…Australians eat an estimated 270 million meat pies every year – nearly 11 per person annually – according to statistics shared in the exhibition. Even the tiniest of country towns has at least one bakery, selling everything from the classic steak and pepper to more avant-garde versions like an eggs Benedict pie. So, as you might expect, Australia’s Best Pie and Pastie Competition is a massive event down under, and winning is an honour that probably only a true-blue Aussie could understand.
Run by the Baking Association of Australia (BAA), the competition is fierce as hundreds of bakers duke it out to be awarded “the best pie in the country”. Last year, 12 judges were tasked with evaluating 1,794 products from a record 338 bakeries, with a cold and hot pie submitted with each entry.
Some of what they’re looking for in the cold pie, said BAA executive officer Tony Smith, is pastry thickness, shape, filling ratio and “that the pastry is baked out properly but not burnt”. In the hot pie, the top pastry or puff should be light and crispy, “and the filling not too runny or sloppy or too thick or starchy”.
Intriguingly, the back-to-back winners for the past two years, and the first reigning champions in the history of the competition, are Cambodian migrant brothers Chan and Ryan Khun, from Country Cob Bakery in the small town of Kyneton, Victoria.
Their 2018 winning pie was not the ever-popular minced beef pie. Rather, a satay seafood pie, a delicate creamy concoction of crunchy prawn, fish poached in coconut milk, smooth peanut butter and enough curry spice to warm the cheeks.
Judge Mikayla Brightling said the pie was “unbelievable – well created with that smooth satay flavour and seafood cooked to perfection, which is very hard to do in a pie”.
The Kuhn’s 2019 winning entry, a caramelised pork and pepper pie, went a step further and tapped into the pair’s Phnom Penh roots. When I called into the bakery for a taste-test, Chan explained that the recipe is based on caramelised pork with pepper, a staple Cambodian comfort dish that differs slightly with each family recipe. The Khun’s oval-shaped pie has a rich and hearty filling of pork mince combined with tender pork chunks that are slow cooked for three hours to bring out the sweetness. The overriding cracked black pepper notes, reminiscent of the country’s famed Kampot pepper, puts it in the Cambodian culinary category. That it’s in an Australian pie, fit for snacking on straight from the bakery shelf, makes it a fusion first.