A former mortgage broker on a mission to scrutinize every pie shop in Australia has taken his baking pilgrimage to the far reaches of northern Queensland – and delivered a verdict on the age-old tomato sauce debate.
Shaun Pyne ran a successful financial business for over 20 years before selling and hitting the road to fulfill his lifelong ambition of visiting every pie vendor and bakery in Australia, bar none.
In the years since, her Pyney’s Pie Reviews persona has developed a huge social media following and raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity along the way.
Five secrets for a perfect pie
Mr Pyne is halfway on a beer schooner to the Peninsula Hotel in Laura – a Cape town famous for its Quinkan Aboriginal rock art, but not for its pastries – when he gets a call from the ABC .
The foodie has already had a few weeks of travel under his belt on this leg of his Australian tour, with a packed caravan and an insatiable appetite for adventure, superb threads and the perfect meat-to-crust ratio.
And it turns out he’s distilled the pie evaluation criteria down to a fine science.
“The five categories I rate on are value for money, meat ratio, flavor, baking, and temperature,” he explains.
“They’re rated out of 10…and they’re all equally important.
“If you have a hot pie, it’s going to burn your taste buds…if the pastry collapses while you’re driving, it’s going to be a huge problem.
“For me, a real pie, you have to be able to eat in your car, so it has to stay stable.”
Given the price of fuel and the clicks its nationwide mission takes, value for money is obviously going to be a major factor in any pie’s overall score.
“Listen, the cost of living is expensive, meat prices have gone up and yes, pies have gone up,” Mr Pyne said.
“At the end of the day, that’s life.
“But I have visited so many bakeries, the cheapest being $4.10 and the most expensive being $8.50.
“But even the $8.50 one is huge, it’s a big pie, and it’s great value.”
Can Australia really claim the meat pie?
Historical evidence of meat pies dates back to the Neolithic period of around 6000 BC, and more recently was a staple dish sold by street vendors as ready meals to the poor in medieval Britain. .
The dish features in British literature and nursery rhymes – take for example the womanizer “Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie”, or the ditty about baked blackbirds that now gives its name to Britain’s biggest brand of pie. ‘Australia, Four ‘N Twenty.
But even the most parochial Brit has to admit the tradition has taken off since the pie arrived on a new continent with the First Fleet.
The recent discovery by Mr Pyne of a crocodile pie in Port Douglas and a crayfish pie in Bamaga certainly lends evidence to this claim.
The “dog’s eye and dead horse” debate
Not all Australian pie traditions are enjoyed by this crusader crust.
Whatever you do, don’t mention the dead horse.
“We had some huge heated debates,” he warns.
“For me, a good Aussie pie doesn’t need any sauce.
“The only time I put sauce on my pies is when I go to cricket or football.
“The flavors should just be riddled in the pie.
“By putting tomato sauce or another sauce, you take away the aroma and the real flavor of the pie.
“Square pie, round pie, oval pie – that was a separate debate.”
Mr Pyne falls into the square pie camp, but acknowledges that rules are made to be broken when it comes to this beloved foodstuff.
Controversy erupted at the recent Australia Best Pie and Pastie 2022 competition, which he helped judge, after the top prize was awarded to a meatless pie.
My Pyne said the creamy mushroom and truffle creation was a revelation.
“There was no meat in it…but you know what, I had the privilege of tasting this pie on Wednesday and it was absolutely gorgeous, gorgeous,” he says.
“They got a bit of a flak because the judges awarded the best pie…but this is Australia’s best pie competition – it’s not Australia’s best meat pie.
“To be honest, I think the judges got it right.
“It was a beautiful, beautiful pie.”
Creativity is right under the lid
This fungal triumph was far from the strangest meal to pass his lips.
“I ate camel pie [at Birdsville] which was great,” he says.
“Roberta from Blackbutt Bakery, she was my first perfect note.
“She’s selling a Big Mac pie and it literally tastes like a Big Mac.
“Whittlesea Bakery in Melbourne, this was another one of my perfect scores – it was slow-cooked beef brisket, camembert and caramelized onion.”
The Cape’s remoteness meant pies were in short supply on Mr Pyne’s last trip north, but he made up for it by visiting every bakery in the tablelands from Atherton to Innisfail at least once on his way back .
“My mantra has always been, don’t go to Bali, go to Broken Hill,” he says.
“Go out and see this great country.
“Get out and experience North Queensland.
“There’s so much to see here and I can’t wait to get into the bakeries.”
Pyney’s Big Lifestyle Change
So how does a mortgage broker become a traveling foodie of the pie variety?
It all started as a bit of mischief between two pals on the long, dusty trip to the Birdsville Big Red Bash in 2019.
“A mate of mine said, ‘I’m going to have a schooner in every pub’ because my wife drives normally, blah blah blah,” says Mr Pyne.
“And I said, look, if you do this, I’ll have a pie in every town we stop by while you’re having your beer.
“So he had plenty of beers and I had plenty of pies, and I just started blogging about it in late 2019.”
Covid-19 put the travel plans of Mr Pyne and his wife on ice, but a three-and-a-half-month trip around the NT last year brought criticism on social media back to the fore.
Selling the family mortgage brokerage business made it all possible, and writing pie reviews was a great excuse to get out and see Australia.
It also helps pay some bills.
“It’s a labor of love, mate,” says Mr Pyne.
“We are lucky, we have older children and we have been very successful in our business.
“And I have merchandise that I sell, so tart bikinis, tart boardshorts, T-shirts, that sort of thing.
“I have great partners who have sponsored me behind the scenes, which is great.
“But we were going to travel anyway, and it’s just a great way to get out there and help people.
“Unfortunately it’s a dying profession, so if I can do a little to increase tourism, to get people to spend money in these small communities, that obviously helps them.”
All things in moderation
Mr Pyne is probably Australia’s best known pie lover behind the late and great Shane Warne, whose fans mourned his passing earlier this year by laying offerings of meat pies, cigarettes, beer and baked beans alongside the flowers at the foot of his statue at the MCG.
Warnie’s shock death in Thailand gave Mr Pyne enough fear of his own diet to go see his own GP.
“It’s funny, because obviously with Shane Warne earlier this year, I went straight in,” he says.
“Since Christmas, I’ve lost 14 kg, so I’ve been on a diet myself.
“My heart was fine, the check-up went well.
“I go to the gym every day, I train every day.
“I break pies, but I do [social media] content on different days.”
You can call them meat pies, dog eyes, maggot bags or rat coffins.
As long as the meat ratio is right it doesn’t send you any breakage or tongue skin, the flavor is perfect and the dough is flaky and structurally sound, it really doesn’t matter what you call it.
Pyney will happily crush them all.
“My bloody oath buddy, every day of the week.”