered by her friend Jill Smolin. She introduced herself as ‘your pie god,’ to lots of cheers.


Before the judging began at the Westfield Topanga shopping mall, contestants lined up to register and get numbers for their pies. The pies were spread out on 13 tables, each one numbered. Cards identified the kind of pie and listed the ingredients. Each baker cut two slices for the judges to taste -- a nerve-wracking experience, since every baker knows how hard it can be to get the first slice out of the pan.

Some people had practiced and practiced. Others not so much; sometimes that was obvious.

Victor Broadley, an animator who lives in Silver Lake, was among the former. He made a beautiful apple pie with candied ginger. ‘I just kind of subjected my friends to countless pies,’ he said.

‘I love pie very much,’ he said, adding that Kleiman’s pie project ‘jazzed’ him.

Barbara Treves, an interior designer whose apple pie won best fruit pie and best in show, bought her apples at the farmers market in Venice, and added some cherries and Calvados. She even made her own butter for the crust. (Her pie is the top picture.)

Apolonia Panagopoulous of Los Angeles, wearing a T-shirt that declared ‘Bake and Destroy,’ carried in a caramel pumpkin pie, based on a Gourmet magazine recipe from a few years back and made with as many organic ingredients as possible. ‘As soon as we tasted it, we knew it was the best pumpkin pie we had tasted,’ she said.

Like many of the bakers, Panagopoulous was nervous. ‘I was really nervous about my crust. Should I bake it tonight? Should I bake it tomorrow?’

Daniel Hong of Chatsworth received a second place for his banana cream pie. But it was not his first prize for it -- he won a chicken wing contest with that pie. The employees at Best Buy, where he works, held a wings contest, but his pie was determined to be so good that they gave him a prize anyway.


Hae Jung Cho of Los Angeles made blueberry cardamom hand pies with a sour cream crust. No cutting necessary -- and they brought her a third-place ribbon. Her friend Diep Tran, owner of the Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park, baked an Arkansas black apple pie.

Tran noted how the tables were filled with bakers’ ‘pride and joy.’ And although we were standing in the middle of a big, modern shopping mall, she said, ‘I feel like I should have a pig under my arm. It’s so country’ to be at a pie contest.

As Kleiman put it: ‘It smells like being in a really big ‘grandma’s kitchen.’ ‘

Each judge was randomly assigned about 16 pies to taste and grade on a 1 to 10 scale for flavor, texture and appearance.

One judge, Stefan Richter, said the savory pies had trouble, because most of them were not meant to be eaten cold. Another judge, chef Eric Greenspan, passed along the saying on his mother’s wall: ‘Apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze.’

Celina Dean, who entered a berry pie, is already aiming for the prize next year. Dean is working on a secret pie ‘unlike anything here,’ said her husband, Josh, taster and No. 1 fan.

Celina might consider some of the advice from the judges.

Amelia Saltsman, author of ‘The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook,’ suggested bakers get more flavor into their crusts and to use a ‘lighter hand’ with them. And Elizabeth Belkind of Cake Monkey Bakery said many pies had too much thickener. She also said bakers should not be afraid to bake their crusts a little longer.


And then, all the people who waited and waited through the judging, the kibbitzing, the awarding of ribbons and the applause finally got their reward: All the pies were cut up and given away. But not before a word of warning from the pie god: ‘You will be eating pie at your own risk,’ she said, suggesting that people read the ingredient lists if they had any allergies.

-- Mary MacVean

Photos courtesy Harriet Ells of ‘Good Food’