A pair of Waipu business owners are ecstatic after their baking creation won two prizes at the New Zealand Vegan Pie Awards.
Tania Sumich and Murray Lane, who run the Logan MacLean café in the Waipu, were amongst the 19 contestants at this year's awards organised by the Vegan Society of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Their Cock-a-Leekie chicken and leek pie came second runner-up in the Vegan Chicken category, which was dominated by pies from two Auckland eateries.
In the most popular category, Café Boutique, Logan MacLean's Rendang – a Malaysian coconut curry pie – also ranked third.
Sumich was excited to receive recognition for her baking by an internationally recognised judging panel including chef Gerrard O'Keefe of Hector's Restaurant, actor and director Emmett Skilton, and Brad Jacobs, co-director of The Coffee Club.
"We bought the business in Waipu in 2015 and totally restructured it to offer vegetarian food," Sumich said.
Since then, she gradually increased the range of vegan products in her cabinet, and today the majority of the pies, tarts, cookies and other treats are meat and dairy-less. However, Logan MacLean still offer meats like bacon on special request.
"I became vegan two years ago, and I've never looked back," Sumich said.
With a degree in visual arts and crafts, Sumich had no training as a chef and working out the right recipes to make the pies as tasty as they are today was a trial and error process.
When Sumich and her husband first offered their vegan baking, not everyone embraced the idea of a vegan pie.
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"The word 'vegan' seems to put people off," Sumich said. So she changed the labelling, and instead of vegan pie it would read "Missed Steak' n' Cheese Pie", encouraging more customers to give it a try.
Sumich said sometimes customers wouldn't believe that she doesn't use meat or dairy and especially her meat-less sausage roll was an instant hit.
Logan MacLean also make an effort to use free-range, locally grown and organic produce. Sumich even adopted a bobby calf that wasn't suitable for slaughter and called it Logan MacLean.
Namesake for both, the calf and the café, are Sumich's and Lane's families who are of Scottish descent.
Waipu resident Alan Gower visits Logan MacLean everyday and he thinks it's the best restaurant in town.
"My children are vegetarian, too," Gowver explained.
Customer Craig James supplies free-range eggs Logan MacLean and eats his breakfasts at the café once a week. He said he enjoys the place for the friendly atmosphere and the food.
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For Amanda Sorrenson, national co-ordinator of the Vegan Society, celebrating vegan pies and recognising their makers like Sumich is important – especially since vegan pies are under-represented in competitions.
"There are so many good vegan pies out there, we wanted to shine a spotlight on them," Sorrenson said.
"Competitions raise standards and assist businesses to improve, so it's a win-win for everyone."
She said the awards might also encourage non-vegans trying new things.
"Mostly vegans were under-catered for by omni-bakeries. They perhaps didn't understand that vegans like pies too," Sorrenson explained.
The judges take into account appearance, texture, consistency, and how well the pies are cooked. They also assess the complexity and purity of the flavour.
"It was such a delight to experience each and every pie as a contender for these awards," panel judge Skilton said.
"And more importantly, it wasn't only the quality of each pie that was a special aspect of the judging for me, but what each pie represents as major players in a giant step toward a plant-based New Zealand."
The judges tasted a total of 67 pies with the BBQ Jackfruit creation by Oviedo café in Wellington taking out the Supreme Winner Award.
Northern Advocate reporter Julia Czerwonatis reviews Logan MacLean's award-winning pies
Steak and cheese pie all day, every day – I swear by it.
There is nothing better than biting into the pastry and burning my tongue on scorching hot cheese while sticky gravy runs down my chin and I chew happily on a chunky piece of meat.
Giving my preference in pies, I was somewhat taken aback when I heard about the Vegan Pie awards.
While vegan products are no uncharted territory for me – tofu schnitzel, vegan chilli, veggie burgers, I've tried it all – I had not come across a pie made without meat and dairy.
Admittedly, I was somewhat sceptical.
Logan MacLean, in Northland's most Scottish little settlement Waipu, is a cosy spot and it's bustling with customers as we arrive.
Without much ado, owners Tania Sumich and Murray Lane dish up their award-winning pies for me, and I brace myself for a new culinary adventure.
Sumich's Cock-a-Leek pie took out third place in the Vegan Chicken category and is filled with rice and leek refined with a white wine sauce.
The chicken substitute is made from seitan, a wheat-based product, which resembles the chewy consistency of chicken.
For the pastry, Sumich uses vegetable oils and chickpea brine or flaxseed eggs to replace the chicken egg.
The Cock-a-Leek has a beautiful, golden brown finish and as I cut into it, I quickly notice the difference to your traditional Kiwi pie.
The pastry is nice and crisp, instead of soft and soggy, and no gravy spills all over the plate.
A decent-sized bite reveals the rich taste with flavoursome chunks of vegetables that almost reminds me of risotto.
I like it, but I'm not convinced, so I turn my attention to the Rendang pie that came second runner-up in the Café Boutique category.
It's a Malaysian coconut curry pie with beef seitan, coconut cream and typical Malaysian spices like ginger and lemongrass.
One bite is all it takes to sweep me off my feet. It's fantastic. The seitan, carefully marinated, is streaky and juicy and goes perfectly with the mild curry-like sauce.
I take another bite and another. It's like a delicious curry packed in a pie.
If I didn't know, I wouldn't be able to tell if that was meat or not. Replacing meat might be aside from the point when it comes to vegan pies anyway – it's the overall taste that matters.
After having tried their baking, hot and cold, I can fully endorse the Logan MacLean creations for vegans and meat-eaters alike. It's definitely worth a try.