The Food Artisan: Simple Simon’s Perfect Pies





Artisan
noun
· A worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand.
· As modifier of food or drink made in a traditional or non-mechanized way using high-quality ingredients.

 
Once a fortnight CellarVie Wines endeavours to unearth some of our shores’ finest and most quintessentially artisan food producers - the culinary purists who consistently champion local produce in an innovative yet deliciously tasty fashion - in order to bring you an interview that gives you an insight into their ethos. In this instalment we are delighted to welcome Christina Wild, from award-winning Scottish pie maker Simple Simon’s Perfect Pies.
 
Christina Wild has amazing drive and vigour and is an avid follower of pie-fashion. She brightens up numerous food festivals around Britain, with her demonstrations, as she eulogises about Simple Simon's Perfect Pies. Quite rightly too, as they're award winners and perfect for delivering tasty and nutritiously balanced meals in these hectic times. A proud member of The Guild of Fine Food, Christina discusses the origins of Simple Simon’s Pies, reveals the secrets to a perfect artisan pie, how she manages to juggle the running of a business whilst bringing up her five-year-old daughter, and what wine would accompany her desert island pie…


How did Simple Simon's Pies come about?

It started in 2007 as a retirement job for my dad, Bernard Alessi who is a hotelier by trade. He set out to create a perfect pie, using the finest and freshest local ingredients. He has a simple ethos to his cooking which I find inspirational - fresh, natural ingredients, well treated and cooked simply with bags of flavour.

I think that's what makes our pies different. The motivation has always been to make each one perfect. Most people start with a selling price in mind and end up compromising on ingredients to meet the price point but we do it the other way around. I joined him around five years ago and did get a little carried away with how good the product was, taking it all over the country to food shows and such like! I even take them on the shopping channel QVC!


Are you able to use plenty of local ingredients & seasonal ones?

Yes we try to source ingredients from an hour radius to us in southern Scotland. We are fortunate enough to come from an area rich in fantastic ingredients. We have the Clyde Valley for fruit and veg, we have the roaming hills for cattle to graze naturally and we have an abundance of wild game and fresh fish to choose from. We have around 60 different recipes on our menu and seasonality is important to us, as when you're using fresh local ingredients you have to move with the seasons. It's sometimes a difficult balance to strike as retailers tend to like consistency but we don't compromise on quality so if it's not in season we tend not to use it. I always love October as that's when our new season lamb comes in and everyone's always a little surprised as people tend to think of lamb season in spring. As we use hillbred Scottish lamb ours is always a bit later than everywhere else and it tastes divine!
 


What pastry do you use and what tips have you got for the home baker when making pastry?

Our attention to detail when making our pies is incredible. The pastry technique we use in unique to us and has been handed down through the generations in my family. We use a puff pastry but we press it in a way that allows the fat to be released when you bake it. It is delicious and crispy but still has the indulgence of puff pastry. It takes a lot of time to do but we think it's definitely worth the effort. My top tips for making pastry would be cold hands and patience – don’t rush the resting! Be creative with pastry – we find pastry fascinating and so complex, trying to get it to do what you want it to is a real challenge. There are traditional methods that work really well but a few creative tweaks - like our use of puff pastry - and you can end up with a really different result. Dad is currently working on a way of replicating the pastry used in a Maltese style savoury snack called Pastizzi. He’s getting close but not quite there yet, but once he cracks that we’ll have another delicious pastry treat for our customers to enjoy!
 
 
 


You have a five year old daughter; how do you manage your domestic life while running a successful company?
 
To be honest doing everything gets quite hectic. My daughter may be five years old but she's no stranger to my market stall and can sell her Grandpa's pies like a pro!!! I grew up living in my dad’s hotel where the business is part of your life and she will do the same. I remember doing the wages in the office when I was nine years old! She will be the same, work needs to be a part of your life when you’re older and the earlier you realize that the less painful the daily grind becomes when you’re older! Summer holidays (which started last week in Scotland) are a bit tough as it’s a busy time for us pie wise. Next week we’re with the Guild of Fine Food at the Hampton Court Flower Show and that means I’ll be away from Sunday to Sunday which is difficult for her, but thanks to facetime she is able to call me up and see me whenever she likes!
 
 
 
What would be your desert island pie from Simple Simon's?

That’s a tough one as I like different pies for different occasions! For me it would come down to a choice of three; the Minced Venison with Roast Beetroot, Red Cabbage and Red Current Jelly which has Two Gold stars in the Great Taste Awards, The Breakfast Pie or our Chunky Beef with Fresh Horseradish sauce. I think it would have to be the Breakfast Pie! No matter how many pies I serve at food shows I can never pass up a piece of breakfast pie!


Were you always destined for the kitchen and if not, what else might you like to have done?

I love food. Coming from a Maltese family food has always been a huge part of our lives. Living in the hotel, I spent most of my time in the kitchen. I remember when I was in my early teens being quite happy to make a port and black cherry sauce to go with duck breast but not being able to poach an egg something that I still can’t get right no matter how many tricks and tips I try! I love food but it is my dad’s profession, I’m better with the running side of the business, I like the numbers and the office and having a product that I have complete confidence in gives me the opportunity to grow the business freely. I worked for 10 years with Diageo – a large drinks company that is responsible for some of the world’s most delicious tipples – where I worked in various different roles, most recently in a supply chain capacity for luxury brands like Ciroc Vodka, Tanqueray No 10 and an array of superb whiskies and of course wines! I enjoyed my time there but it’s difficult to raise a child with such a full on global job and I really wanted to give Amy the best of me that I could. We were living in Holland at the time Amy was born and we made the decision to move back home. When Amy was younger I was able to work much more flexibly so even though I would need to work weekends I am able to take her to school and pick her up afterwards which I would never have been able to do. I also spent a couple of years fighting breast cancer having had a mastectomy when Amy was 18 months. I was able to work right through my illness and treatment which was important to me and not something I could have done in a conventional job. What I will take away and pass on to my daughter about food is keep it simple, look after the details and know what you’re eating. Make chips from real potatoes and a nice ripe peach is as much of a treat as a sweetie!


What are some of your favourite wine tipples and which ingredients/dishes do you like pairing them with, pie or otherwise?

I love French wine. I know that there are great wines from all over the world but I am a little in love with France. I have lived there in the past and I love the people, attitude to food and drink. To drive around the wine regions in France on a beautiful late August day with all the vines nearly ready for harvest, there’s that real sense of anticipation and excitement in the air, how could you not fall in love with that?! I tend to go for a Chablis if I’m drinking white wine but I like to try and find new wines… I guess in the hope of discovering some unknown treasure!!! The red wine I have liked most in my life was a Château Magnol 2000 that I got when I worked for Diageo, it was so delicious I bought a case and then couldn’t decide when to drink it! I also like Cognac having spent a bit of time in the region. I just love the smell of the drink and the bottles are normally really beautiful.


What other food styles/countries excite you?

I’m really into Sushi at the moment - not something we’ve ever really had in my family but the Japanese eating experience is such fun and the balance of delicate flavours is really clever. It’s simple and clean and I like that. I also love tapas style eating; our wedding meal was a bit like that but with Italian style food. We held the reception at an old Orangery in Holland and the meal was an array of antipasti that just kept coming and coming! I love fresh fish and natural ingredients. I work beside a fisherman from Arran on one of my market stalls and he always has such amazing produce caught right on our doorstep yet it’s always very difficult to get hold of in mainstream shops. Spontaneous eating excites me…going to an excellent shop and not knowing what you’re going to get and spending far more than you intended but being completely happy with everything! Finally I think I’m going to get into cured meats. I love eating them but quite fancy making my own. Dad used to do it in the hotel and I fancy having a go!


Your last meal (many centuries away); what would it be, who would cook it (might be you, but don't worry about the washing up) and what would you quaff with it?

My last meal…I love the old Italian cooks. I guess they remind me a bit of my dad, Antonio Carluccio for example. But if it was my absolute last meal then it would need to be Michel Roux Jr. My husband’s best friend trained at La Gavroche and I love all the stories he has from his time there but seeing Michel Roux talk about food he is passionate about is electric. He could choose what to feed me and I’d also let him pick the wine! I think there’s something to be said for surrendering yourself to the experience of others. I do like the sound of his calamari farci though, so perhaps he could make me that, if not I’d go for a seafood platter, although not much cooking in that though so I’m not sure I’d be maximizing the opportunity of having Michel Roux cook for me! I would have champagne as I love a bit of fizz and I would finish with a coffee and a homemade dark chocolate treat on the side!
 
 
 


Do you have the recipe for a favourite dish you can share with us, pastry encased or otherwise?

I love Timpana; it’s what the pies we make are based on. You use our technique for pressing the pastry by buying a block of puff pastry, cutting a strip and letting it fall flat, then you press it that way until it’s quite thin and line a buttered dish using the strips you make. You buy a pasta called Ziti which are long drain pipe type tubes and you cook that al dente. You make a traditional, slow cooked bolognaise sauce packed with offal like chicken livers to give the sauce depth of flavour. Then you mix the pasta with the sauce and add beaten eggs and parmesan cheese. Try to get the mixture to go down the tubes. Then you put the mixed pasta and sauce in the pastry lined dish and make a pastry lid using the same method as before - it doesn’t matter if there are a few holes. Then you bake it in the oven until the pastry cooks and the eggs set. Finally you turn it out once it has cooled a little and in my house everyone stands around holding their breath to see if it’s going to collapse! Then you cheer when it doesn’t! You can then slice it like a cake. We have this as a starter at Christmas time and it is always the main event of the meal for me, no matter how delicious everything else is!!


When and where are you happiest?

With my husband and daughter relaxing at home or on holiday. I love the hills and the sea as well so Scotland or Malta are calming destinations for me!


Where and what was your best meal ever?

Actually I really enjoyed the food we had at the Great Taste Awards Dinner last year where we won the National Golden Fork for Speciality Producer of the Year - such excellent produce, really well treated. It was great tasting lots of different award winning products enjoyed by a room full of people as passionate and overworked as me! I loved it. The corned beef and the bacon were delicious as were the giblets which I was surprised to enjoy!
 
 

How long will your pies keep, can they be frozen, how do we get hold of them & how much do they cost?

Our pies are designed to be a complete meal with a base of steamed shredded potato and filling on top. They are baked fresh to order and come with a two week shelf life when kept in the fridge. You can freeze them for around a year in a four star freezer. You can order via our website and have them delivered direct to your door. Or you can call us up and it will be me or Holly that answers the phone! They vary in cost as the range is so vast and the majority are priced between £4.50 and £5.50.




Nestled in the pastures of the Scottish Southern Uplands sits our restored 19th century farm building. Here, in our modern kitchens, Simple Simon (internationally trained Bernard Alessi) prepares and bakes his extraordinarily tasty, artificial additive-free pies. His secret is indeed simple. Only the finest, freshest, natural ingredients are used.
 
Behind Simple Simon's on the hill graze blackface sheep and Black Aberdeen Angus. Not only world-class meats such as these fill our pies, but also locally reared meats, and Fresh Fish. And fresh herbs, too. For this we have featured in The Sunday Telegraph Magazine.
 
Now you can have these hand-crafted, raised puff-pastry pies, which make a meal for one hungry Horace or two light appetites, shipped directly to your door. You can have them heating in your oven within 48 hours of Simple Simon receiving your order. The wonderful, rich aromas that will fill your kitchen make the term 'mouth-watering' seem superfluous.
 
Browse our extensive online menu and select which superb meat, fish, or vegetable pies you want.
 
Place your order on our easy-to-use, secure system, and set your table!
 
Visit www.simplesimonspies.co.uk for more details, email info@simplesimonspies.co.uk or call 01899 220118 to place your order now. 
 
 
 
 


 
 

Written by: Nigel Barden

Nigel Barden 

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