Cookbook author Matt Lewis of Brooklyn's Baked bakery is very opinionated about pastry. Below, he shares his thoughts on America's latest trend piece darling, the pie.
If I was less borderline-obsessive about baked goods, I would be able to shrug off all the "Pie is the Next Jesus" frothy hoopla, but I can't. I feel obligated to put things in perspective. The current pie trend pieces feel decidedly more manufactured than some of the more recent "XXX is the new cupcake" hype. For starters, it's not like pie is a fancy new import (remember the French macaron bonanza), or regional specialty trying to break out (Whoopie Pies). No, pie is and has been everywhere. It is not new, or unusual, or undiscovered. Pie is older than grandma and already available in every town in America.
I suggest we tread lightly around the all-engulfing media pie craze. The hype is extraordinary — almost biblical — a low pulsating throb that builds and repels, sad and full of angst. The end result is no different than that of really liking a song and then having it become "overplayed" or overexposed — the song, once loved and in high rotation on your iPod, begins to leave a metallic taste in your mouth and you start to disdain the same forces that originally propelled it forward (friends, tv, radio, etc.). Vampire Weekend's "Holiday" (serving as a ubiquitous jingle for Honda) comes to mind; the once harmless song now drives me to fits of unrelenting rage.
I remember in high school, a joint dedicated to "only French fries", opened in a mall food court in Tampa, FL near my house. It's only nouveau nuance at the time is that it served many condiments beyond the simple ketchup. No one went batshit crazy (well, I sort of went nuts for the garlic aioli but that is a very long story) and proclaimed "French Fries are the new side dish." Why? Because it was fucking French fries, a not-so-foreign concept to the average person. There was no ensuing media frenzy rhapsodizing about the evolution of the French fry (well, okay, it was Tampa). But, not pie. Pie is being treated as if Elvis sprang back to life and started singing showtunes.
To be fair, there is probably an element of hope and will in all this press. There is surely a huge undercurrent of desire to topple the cupcake, but it's not going to happen. I once devoted a few words about how the cupcake will never give up the throne, and I stand by these words (i.e. cupcakes need less equipment, require less technique, and generally have higher profit margins).
Honestly, I am thrilled to see more pie places like Brooklyn's Four and Twenty Blackbirds (My Baked co-owner, Renato Poliafito, lives nearby and is already a rabid fan). But Four and Twenty Blackbirds treats pie with respect (homemade crusts, handpicked fillings, comforting flavors), and they don't trend the hell out of it (pie confit, pie foam, inside-out pie that's not really a pie). They just make really damn good pie.
My fear, everyone's fear, is that pie might start showing up, in really depressing forms — industrial (never go bad) crusts, straight from a can filling overflowing with additives — in mini-malls and food courts and catalogs and fast food joints (yes, I realize this is already happening to a degree). Or that pies will become stunts (I'm nervously awaiting the Wedding Pie Cake or the Pie in the shape of a Louboutin). In other words, I don't think any of us really want Pie to be the next Cupcake. Cupcakes can forever be the tabloid Lindsay/Britney/Paris and pies will be the classier Aretha/Stevie/Joanie. Pie is too good to go down that dark road.
— Matt Lewis
· In Baked Explorations, Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito Reinvent Historic American Desserts [-E-]
· All Pie Coverage on Eater [-E-]