Friday, January 23, 2009

Profiles of the Great and Good: The Killie Pie, Once Tasted, Never Forgotten

Kilmarnock came from behind to defeat derby rivals Ayr United 3-1, despite being reduced to 10 men in their Scottish Cup match last night. And while almost 12,000 fans packed into Rugby Park, the big winners of the tie were Brownings Bakers.

You see, Brownings make the world famous "Killie Pie." And it's not just any pie, the halftime delicacy is so good that even away fans can't come to Rugby Park without tasting one of its delights. On an average Saturday, Brownings can expect to sell some 7,000 to 8,000 pies. Considering the average crowd hits around 10,000, these sales figure are massive.

But what's so special about the Killie Pie? Well, for a start it tastes incredible, and that's not just my opinion. You see the Killie Pie is a steak pie, and it's actually made of steak, and not the usual offal that you find in pies around the grounds of football stadiums up and down Britain...

It is somewhat unique in the fact that it is a steak pie and not a scotch pie, which is the type of pie associated with football matches in Scotland. The pie is made in a bakery in Kilmarnock, and has received such a reputation, that even the Glasgow giants of Rangers and Celtic have opened negotiations with Brownings about making unique pies for them, too.

For last night's match against rivals Ayr, an "away pie" was brought out to a resounding success, white salt and black pepper were used with a different mixture of gravy for the new pie, the black and white colours reflecting Ayr's team kit.

The pie has built up such a following all over Scotland, that cornershop franchise Spar and Lidl have agreed a deal with Brownings to distribute the delicacy all over the British Isles.

Since the year 2000, Brownings have entered the proverbial "Champions League" of pie making. Winning "World Pie Championship" prizes for sausage rolls, Scotch Pies, and another famous pie "The Forfar Birdie."

Their Scotch Pie repeated it's success in 2001, before they went Italian in 2002 and scooped a couple of prizes with the imaginative "Macaroni Pie" and the "Lasagne Pie."

They then went into a four-year period where they failed to win anything and then in 2006 they came back in force as the Killie Pie swept all before them. Voted the best pie in British football and receiving second place in the World Pie Championships, it announced it's arrival as a force to be reckoned with.

Fellow stable mates the "Wee Dram Buffet Pie" and the Forfar Birdie also won prizes in the World Championships coming in joint second and third respectively.

In 2007, the Killie Pie continued it's domination in Britain and was now recognised as one of the best eats in Europe, too, as well as claiming second in the WPC again.

And while Manchester United lay claim to the "Theatre of Dreams" moniker, Rugby Park is fast becoming "The Theatre of Pies."

John Call is the master baker who came up with the Killie Pie and is fast becoming a major part of Rugby Park folklore.

“It’s taken me years to get the pie just right,” Gall, 43, who runs his family’s firm, Brownings The Bakers, in Kilmarnock, said. “But the recipe we have now is as perfect as I can make it. The shell is made from Canadian flour, which is the very best there is, and the steak is 95 per cent lean, best Scottish beef.

“The gravy was the most difficult part. It can’t be too runny for a football pie, because when you’re eating it in the ground you don’t want it running all down your football strip. But just now I’m delighted with the consistency. It’s what you’d call a smooth gravy.”

At the home game with Celtic on Saturday, Gall expected to sell 5,000 Killie Pies, as well as 2,000 mince pies. He boasts a pie-per-punter ratio about double that recorded by other clubs’ piemen. “Word has gone around by now, and supporters know all about our pies. They look forward to coming to Kilmarnock just to have a Killie Pie,” he said.

Gall has now moved into the export business, and he carries a consignment with him when he goes abroad with the Tartan Army. “I’ve been all around Europe with Scotland, and the pies go with me too. I see myself as an ambassador for my country’s pies,” he said.

“I’ve been to places like Italy and France, where they think they know something about food, and the locals couldn’t believe how good the Killie Pie is. It’s a real credit to Scotland and Scottish cuisine.”

Gall has won just about every prize and trophy one can win during his time as a baker, but one stands out above all others.

“In 2004 I became the first Scot ever to win the British Baker of the Year Award,” he said. “It was very emotional. You have to understand that these are the Oscars of the baking industry, and to be the first man from Scotland to win it meant everything to me.”

The Killie Pie has been so successful it has overshadowed the team. “Last season they’d been undefeated for nine games and they’d played great football. Then the Killie Pie won another award, and it captured all the headlines.

"Our assistant manager, Billy Brown, had a rant in his newspaper column, saying that the team were playing the best football anyone had seen in years, and all anybody wanted to talk about was the pies. He was none too happy about it.”

So the next time you go to a match, remember that the football on the pitch is not the only place where your team can win trophies. And if your pies are just not good enough...Well you can always make a pilgrimage to Kilmarnock, you'll enjoy the food as much if not more than the football, that I can guarantee.

twitter / WillieGannon