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Celebrity Chef Judge Sets Impeccable Standard For Top Pie

With only days to go until entries close in the 2021 Bakels NZ Supreme Pie Awards (June 24), this year’s celebrity chef judge, Peter Gordon has admitted he’ll be looking for a winning pie fit to serve The Queen.

Having prepared a private lunch for The Queen himself, his own benchmark is set at that standard and he’s hoping bakers will aim high too; after all this is the most prestigious baking competition in New Zealand and it is being judged by New Zealand’s most recognised chef. Peter Gordon was not only the first person to be awarded New Zealander of the Year in 1999; he was also made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2009 for services to the food industry.

NZ Bakels managing director Brent Kersel says: “We’ve tried to secure Peter as our celebrity chef judge before while he was London-based but his work with the UK leukemia charity event, Who’s Cooking Dinner, for which he has raised around $17million, usually coincided with the Pie Awards. So we’re delighted to have him return to New Zealand to live and set up his cooking school and restaurant Homeland, and to finally have him as our celebrity judge. It is a huge honour.

“The question is, ‘what sort of pie will cause him to stop and taste it a second time?’ That’s a clear indicator of a potential Supreme pie. Peter is recognised as the creator of the fusion food trend where South-East Asian flavours are ‘blended’ with Western flavours resulting in exotic combinations that have changed the way we eat. Could he be looking for that in a pie? Or maybe he’s looking for something totally true to New Zealand and the Pacific.”

Peter says he loves a good bacon and egg pie. When he returned to New Zealand with his partner Alastair Carruthers on March 24, 2020, just two days before the level 4 Covid lockdown, pies were the last thing on his mind.

But within weeks Peter and Alastair had set up the Bacon and Egg Pie Challenge, which took off globally.

“During lockdown Al and I thought let’s do a bacon and egg pie cook-off and so we set up an Instagram hashtag Bacon and Egg Pie Challenge and that was really nice because my stepmum Rose, who’s Cockney, makes what I think is one of the best bacon and egg pies. I prefer bacon and egg pies with tomatoes and peas and I like them without a lid. Everyone in the challenge had an opinion and we had people making bacon and egg pies all around the world. It was very nice. We had people doing quite flash bacon and egg pies – one came from a guy from our street in London that we’d lived on, who’s an art director for The Crown, and he made a short film set to the music of 2001 Space Odyssey when his pie was cut. Quite extraordinary efforts!

“Pies are very New Zealand and I love a pie. In the UK their pies were either the lovely Melton Mowbray pork pies with jelly in them which I love - they call them dashboard pies there - or just not great pies.

“A great pie is a very good thing and we do many really great pies in New Zealand,” says Peter.

While Peter may have been ahead of his time more than 10 years ago when he tried to set up a Kiwi pie venture in London with fellow Kiwi, Nick Soper, he and Al are certainly on the mark with their latest venture, Homeland.

In April 2020 as they were considering what they could do here in New Zealand; they wanted to do something for the betterment of the country, rather than just for themselves, they began to taste and remember the quality and flavours of this region.

“We both had really good careers and we thought let’s do something that’s going to help New Zealand as a whole. And we thought what would be really good would be to focus on producers from New Zealand and the Pacific. We thought let’s help our community. What is our community? That summed it up really. Initially it was not to do another restaurant. We thought if we could teach people to cook using local and Pacific produce that would benefit all sorts of people; the fishers, the farmers, the producers and the growers and that would cause employment. It would just be a good thing to do. This was all under level 4 so the world’s changed quite a bit since then.

“We ended up finding this place which was formerly Mantell’s, kind of an event space but the nature of the building requires that we needed to put in a restaurant. It’s the restaurant that under-writes the other stuff we do. So on alternate Tuesdays, we have a community day that we run here and the communities have been everything from The Breakfast Club charity that works with young kids through to a refugee group, the elderly, the Indian community and we have the Greek community coming up. So the community can be many things. You can have a community through your ethnic background, through needs or anything else and the restaurant enables us to do that on a koha basis and the cooking school is really interesting. It’s not a qualification-led school, it’s kind of fun. It’s just come along and we will show you how to cook using New Zealand grown pine nuts, saffron and hazelnuts, or paneer cheese made in Southland by a dairying family… So we’ve been able to help producers and our ultimate goal is within two years of opening (November 2022) we have no ingredients on the menu that are not from New Zealand or the Pacific. That’s everything from salt and pepper and olive oil through to spices. Our wine list is solely New Zealand and our spirits list more and more so.

“One of our mantras is ‘manaakitanga – for everybody from everywhere – and that’s all about powerful, tradeable, sustainable kai. What we hope to do is help emerging producers get their produce to market and in this place we can do it because we can use it in the cooking school, sell it on the shelf and we can have it on the menu.

Does that mean Peter will be looking for a pie made solely from New Zealand ingredients?

“The love of pies is so Kiwi, so to be part of such a Kiwi thing as the Pie Awards is great. Over the years I’ve caught snippets of it living offshore or occasionally I might be in the country around the time it is on. You see these images and you think that looks fascinating because it’s a pie, its beige generally and its round or maybe it might be square. But the competition isn’t a free-for-all, there are limitations like weights. So I think it’s really fascinating when you say to the entrants that they must produce something, here are the limitations, and yet you can get so many different versions of it. That’s what I find interesting in baking generally - when you’ve got a formula you know what you’ve got to do, and yet you end up with something completely different to the baker next door.

“The creativity that is encouraged in some of the competition categories excited me very much. Good Kiwi flavours, indigenous ingredients but also maybe looking offshore for inspiration because I’m the guy who’s done fusion forever. At Homeland we focus on ingredients from New Zealand and the Pacific but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to see other ingredients in these pies. It will be good see in these Covid times, when we’ve all been locked inside, what our NZ bakers are going to produce. I know it’s going to be interesting,” says Peter.

The Bakels NZ Supreme Pie Awards will be judged on July 22 with the winners announced at the Awards night on July 27.

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