The Napier pie-maker who helped shut out the boutique set of Auckland in the national awards this week has lost little hunger for the big honour he's now setting out to reclaim next year.
Jason Heaven, who sold family-operation Heaven's Bakery in Marewa last year and found himself back in the game a couple of months ago working for a boss named Kamal Bhandal at the secluded Café Ahuriri a short walk from born-again bar and restraint stretch West Quay, won the Silver medal in the Café Boutique category of the Bakel's Supreme Pie Awards, a measure of quality in the industry for a quarter-century.
Their well-proportioned venison and bacon creation was sandwiched between the lentil and curry category-winning pie of Ginger Dynamite Go Go Food and Coffee in Riwaka, Marlborough, and the bronze medal winner from The Whistling Frog, in Owaka in South Otago and producer of the beef, bourbon, bacon, aged cheddar cheese and garden herbs pie – mouthful just by name.
Completing the rout was Napier CBD eatery the Bay Coffee Hub, which was highly commended for its chicken breast with creamy mushrooms pie, created by baker Chi Meng Lo.
Alas, Auckland (or Torbay on the North Shore, to be precise) claimed top honours of the Supreme Pie Ward, baker Sobheap Long, of Euro Patisserie since acclaimed as the first female baker to be so-exulted since the awards were first held in 1996, and doing so by winning the steak and cheese category.
As it happened Café Ahuriri and Bay Coffee Club were the only Hawke's Bay eateries recognised in the awards, in which 6 of the 11 categories were won by bakers in the Auckland region.
It's a far cry from the heights achieved in the past by Heaven and which he hopes to emulate in 2022.
He and his family, making a crust out of pies for 40-50 years, has seen more awards than he can remember, but the one that stands out was the Supreme Award in 2006, a particularly sumptuous-sounding and looking gourmet fruit pie-section winning creation of caramelised baby pears nestled in vanilla pastry.
A judge at that time commented: "We opened the box and it just blew us away, the appearance of it was just incredible."
Hawke's Bay pies won 5 of the 10 sections that year, perhaps reflecting what Heaven believes is a high-quality of pie across the region – they still talk across the region of Wairoa bakery Osler's triumphs , including Supreme winner in 2002, with a traditional steak mince and cheese.
Heaven says from past experience he expected an "uplift" in interest in the venison and bacon pie dispensed form Mahia St in Ahuriri, between Coronation and Ossian streets, where it was more or less a match made by Heaven when, having vacated Marewa, he drove past, got a bit of a feel for the place, and rang Bhandal who was rapt to offer the hours and environment to suit.
As a boutique they don't talk the huge numbers in pies to which Heaven has been accustomed, but the estimate of the increase in consumption is palpable. "Um, 100 per cent …. No, 600 per cent."
As it happens some of the customers come to Napier for the pies, even from Auckland, which Heaven says is because Hawke's Bay is "a bit of a foodie destination", acknowledging that even the fish and chips are right up there.
A customer at one table, across from Taupo, says Café Ahuriri's side-street location was such that he "wouldn't have known it was here". It's acclaim came from "word of mouth." he said.
Heaven says midweek a couple on the road around the country arrived having heard of the venison and bacon and wanting to add it to their list of pie-eating conquests.
There haven't been any consistent famous people among the customers, Heaven saying that pie eaters seem to come from all walks of life. He hasn't noticed any Hawke's Bay Magpies props veering from the nutritionist's decree, but says that he's surprised by how many people now work in the vicinity.
The visitors did include a Hawke's Bay Today photographer and reporter, finding the venison and bacon right on the mark, with quantity, quality and distinction. In the CBD the same could be said for the Coffee Hub's chicken and mushrooms.
Heaven says it was the "whole team" that decided on which pie to enter for the awards, sent to Auckland last week to be assessed by a team of up to 12 judges the next day.
"We're trying to build our business," said Bhandal.
"I think this competition has lifted the standards," says Heaven, conceding the "hard night" needed some recovery, despite still not reclaiming the Supreme honour. Thinking ahead 12 months he says: "We'll work on it."