Nicole Mournian, general manager of Gjelina Take Away in Venice, was the big winner at the fourth annual KCRW’s Good Food Pie Contest, which took place this past weekend at LACMA, taking home an incredible four blue ribbons for best fruit pie (Blackberry Huckleberry Ginger), best savory pie (Pork and Peas), best crust (Pork and Peas), and best in show (Pork and Peas). Among the judges of this year’s contest were LACMA’s own Kris Morningstar (Ray’s) and Josh Graves (Coffee + Milk), as well as culinary luminaries such as Jonathan Gold, Joy the Baker, Sherry Yard, Huell Howser, Krista Simmons, Michael Voltaggio, and Ilan Hall.
Nicole, her accolades, KCRW’s Evan Kleiman,David LeFavre , Kris Morningstar, Roxanna Jullapat, and Krista Simmons
This isn’t your first year competing in the contest. What did you do differently this year to perfect the art of the perfect pie?
I didn’t get into pie making until last year, as a baker I have loved many pies and made a few here and there—but never to this degree. Last year I was dead set on serving some witty, new-fangled flavor combinations. This year my focus was on creating flavors from the simple placement of high-quality ingredients with other high-quality ingredients.
Nicole dishing up a champion.
Did you have a specific strategy going into this year’s contest?
My strategy was total domination. Just kidding . . . or am I? I knew I would enter the savory and fruit categories—savory pies are my favorite. Second, I thought about the judges. I might sound creepy when I admit this but let me explain: I work in a kitchen and working with chefs you learn a lot about the overall character of “The Crave” and essentially what turns people on in food. I knew several things: there were some chefs on the judging panel who love pork and also they probably would not hesitate to eat a room temperature pork-based pie. So pork pie it was, and “pork and peas” is really fun to say out loud. Did you hear Jonathan Gold say “pork and peas”? Delightful!
Blue-ribbon-winner Pork and Peas
Your Pork and Peas was the belle of the ball. Can you describe for those who didn’t get to taste it what makes this pie so delicious?
Super-flakey crust filled with organic roasted pork shoulder, peas, Gravenstein apples, Dijon mustard, rosemary, and pork belly. I used the pork belly in place of butter. When you make a pie, you dot the surface with a few pats of butter to create a nice sauce. In this pie, the pork belly was the butter. While I was making it, I said out loud, “Jonathan Gold will love this.”
Judges Ilan Hall (Chef, The Gorbals) and Krista Simmons (Top Chef Masters Judge and Food Editor for LAist) diving into Nicole’s Blackberry Huckleberry Ginger pie
Can you let us in on the secret to a perfect crust?
Secret? No secret here. It’s just the usual suspects: nice flour, quality butter, sugar, salt, ice cold water. I guess my secret is a splash of vinegar in the ice water. Other than that I think it’s just comfort level—pie dough is like a wild animal: it can sense your fear.