There’s nothing nicer than sitting in Tompkins Square Park on a sunny weekday afternoon, dandling a friend’s fat little baby on your knee. Actually, there is: you’re doing this, when suddenly a guy turns up on a bike and offers you a chilly-bin full of delicious meat pies, genuine hand-made New Zealand style ones. And his name isn’t Sweeney Todd, either.
He’s Gareth Hughes, and since December 2003 he’s been baking his heart out under the name Dub Pies. He's on a mission to bring down under pies to the discerning American consumer and the homesick antipodean. I bravely volunteered to taste-test the product -- y’know, just to make sure it met the exacting Public Address standard. Hey, someone had to do it.
It was a marathon gustatory weekend. I assembled three separate test panels, carefully mixed by gender, nationality, age, and previous meat pie experience, ranging from complete pie virgins to those who inhaled a steaming Big Ben every single day of fifth form.
I’m happy to report that reviews were uniformly positive, consisting mainly of munching noises, moans of nostalgia, and the muffled words “Are there any more?” According to my pie-stained notes, the cosmopolitan Americans thought the steak and mushroom topped anything they’d had in Britain, and a laconic Kiwi pronounced the potato top pie “standout!” Busytot cleaned up the sausage rolls, or as he called them in honour of himself, silly sausages.
I’d probably have to test another dozen or so to be absolutely sure, but I think I preferred the plain old steak pie, with and without cheese. The mince version was also deemed excellent, thankfully lacking in both gristle and what the astrophysicist in the family describes as “gelatinosity.” (The latter dubious quality can be ascertained, apparently, by stripping off the pastry and seeing if what’s left retains its shape. Gareth’s pies don’t, which is, in gourmet terms, a very good thing.)
About that pastry. The secret ingredient is shipped in from New Zealand, where Gareth – who has a background in corporate recruiting, but turned to pies to salve a broken heart -- spent several months last year observing top pie-makers and learning the ancient arts of the guild. Everything else is locally obtained, most of the filling coming from the friendly butcher over the road from baking HQ.
The pies are assembled and baked under impeccably grungy (but fully sanitary) conditions -- in the shining kitchen of a gloomy nightclub on the Lower East Side, the sort of place that has tattered vinyl booths, Keith Haring-esque doodles on the walls, and handy mirrors set into the counter-tops in the loos.
Why does a nightclub need a kitchen, you ask? It doesn’t, really, which is why they rent it out to Gareth by night. He sleeps all day and then zips into Essex St on a sturdy bike with a delivery basket on the front, fastens it to a lamp-post with a fuck-off big chain and padlock, and then bakes all night to the sound of throbbing techno and giddy conversations about i-Pods and NYU film school.
It’s a hard life, but then without it we wouldn’t have the pies, and as Gareth puts it, whatever the question, “Pies are the answer.” For a one-man shoestring operation, Gareth and his pies get around: his pies were served at the NZ Consulate's Anzac Day morning tea this year, and the man himself and his pie-warmers were a hit at the NY Magpies Anzac Day event, which was packed to the gunwales with Australians and New Zealanders and the people who love them. He also supplies a couple of restaurants, and home-delivers frozen pies (by the dozen) within the New York area.
I have to say, the business plan looks good. He hasn’t drawn up the pie-charts yet (sorry) but he has the market segments pretty well sussed: break into the gourmet sector first with his fabulous range of flavours, and then explore tempting sidelines like, say, lamingtons, before eventually expanding into mass-market pies for the huddled masses yearning to have a mouthful of pastry and flavoursome beef for a buck fifty.
It’s not half-baked at all. Ka pai, in fact. Now pass the tomato sauce, would ya? I’ve got another half dozen to see to before breakfast.