Tai Tai Pie Pies has a new Pie & Beer Shack in Causeway Bay, where we recently attended its inaugural block party. We got chatting to founder RJ Asher about what it’s like to cook with Beyond Meat, Omnipork and Impossible.
How many different types of sweet and savoury pies do you make? What’s your bestseller?
We offer more than 25 sweet pies, 15 savoury pies and seven different quiches. We have bite-sized, individual, large (6–8 slices) and extra-large (8–12 slices) sizes.
Our apple pie and also the chicken, UK back bacon and mushroom pie are our top sellers.
Do you have a favourite pie that just didn’t make it commercially?
We launched a three-cup chicken pie that was AMAZEPIES, but it did not really sell well. We are sad about it as this pie still today is probably one of the most flavourful pies we have done.
What about the Beyond pies and Omnipork sausage rolls?
We do use Beyond Meat and Omnipork, and they both do well. The Omnipork is in a vegan sausage roll, and the Beyond Meat is in a vegan version of our Aussie meat pie. Both these plant-based products cook well and hold their texture, so they are perfect for our pies. You really would not know by look that they are not meat.
Do you use Impossible meat?
We tried – it was okay, but the colour after making the filling was not that meat-like colour; it was a grey tone, which gave it an unappealing look while eating. It is more expensive too, so we decided it just wasn’t worth the extra cost for a product that wasn’t that nice looking. It works great as a burger though. I know they are making adjustments, so maybe in the future.
What are plant-based meats like to cook with?
Of course, as many are mince style, we are restricted to making a pie that is mince based. Meat alternatives are tricky because you want to keep the meat flavour as best as possible, but the flavour comes from how they process it, so it behaves differently to meat. But the flavour is there.
For the vegetarian shepherd’s pie, we use mushroom and tofu and bring up the flavour ourselves as there is no meat alternative to give the lamb taste. So it is not as true to flavour as the original lamb version, but the look and texture are good.
The Beyond Chicken Strips are hard as they are chewy in a filling. We are excited with all the new flavours that are coming out and hope to have more interesting vegetarian pies soon.
Have you tried making your own plant-based meat fillings?
We have done a done a few vegetarian and meat-alternative pies. We do a shepherd’s style with firm tofu and mushrooms to look like lamb, and our top seller is the vegetable curry perfect 10 pie as there are 10 vegetables in it.
We also did a kimchi tofu pie that has done well too. But our imported kimchi from Korea has fish sauce and shrimp paste in it, so it cannot be vegan. With tofu, you really need to focus on flavour as tofu is very neutral; you can make something that looks great and has no taste. It took awhile to get the kimchi tofu to have that strong kimchi flavour. The first few times it was pretty bland.
I sometimes need to do experimental pies and quiches for customers. I plan out the flavours in my head, and when they happen on the first try, I feel like I’m winning at a game. That’s a skill handed down to me from my mom, who is amazing in the kitchen – and actually still better than me at trying new flavour combinations.
What sort of adjustments do you need to do to make a pie vegan instead of vegetarian? How does that affect the end product?
The biggest adjustment is no dairy – that is something to make sure about as our dough typically has butter. Our savoury pies with gravy often have cream, and we thicken our pies with our own roux that is made with butter and flour, so we need to make a different type of roux. This is critical as you do not want to use inferior ingredients to make the pies thick. Many will use cornstarch; it makes the gravy thick, but adds no flavour and turns the gravy to a gelatin when cooled. We make the vegan roux in the same way, but with a butter alternative. We use vegan butter and flour just like regular roux. It is the flour that thickens and, when mixed with a fat, makes the flavour so rich.
What’s the next thing you are interested in experimenting with? How do you decide in which direction to go next?
I want to keep doing more vegan/vegetarian-style pies and also more game meat for the winter. I am looking at venison and duck as two new ones.
I have been working on a few recipes with higher-quality meats. With our new pie counter at Great Food Hall opening, we will be launching a gourmet pie line that is a round pie, 90 grams smaller than the traditional savoury individual pies that are oval in shape. These will still be in the same price range as the traditional savoury pies, but made with higher-end meats.
We just launched our Asher blue cheese and roasted lamb leg pie. The blue cheese is from Georgia in the USA and has my surname, so I wanted to give it a try. It is a fabulous pie with a lot of flavour.
After the success of your last block party in Causeway Bay, when’s the next one?
We will host another block party at the end of summer when people come back to Hong Kong. I hope we can make it even bigger than the last one, which had about 100 people in the little alleyway.
The Pie Counter: Basement, Great Food Hall, Pacific Place, 88 Queenway, Admiralty, 2918 9986
The Pie Factory: Unit 11–12, 13/F, Block B, Veristrong Industrial Centre, 34–36 Au Pui Wan Street, Fo Tan, 2413 8877/3743 6145
The Pie & Beer Shack: 5 Hoi Ping Street (alleyway), Causeway Bay, 5172 5693
For more interviews like this, like Foodie on Facebook