Saturday, November 28, 2009

KCRW & 'Good Food' & Pie Judging Contest

A couple of years ago Robert and I went to the Los Angeles County Fair. I'm not much of a fair person and I wasn't sure what to expect but I actually ended up having a really nice time. My favorite part of the fair was where a lot of the judging took place. We entered a rather industrial feeling building, cavernous, high ceilings; one of many on the fairgrounds. As we turned a corner there was an area full of dining tables all with elaborately designed, over-the-top table settings. The competition was the best table setting for a party. Some of the tables were so overdone and crowded I doubted anyone would have been able to eat at them. We oohed and ahhed and giggled our way through them. The next area we walked through was definitely more to my liking: baked goods. There was display case after display case full of all manner of baked goods; pies, cakes, cookies and so on. All had identifying information: what the item was, who baked it, and occasionally a ribbon if it had placed. As we got there a pie judging was about to start. People were arriving with their pies and setting them before the judges who sat on a raised stage. Something as old-fashioned as pie judging still happened, and people actually entered pies -- in Los Angeles. For a moment the modern world disappeared. I was fascinated.

When I heard this summer that Evan Kleiman of KCRW's 'Good Food' was going to bake a pie a day for one month I was intrigued, in awe, and followed along as she reached her goal. Then when I heard that she was hosting a pie judging contest I just had to go and watch (and next year I'm going to enter). The event, KCRW's Good Food Pie Contest, took place on Saturday, November 14th at the Westfield Shopping Center in Canoga Park. The judges were all local chefs and foodies: Mark Peel of Campanile; L.A. Times Food Editor, Russ Parsons; Stefan Richter of Top Chef and L.A. Farm; Eric Greenspan of The Foundry; Elizabeth Belkind of the Cake Monkey Bakery; Amy Scattergood from the L.A. Weekly; Amelia Saltsman, author of The Santa Monica Farmers Market Cookbook; Eddie Lin of Deep End Dining and Extreme Cuisine; and Clifford Wright, author of Best Soups in the World and Bake Until Bubbly: Casseroles. No cooking slouches here. I'd long been a fan of Mark Peel's, having met him several times, and having eaten at his Los Angeles restaurant Campanile on a regular basis. I'd certainly trust him to judge my pie fairly if I entered one. Now that I write this I see that based on the judges it was actually a tad more elite than what I witnessed at the county fair but the spirit was the same. Home cooks presenting their best possible pie creations hoping to take home a winner's ribbon.

Evan acted as master of ceremonies as 123 pies were set out on long tables. Judging took place in these categories: Best In Show; Fruit & Nut; Cream/Custard/Chiffon/Mousse; Savory; Interpretive (Defies Category). Once the judging started the judges moved from their assigned pies to the next on their list -- they didn't taste every pie entered; each judge had to taste ten to twelves pies. We spectators were held at bay by ropes and stanchions but were close enough to feel like we were in the mix. It was a hoot to watch as they all intermingled, rubbed elbows, and occasionally commented on what they were tasting. An added pleasure of the afternoon was seeing blogger friend Chrystal Baker of The Duo Dishes in the crowd. I knew she wasn't there as a spectator as she and her blogging partner, Amir Thomas are always cooking. Sure enough she won first place in the savory category for their pie 'Tarragon Chicken and Grape Pie.' A pie they had on their menu when they cooked at Canalé a few months back where I met them. Robert and I were very excited for her. The winning pie (Best In Show) was none other than an apple pie baked by Barbara Treves. Once the judging was complete they lifted the ropes and the spectators were allowed in to taste the pies themselves. It was a fun and relaxing thing to do on a Saturday afternoon in November. And, like I said above, next year I want to enter a pie myself. Guess I better get baking so I can perfect my crust and decide what to fill it with.

Mark Peel, chef/owner of Campanile.

Eric Greenspan, chef of The Foundry.

Stefan Richter, Top Chef and chef of Stefan's at LA Farm.

Robert with Evan Kleiman of Good Food and Angelli Caffe.

Judging is under way.

2nd round judging.

Chrystal Baker of The Duo Dishes with her first place ribbon in the savory category.

Chrystal Baker of The Duo Dishes and me.

My Status: Settling into late fall, happily. New cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: my personal, childhood food history as told by my mother, Dawn Goodman. Reviews: Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine. Bread Matters, a review of the new bread book by Andrew Whitley.

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  1. There are some posts that make me want to eat something right away. This is one such post. I'm making a chicken pot pie tomorrow. I love this, Charles. I really like pies - especially savory pies.

    And Stefan was a great Top Chef. So great to see him there. Glad you had fun at this event. People think judging is the best job in the world, and for the most part it is fun -- but I'm sure after tasting so many pies it does a serious job on your palete.

    Great stuff, Charles. I know you're very busy right now, but I always love reading new posts.

  2. Thanks much, Phil. I always appreciate your comments (as you know). This event was a lot of fun. Hmmm, since I now have your professed love of pies on paper maybe I'll rope you into participating next year! Would be a lot of fun. I'll keep you posted. Thanks again!

  3. What could be better than Pies and SHOPPING?! I had a great time and was glad that such an old pastime (pie bakeoff) took place in such an odd place. There was a big crowd and they weren't all there to shop.

  4. I should have gone to this! The Tarragon Chicken and Grape Pie is my kind of dish!

  5. So let's see for next year: Phil and I will enter and Jo, Peter, Katrina and Robert will be there to cheer us on, taste and shop! Counting the days 'til... thanks Robert and Jo!

  6. NOW I am SUPER excited, Jo! T-shirts! I LOVE that!!!

  7. Looks like lots of fun!! Count me in for next year too!
    And I love Jo idea!!!

  8. I've read about this event on the Duo Dishes site! How wonderful that you were able to be there, fun!

  9. Afaf: of course you'll be with us! Didn't mean to leave you out - you are ALWAYS part of the 'posse'. Thanks for the comment! xo

    Natasha: thanks! It was a lot of fun especially seeing The Duo Dishes win!

  10. Yay! Thanks for the shout out! Next year, you need to enter a pie. A win for you!

  11. What a fun event! It is kind of crazy to think of a pie contest in L.A.!

  12. Thanks Phoo-D. But it really was an L.A. pie contest as it was held in a shopping mall! Can't get much more L.A. than that! :-)

  13. I'm a little behind here, but that actually is good because for my recent car trip I downloaded edible podcasts to help pass the boring time. It was KCRW and the pie contest. Cool to see that you went. I am excited to hear that you are going to enter next year! Too bad I'm so far away I would love to cheer you on and get the T-shirt too :)

  14. Thanks Kristen. It was a great event. And we'll set aside a T-shirt aside for you next year!