While teriyaki chicken sushi and curried goat with feta pies had the 18 judges salivating, it was a delectable and delicate gingered peach and pear with Cointreau pie which really tantalised the judges' taste buds and took top honours in the 2012 Bakels New Zealand Supreme Pie Awards announced last night at the Rendezvous Hotel in Auckland.

It was the second year in a row and the third time in the award's 16 year history that a Gourmet Fruit Pie has won the Supreme Pie awards. And it was produced by last year's Supreme winning duo, Shane and Kathy Kearns of Viands Bakery, of Kihikihi, near Te Awamutu.

However, it was a close run contest, with all judges, including TV chef and celebrity judge Al Brown commenting on the "magnificent" standard of this year's pies.

Judge and Bakels executive chairman, Duncan Loney, said although the final result was close, he was not surprised by the Kearns' double victory.

"It's a case of 'may the best pie win'."

More pies were entered than ever before, with 4,500 pies entered from 444 bakeries. Judges were unanimous in their praise for the higher than ever standard of pies and for the innovative fillings devised by pie makers. Exotic fillings included Balinese coconut chicken; Asian beef with shitake and star anise; chicken, cranberry and camembert; sweet Moroccan lamb; crab, prawn scallops and vegetables in white sauce; caramelised pork belly with coriander, and curried mutton with coriander.

Last year the Kearns knocked the classic meat pie off its perch with their winning spiced plum, port and apple pie, so will New Zealand's traditional meat pie makers be deterred by another win by a dessert pie? Duncan Loney does not think so.

"I think for any good pie maker, this will only spur them into action.

"I don't think because a dessert pie looks attractive that gives them an unfair advantage. The judges consider a myriad of factors, from pastry to presentation to flavour."

The Kearns also showed their versatility by winning a silver award in the seafood category, with their scallop shrimp and prawn with sweet chilli and coriander pie.

The 18 judges spent a mammoth day last Thursday (July 19) judging the pies which were blind coded in 12 categories which included mince and gravy; steak, vegetables and gravy; steak and cheese; chicken and vegetables; gourmet meat; vegetarian; bacon and egg; mince and cheese; gourmet fruit; seafood; and commercial wholesale and a new category , café boutique, introduced to cater for the growing number of cafes serving a variety of tasty pies. However, the café boutique winner was not eligible to win the Supreme Pie Award.

Chief Judge Dennis Kirkpatrick is no mean pie maker himself as he produces 20,000 pies a day from his bakery, Jimmy's Pies in Roxburgh. He, too, was wowed by the standard of this year's pies.

"We used to send around ten pies through for final tastings. Now we send 20 or more. Pies are always a Kiwi staple, but I think the prestige of the awards has led to a huge increase in the standard of New Zealand pies."

French born judge Jean-Philippe Jacquet, from Rotorua agrees: "There were some beautiful aromas and so many pies looked good."

Judge, Karel Adriaens, from Baker Boys in Christchurch, has been judging for 12 years.

"The quality and standard is becoming harder to judge because of the consistency of the entries. What still makes a good pie, is what is inside. A pie is a meal wrapped up in edible packaging."

Celebrity judge Al Brown, a self confessed pie lover, said he found the judging exercise "absolutely fascinating."

"I was very honoured to be part of it. Everything I tasted was magnificent. There were some seriously good bakers for me to listen and learn from."

Bakels chief Duncan Loney says he was blown away by the standard of pies this year.

"There was such a range of innovative fabulous fillings this year. Now you can buy any pie you like. Such innovation is great for the whole industry. It shows great enterprise from our bakers."

He says the overall market remains buoyant with Kiwis chomping their way through 75 million pies a year in a market worth more than $140 million a year.

Award winners were evenly spread throughout the country with 20 winners (including Highly Commended) from Auckland, 11 from Hawkes Bay, five from Tauranga, three from Christchurch and two from Taupo.

The Gold Award winners were:

Mince and gravy:Hong Kheng Huor, Whenuapai Bakehouse & Café, Whenuapai, Auckland
Steak, vegetables and gravy:John van den Berk, John's Bakery and Café, Hastings
Chicken and vegetable:Patrick Lam, Patrick's Pie Group Ltd, Tauranga
Gourmet Fruit:Shane Kearns, Viands Bakery, Kihikihi, Te Awamutu
Gourmet Meat:Jason Hay, Richoux Patisserie; Ellerslie, Auckland
Vegetarian:David Liem, Greenland Bakery & Café, Botany Town Centre, Auckland
Bacon & egg:Tan Kiet Trang, Cherrywood Café, Otumoetai, Tauranga
Mince & Cheese:Nap Ly, Target Bakehouse, Pukekohe
Steak & Cheese:Chris Dockrill, French Bakery, Christchurch
Seafood:Lam Ho, Paetiki Bakery, Taupo
Commercial Wholesale:Paul Barber, Goodtime Foods, Onekawa, Napier
Café boutique:Helena Robben, Rob's Patisserie, Freemans Bay, Auckland
Supreme:Shane Kearns, Viands Bakery, Kihikihi

The Bakels Supreme Pie Awards were announced at a dinner last night at the Rendezvous Hotel. Comedian and TV personality Dai Henwood was MC, and was joined on stage by media personalities, Tamati Coffey from TVNZ; Annabelle White, food editor NZ Woman's Weekly; Graeme Hill, from Radio Live and Natasha Utting from TV3's Campbell Live programme.

Forty nine awards were up for grabs, with prizes including $7,500 cash and the coveted Supreme Piemaker Trophy, while Gold award winners receive $1000 cash.

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