The definition of ‘pie’ is a contentious subject in the food world, with many chefs kicking up a stink when, at last year’s British Pie Awards, a beef skirt and vegetable pasty took home the title of Supreme Champion.
There was uproar about what constitutes a pie, with several saying the pasty is just not a pie. According to Fuller’s, it is simple, rule number one of pie is – no pastry, no pie. The entire filling has to be encased in pastry.
When it comes to pasties or sausage rolls, however, they are exactly what they say on the tin: a pasty is a pasty, a roll is a roll – and, of course, a pie is a pie.
But, how do pubs incorporate pies in their menus when it comes to offering diners something a little different?
Parlour in Kensal Green, west London, is famous for its cow pies and head chef Jesse Dunford Wood is a huge advocate. He believes they work because they are a staple pub classic.
However, he also encounters controversy over the proper definition of a pie.
“We have had some opinionated people saying our cow pie is very nice but it’s not a real pie because it hasn’t got pastry on the bottom,” he explains.
“That is some people’s interpretation of a pie, believing ours is just stew with a lid on the top. It doesn’t cut the mustard for some, but it still tastes good!”
Power of pie
Regardless of definitions, Dunford Wood is a keen enthusiast and says every pub ‘worth its soul’ has some form of pie on its menu.
He adds: “It is familiar to customers, who expect pubs to have some kind of pie offering. “It’s a very popular dish in the Parlour.
“It works well in the environment. We can spend time during the day making sure it tastes nice and, in the evening, we just have to cook it in the oven.
“We sell about 100 to 150 cow pies a week. It is our second most popular dish after chicken Kiev.”
With the classic pastry dish appearing in the top 10 pub dinner and lunch dishes, and featuring ahead of pasta and chicken dishes, according to sister publication MCA, it seems pie is the way ahead.
And with British Pie Week just a matter of weeks away (6 to 12 March), the trade should be looking to cash in on the dish, especially as research by pastry firm Jus-Rol reveals that three quarters of people enjoy a pie at least once a month, while more than 20% of those questioned in the Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland ate in excess of one pie a week.
Wholesaler Bestway sales director for foodservice and retail, Tony Holmes, says: “As competition for eating-out spend intensifies and costs such as wages and rents increase, operators can relieve pressure by using pies and snacks to maximise sales right through the day.
“British Pie Week is an opportunity to promote a snacks menu and broaden food sales.
“Whether it is shoppers looking for respite and a refuel, business customers ordering a snack while using the Wi-Fi, or regulars in for a quiz or to watch sport on TV, there are plenty of opportunities to spotlight pies and snacks.”
One example of a street food and pub marriage done well is pastry pros Pieminister and pubco Enterprise Inns joining forces to provide customers with the staple dish on pub menus.
Pieminister, the creation of brothers-in-law Tristan Hogg and Jon Simon, was founded in Bristol in 2003 to create a range of pies ‘made with fine ingredients you can see, taste and smell’.
This vision helped them revolutionise the British pie industry and in the process, become one of the nation’s most trusted pie brands.
Pieminister installed its ‘open kitchen’ franchise into 30 wet-led Enterprise sites in 2014 and under the terms of the agreement, the pie-maker provides kitchen equipment, products and marketing support to the outlets over a five-year period.
Low wastage levels
Thirteen years since inception, the company is still owned and run by the original founders and makes all its pies in-house in its Bristol kitchens.
Pieminister’s Hogg explains that GP on the food averages 60%, but wastage and staff costs are much lower than in a standard kitchen.
He says: “As the pies can be cooked to order or put on a hot-hold counter, wastage is only around 2% to 3% and, because you don’t need a qualified chef, staff costs are only around 10%.
“A pie and a pint is widely celebrated as the ideal British pub feast. A pie and mash or slaw is perfect to have in a pub, or to grab and go at lunch, or even to enjoy outside in a takeaway box in a sunny beer garden.”
The expert pie makers pride themselves on creating classic pies with a modern twist and all of its range is award-winning.
The firm is the only UK national pie company to use 100% free-range British meat and places much importance on the provenance of ingredients.
“Pieminister has developed a comprehensive package for pubs and bars. Partnering with experienced, high-calibre operators has allowed the company to implement a simple, easy-to-execute food solution into previously wet-led sites,” says Hogg.
“The simplicity of the offer, coupled with branded support from Pieminister, has delivered impressive incremental and profitable business for both themselves and their operating partners.
“These include a number of sites in high footfall locations in London and other city centres across the country.”
Last year, Pieminister sold a mouth-watering 570,000 pies to more than 400 venues in the pub trade.
This not only includes staples, such as beef and chicken, but the pie company admits more unusual varieties are also proving popular.
Hogg says: “Pieminister has also seen an increase in vegetarian pie sales, particularly with the new Saag Pie-neer – Pieminister’s take on the classic curry and saag paneer recipe.”
Pies from independent vendors is something that is taking off within the pub trade, almost merging street food and pub meals.
Working in the pub kitchen
My Pie provides freshly baked pies and offers a similar pubs deal to Pieminister, where it uses all its own equipment and ingredients, but in the kitchen of the pub.
Owner Chris Brumby says working with licensees is a win-win situations for both parties involved.
“There is the ability to trade all-year round and the main bonus for pubs is staffing – finding a chef to provide quality food and a team can cost quite a lot of money, but we do that for them.”
Staffing aside, profits can improve for pubs that take on a similar partnership, as Brumby explains: “If we take £5,000 on food, the pub can get somewhere between £800 and £1,000 of that, which is more than enough to pay their gas and electric and make a decent profit.”