March 30, 2013

San Francisco: in your pie hole!

I have always prided myself on being a good stalker and this blog is to skite about my latest triumph for I have tracked down the kiwi girl making meat pies in San Francisco!

The Pie Press

Alka shows off her mince pie before I chowed it down

Alka Patel has been living in San Francisco with her American husband for about 12 years and has introduced a little taste of New Zealand to the locals. Except she’s damn hard to find, having given up selling her iconic wares in the Farmers Markets due to the arrival of her 2nd child, and with no regular outlet for her savory mouthfuls of deliciousness, The Pie Press only takes orders via her website. Which I eventually found!

I picked up the blower from Auckland and gave her a call. Sure enough it was she, in her apartment in central San Francisco, oblivious to the interest that her part time pie business was generating on this side of the Pacific and in her own neck of the woods where rumours of New Zealand meat pies are slowly moving about.

Why don’t you come to my place and we’ll taste some, she said, for I was going to be in San Francisco in the next 2 weeks. Not being one that needs to be asked twice to such a tasty invitation, I caught a cab the morning after my arrival into the Golden Gate city with an empty tummy, a camera and a notebook.

Alka Patel pie

Her sublime kumara, caramelised onion and blue cheese pie

Alka and Binoy (he is also Patel which made things very convenient I’m sure) have been married 12 years are in the property business. They’ve just bought a budget motel on the edge of the slightly dodgy Tenderloin district. She laughed aloud that they are the stereotypical Indian couple as in NZ Indians own dairies and the US they own motels. They are busily refurbishing this one while Binoy works full time for a large hotel group and Alka runs the home. Sadly for pie lovers, these are on the back burner for now.

Raised in Auckland’s Onehunga in a family of foodies, Alka started her business after returning from a visit home where they had been making pies in one of those jaffle pie makers. She made some for her American friends. OMG, they shouted, you should sell these! And thus the story began.

Williams-Sonoma pie tong

This pie tong is the genius creation from Williams-Sonoma

Offered a regular spot at prestigious Williams-Sonoma artisans market in Union Square, the smell of pastry baking in the store brought in the punters and Alka began rolling out her new found business here and in the local Farmer’s Market where she had the freedom to test the market on taste and price.

The most popular flavour is her moist and creamy butter chicken with a good kick of spice. Another favourite is her kumara (yam or sweet potato) with caramelised onions and blue cheese. I tried both of these and can’t rave enough. The butter chicken would be my favourite too, but I was so impressed with her kumara filling that I plan to make that as a vegetable dish at home from now on! She also had a mince and gravy for me to try in it’s light and crisp puff pastry, which is of course more traditional but I have been ruined now by the former.

Starting a business like this is not easy. Firstly you need the use of a commercial kitchen, you need to be able to source the ingredients in bulk to get the best price, and you need the retail outlets to make it profitable. Having two children and a new motel to refurbish has meant The Pie Press is on hold for the moment, although she’s still available for orders of 12 or more at a time.

If I were living in San Francisco, I’d be placing my order every couple of months for that little taste of home.

If, like me, you are now salivating, jump here to The Pie Press and get in touch.

I flew to San Francisco on Air New Zealand and I’ve got to say, the service is so good. I’m proud to be a kiwi flying with these guys, especially when they top up your glass with incredible award-winning wine (and that was only Economy!) Certainly makes the 13 hours pass rather nicely 🙂

About Megan Singleton

Megan

Megan Singleton is a travel writer, blogger and radio correspondent. She's been gallivanting around the world telling stories for the last 16 years and has her suitcase always half packed (or half un-packed!) Follow along on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for monthly newsletters if you want to keep up with the journey!

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