North East chef Alison Cowell has earned her crust after being crowned king of the pies.
The kitchen collection chef at Fenwick in Newcastle beat off tough competition to claim the accolade at a special charity savoury pie contest in aid of Help for Heroes.
The one-off event held yesterday [SUNDAY] at former North East Chef of the year David Kennedy’s Food Social restaurant at the Biscuit Factory commercial art gallery in Newcastle, saw scores of professional and amateur cooks from across the region gather for the money raising challenge.
But it was Alison’s Salmon and Dill in filo pastry that won over the judges, who included Colin Gregg, a member of the Greggs bakery family, who can justifiably claim to know a thing or two about pies.
Alison’s triumph against fellow professionals from the likes of Terry Laybourne’s 21 Hospitality group, Close House and the Duke of Wellington Inn in Northumberland and David Kennedy’s own Food Social and River Café restaurants, as well as scores of gifted home cooks keen to pit their pies against the best in the business, was hard won.
Her triumphant pie already sells as part of the Fenwick Kitchen Collection – which is restaurant quality food to take home – and is a popular buy.
Alison was unfortunately unable to savour her triumph in person yesterday, but her boss, Rhys McKinnell, head of catering at Fenwick was there and said: “Pies are a huge part of our business, both retail and restaurant, and we have really talented people working for us, so the challenge gave us a chance to showcase what we can do.
“I’m obviously delighted both for Fenwick and Alison that we have won. It is a real feather in our cap. Tomorrow morning we will be ticketing it as the pie challenge winner.”
Second prize went to Terry Laybourne’s The Broad Chare pub with its pork pie offering and joint third were David Kennedy’s Food Social and MasterChef The Professionals finalist David Coulson of the Castle Eden Inn in Castle Eden, County Durham.
The judges, who alongside Colin Gregg included Journal Taste editor, Katharine Capocci; Festival Director of Eat!, Simon Preston; BBC Radio Newcastle presenter, Jonathan Miles; restaurateur and chairman of the North East Culinary Trade Association, Douglas Jordan, and Help for Heroes Tyne and Wear co-ordinator Alan Saddler, said Alison’s pie stood out from the rest, describing it as “perfectly balanced, beautifully finished and full of flavour.”
Simon Preston added: “The quality and diversity of the entries was astounding from hot and spicy to traditional meat and even one that included a full English breakfast complete with sausages and black pudding.
“Many of the recipes were very innovative and unique and highlight a fresh approach to pie making. Savoury pies are a great British tradition and one that should be celebrated.
“Everyone could have been a winner in their own right, but on the day it was Alison’s that stood out.”
The Savoury Pie Challenge was organised by David Kennedy, fellow kitchen virtuoso Simon Walsh who is head chef at the No 19 Restaurant at Close House and Ken Holland of heritage vegetable supplier North Country Growers.
Help for Heroes is a charity close to David’s heart.
His brother, Michael, has just come out of the RAF Regiment – the air force’s ground fighting unit – where he helped prepare service personnel for duty in Afghanistan.
Before that he was the main intelligence gatherer in Afghanistan on four tours of duty, and saw many of his fellow servicemen killed and severely injured.
David said: “There was a great deal of professional pride at stake. We all wanted to win. But at the end of the day we all hope the biggest winners will be Help for Heroes.
“The response to the Savoury Pie Challenge from both professional and amateur chefs has been astonishing; it is fantastic that so many people were prepared to not only put in so much effort to come up with diverse and high quality pies but give up their Sunday afternoon too.
“I would like to congratulate everyone who has participated, not least Alison who on the day didn’t fall short on either her pastry or her pie.
“I think this really has turned out to be a challenge – not least for the judges faced with so many perfect pies.”