378 pies: that’s all it took to transform Wilson Plaza into a little slice of heaven.
This past Sunday, KCRW hosted its sixth annual “Good Food Pie Contest” for the first time at UCLA in coordination with the Fowler Museum. The competition, which has grown larger each year, boasted celebrity judges such as Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jonathan Gold and Los Angeles Times writer Russ Parsons, as well as a number of other local baking and food experts.
Despite the heat Sunday, nothing stopped hungry pie lovers from waiting in line an hour early in the hopes of tasting some of the creations the bakers of Los Angeles had to offer. With a few hundred tasters in tow, armed with forks poised and two tickets each, attendees stormed through the pie stalls. In total there were seven categories of pie.
From savory to sweet, it seemed every type of pie was represented in the competition. Classics such as apple, peach and berry littered every table and the multitude of chocolate, cream and dinner pies was extensive to say the least. Yet, between the familiar, the occasional “Thai Tea Take-Out Pie,” “Devil’s Food Vegan Potpie” or “Tomato Pie” popped out as pleasant surprises. Some bakers put new spins on old classics by mixing flavors such as peach and miso or blueberry and lavender.
The bakers themselves were as varied as their pies since anyone could enter a pie into the competition. Among the bakers in attendance were local baking celebrities such as the Pie Society and The Lusty Vegan. Even UCLA was represented by KCRW’s Raine Wilson, a 1981 UCLA alumna in African American studies.
“I made a carnation pie from my great aunt Edna. The recipe has been in the family as long as I can remember and I’ve been eating it since I was a little girl,” Wilson said. “I heard about the competition six years ago, so I’ve been a participant ever since.”
While Wilson has yet to take home the award for best pie, she keeps reaching for the top prize, adding new twists to Aunt Edna’s classic.
“This year I put vodka in the crust. It makes the crust a bit flakier and more pliable to work with so it’s my new go-to pie crust recipe,” Wilson said.
Last year, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art had played the gracious host for the competition, but as the size of the competition grew, KCRW needed a new home for its event. UCLA’s Fowler Museum gladly stepped up, and with the addition of the Fowler came the edition of a “world” category for pies. Pies entered in this category were inspired by exhibits in the Fowler Museum, and the results included one pie with a crust that paid tribute to a Yaqui mask and a creation called a “Colombian-American EmPIEnada.”
Between the pie stalls, a number of organic food and local fare vendors came out to support the competition. This once-humble pie competition was fast becoming a full-on festival of food, music and fun.
The competition arose from radio personality Evan Kleiman’s talk show segment on KCRW “Good Food.” The producer of the show, Gillian Ferguson said Kleiman, who had always had an enthusiasm for pie, had decided six years ago to bake one pie per day and blog about it. At the conclusion of her 365-day pie challenge, Kleiman then challenged her listeners to take part in their own pie competition and the Good Food Pie Contest was born.
The crowd in attendance ranged from young to old as children, parents, friends, grandparents and, of course, students made the tasting circuit. Among the attendees, second-year physics student Adil Sultan and second-year electrical engineering student Danny Corona stumbled onto the festivities by chance. The two shared a slice of pumpkin pie on a small paper plate and said they were blown away by both the food and the event.
“I wasn’t really a pie person before, but I definitely am now,” Corona said.