When is a pie not a pie?

Fans of a classic mince and cheese, a meaty steak and mushroom, or even a butter chicken might argue it is meat that maketh the pie. But a new vegan pie competition and revised categories in a long-running New Zealand pie challenge are changing all that.

When Philippa Stephenson from Tart Bakery in Grey Lynn tried to enter her vegan mince and cheese pie in the Bakels New Zealand Supreme Pie Awards this year, she was turned away.

"I make and sell hundreds of these a day through both of our bakeries," Stephenson told the Herald. "... and I thought they would give any meat pie made from animal suffering and planet degradation a run for it's money."

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But when Stephenson tried to throw her popular pie in the ring she was told it couldn't be included.

"I was really saddened that our vegan pie was excluded although they graciously explained their reasons why and their explanation made sense," says Stephenson.

She says Bakels told her it was a numbers game; That the amount of entries to a vegan-only category compared to the thousands usually received in the meat section wouldn't create an equal standing when it came to awarding gold to a vegan pie alongside gold for a meat mince and cheese.

Stephenson was also advised her vegan mince and cheese number couldn't compete against other meat pies "because the criteria specify that it must be beef or lamb mince. This is to prevent cheating, additives or other spurious meats being used in the pies," she says she was told.

So she decided to approach the Vegan Society who responded by establishing a new challenge for vegan bakers: The Supreme Vegan Pie Competition.

Taking entries from now until October 31, Vegan Society national coordinator Amanda Sorrenson argues that "a pie without meat is still an iconic Kiwi meal on the run. Vegans and those seeking a meat free pie don't want to miss out and can be tantalised with all sorts of exciting fillings, if anything possibly more diverse in variety."

Meanwhile Bakels managing director Brent Kersel says things are changing for their 2019 categories line up.

He says no one's entirely sure why the vegan exclusion was ever added to the vegetarian category in the first place.

The entry requirements from the 2018 Bakels New Zealand Supreme Pie Awards. Image / Supplied
The entry requirements from the 2018 Bakels New Zealand Supreme Pie Awards. Image / Supplied

"It doesn't really make sense," he tells the Herald. And in response, next year's awards have been revised to include vegan pies as legitimate entries.

(Side note: As vegan pies move in, apparently no one's really digging fish fillings these days; Kersel says the seafood pie category has been dropped.)

While the competition opportunities are certainly opening up for vegan pie makers, the success of vegan and vegetarian pies isn't exactly new, explains Sorrenson.

"... it was amazing when a vegan Thai curry pie won the Aussie pie awards in the meat category," says Sorrenson.

She's referring to a 2016 pie competition across the ditch that saw a creation by Kiwi bakery Ka Pies, based in Australia, take out the top prize.

Outrage from local news outlets ensued as Sunrise host David Koch told viewers: "For the first time the winning pastry doesn't have any meat. It's also vegan."

Yes, the fact that it was created by a New Zealander - Doug Meijer - was the T-sauce on the pie top, so to speak.

Since then, even the old petrol station pie warmers back in New Zealand have upped their game with their plant-based offerings:

In 2016, Z Energy picked "Gemma from Auckland"'s Mexican vegan pie as the winner from some 4000 entries to their own pie competition. And it turned out it was so popular it's become a staple in Z Energy pie warmers around the country.

And this month BP launched a vegan satay Sunfed "chicken" pie in their Wild Bean Cafes.

BP's satay
BP's satay "chicken" pie is made with Sunfed Meats plant-based chicken. Image / Supplied

So whether you're vegan, just getting on board with a more plant-based diet or are still a carnivorous-only kind of pie eater, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by a vegan pie. Because it turns out when they're put in front of the experts, often they beat the meat.

The Supreme Vegan Pie Competition

For commercial bakers interested in entering the new Supreme Vegan Pie Competition, the categories include:

• Vegan Steak and Vegan Cheese
• Vegan Mince and Vegan Cheese
• Fruit pie - short crust pastry
• Café boutique - any sort of pastry
• Vegetable
• Gluten Free
• Vegan Chicken
• Plus a Supreme Award

The competition runs until October 31 at 4.30pm and the entries will be judged, fittingly, on World Vegan Day, November 1.

Find out more and enter the competition here.