W+K Pietopia

Just last week, the New York Times declared pie the new “it” dessert, pushing cupcakes from their long-held pedestal. I’m sure grandmothers the world over cackled uproariously. Imagine, pie being trendy? Those creative geniuses over at Wieden+Kennedy likely had a laugh too, as they’ve been elevating pie to its rightful place at the top of the pastry chain for the past decade, in the form of the annual W+K Pie Contest.

Yesterday afternoon, following the sweet smell of fresh pie and competitive spirit, Mette and I stuffed our forks in our pockets and stopped by the W+K building to witness this raucous celebration of pie–complete with plenty of crust, crushed spirits, and cream-filled orifices.

A goodly crowd had gathered in the office atrium for the show, which began mid-afternoon with the first round of pie judgement. Pies were corralled onto seven tables, divided into seven categories: Straight-up Apple, Specialty Apple, Chocolate, Cream/Meringue, Pumpkin/Nut, Berry/Fruit, and the ever-controversial Cheesecake, an irksome inclusion for the pie purists. Teams of intrepid apron-wrapped judges carefully made their way around the tables, taking notes, making jabs, playing pie God. Each table was outfitted with pitchers of cold milk, canisters of whipped cream, and even half gallons of vanilla ice cream, should they be necessary. It was a very efficient opieration. (Sorry.)

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After the tough decisions had been made, a representative from each table’s panel took the floor and explained the rationale behind the white, red, and blue ribbons handed out in each category. There was no sugar coating. The good was praised effusively (“this pie was made with magic”), the bad was openly disparaged (“All these pies were delicious. Except for number 56.”) Pie makers were called out for using store-bought crusts, for putting their pies in unsightly foil pie tins, for having pies that required “a jackhammer” to penetrate the crust, for having allowed their pies to pick up “a refrigerator taste.” Cheesecake took a hit, the judge presenting the results opened with a solemn “It was not a good year for cheesecake.” Straight-up Apple pie results were introduced with a prolonged, but well-rationalized metaphor likening them to the missionary position. The chocolate pie judging panel admitted that none of them really liked chocolate, but they had somehow soldiered through.

The blue-ribbon pie from each category was placed on a table in the center of the room, where fearless agency leader Dan Wieden would later determine the grand prize winner. The stakes were high–this year the winning baker received a trip for two to New York City, one of the cities the New York Times called “national centers of pie innovation.”

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After the grand prize contenders were chosen, the first annual Pie Toss was introduced–an ingenious method for both settling interoffice vendettas and raising money for the Portland Rescue Mission. Eleven volunteers described as “W+K celebrities, instigators, pirates and pains in your ass” were up for bid–the auction winner purchased the privilege of tossing a paper plate heaped with whipped cream and gooey canned pie filling into their victim’s face. Every tosser had a different technique–some tentative, some purposeful, some downright vindictive. I could have watched this all day. There is something intensely and primitively satisfying about seeing someone, even a perfect stranger, smashed in the face with a huge pie.

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After an appalling mess (and lots of money for the Rescue Mission) had been made, Dan Wieden chose the Pie of Pies–a sweet, gooey banoffee number inspired by a pie the baker had tasted in London.

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Congratulations were extended and then it was pie for the people time. The stands emptied in seconds. Forks were brandished, elbows were thrown, and soon the pies–even the ones with jackhammer crusts and eau de refrigerator–were but a memory, leaving behind only the occasional fluted ceramic dish and plenty of uncouth foil tins.

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Utter piehem

PS: The Portland Rescue Mission offers critically-needed emergency food and shelter and the opportunity for recovery to the homeless. Considering that the holidays are approaching (and we all try to be extra nice during the holidays, right?) and the weather has been particularly heinous for people who don’t have the basic amenities of life, it would be super nice if we all clicked here to donate.