Ditching kitchen clogs for rain boots, I purchase my ticket to ride on the 12:47 hoping to catch a sliver of the Pie Potluck festivities. Pie Potluck LIVE is the brainchild of pie enthusiasts Jackie Gordon and Ken Leung. This year the Institute of Culinary Education is sponsoring and hosting the event at their beautiful digs on Liberty Street. It’s a bit of a trek for me, requiring a hasty retreat from work and a mad dash to the station. The train is Saturday matinee overcrowded forcing me to snake my way from the rear to the very first car. There are two seat options; one facing backwards amidst a family of animated tourists on cell phones or next to a young woman who has deliberately placed a ginormous orange tote bag on what will be my seat. Politely asking my soon-to-be-seatmate to remove the offending tote, she responds in a slightly homicidal tone, “Don’t touch the bag.” She then places the capacious carry-all on the floor with a thud, muttering obscenities under her breath. Turning her body 90 degrees, she stares out the window, her trench coated back to me. Clutching a rain drenched canvas bag on my lap, I crane my neck scanning to see if I might rejoin the party of tourists. Too late. There is nary a vacant seat in sight. Convinced it is just a matter of time before the woman sitting next to me commits a heinous crime, I begin to focus on the emergency exit window to my left.
Heading south towards Battery Park, my compatriots on the subway are downright friendly. A young man offers me a seat and following my early morning bakery stint, I happily accept. From Rector to Liberty Street is a short walk, right past the building Blondilocks once called home. Entrance to the Pie Potluck requires a brush with security, or in my case, three brushes. When it’s time to verify my identity, the serious gentleman behind the marble podium instructs me to ride an escalator towards the next level (literally) of security. Hurricane Wanna-be Joaquim has left my tresses wind-blown, my glasses rain spattered. Gaining admittance to the bank of elevators at the rear of the building requires additional clearance and explanation. “It’s just a pie- in here, in the box, in the bag,” I explain. The likeness on my Garden State Driver’s License gives the security guard pause. “Really- that’s me. Without the wind and the rain.”
The hi-tech elevator is beyond my comprehension; where’s the ‘Up’ button? There isn’t one. I stumble upon a keypad and take a swipe at it with my elbow because my hands are juggling the damn pie box. Miraculously the elevator doors open and I’m whisked away to the 3rd floor. The Institute of Culinary Arts is an impressive space filled with sparkling glass and stainless steel. At the far end, a wall of windows frames the Hudson River, moody and gray beneath rain clouds. Inside, the atmosphere is decidedly festive, as buoyant as New Year’s Eve. Pie revelers bob between expansive banquet tables, draped in white linen. One offers a vast selection of sweet pies, the other groans under the weight of savory. But wait! Be still my yoga pants- there’s a specific area cordoned off on one table boasting Gluten-free selections. So many pies, so little time.
Despite my tardiness, I am warmly welcomed to the festivities by host Jackie. My Concord Grape Tart with Peanut Butter Cookie crust squeezes in alongside a Chocolate Coconut Banoffee Pie. Pie revelers are brandishing serious Wüsthof knives as they slice and sample their way around the table. The selections are dizzying, the flavor combinations inspired. The Cupboard Harvest Pie is a non-traditional apple slab pie; bright with dried apricots and cherries, dotted with currants and emblazoned with pastry cut-outs shouting P-I-E. Scanning the card identifying the baker, I see it is host Jackie’s pie. Not only can Jackie orchestrate one hell of a party, she’s also a fine pie baker.
While nibbling, pie peeps are balancing stemmed glassware filled with specialty cocktails provided by Matt Bruck and Company. Concerned with navigating my way back to Penn Station, I take a pass on the libations, but not on the goody bag. Filled with treats from Wüsthof knives, Analon cookware, King Arthur Flour, Cabot Cheeses, Tovolo and Dub Pies, it feels like Hanukkah in October. I’m particularly smitten with King Arthur’s sample of Saigon cinnamon and Analon’s t-shirt. The t-shirt has the word Ramps scrawled across the top, with a likeness of the wild leeks below. At the bottom of the shirt it proclaims, “WHISK Takers.” Aren’t we all.
Snagging an empty two-seater on the return trip, I re-visit my goody bag. Wrapped in tissue paper is a copy of King Arthur Flour’ s brand spanking new magazine, Sift. Page by page I devour the text, pausing at each gorgeous photograph. Cinnamon sticks, fresh nutmeg and ruby-red apples practically leap from the glossy pages. For the moment, I have consumed more than enough fruit and crust to sustain me. Tomorrow however, I will be inspired by page 38 of Sift magazine to peel a few apples, grate a little fresh nutmeg, tuck it between two circles of pastry and call it pie.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm