The winners of the 2017 British Pie Awards were announced on Friday 10th March as the culmination of British Pie Week. The Awards seem to have grown in stature in recent years. Many hundreds of pies were entered into the Awards which no doubt take a considerable amount of time and effort to run as efficiently as they do. There is also, no doubt, that the Pie Week and Awards generate a great deal of much needed publicity for pies and pie makers. The LPPAS recognise this and congratulate the organisers on their work and effort in putting the Awards together.
Regular readers will know though that we think there are aspects of the Awards that leave room for improvement. Straight talking is a Lancastrian trait, and in raising these issues it is in the hope that the Awards can be improved for the better. There are two main issues that are of concern to us. These are detailed below:
Firstly, there is the issue that we raised pre-Awards with respect to the regional imbalance of the judges, and in particular the preponderance of judges from Melton Mowbray and its surroundings. Looking at the results it would appear that the problem is deeper than just the judges. There was also a regional imbalance in the pies that were submitted for the Awards. We repeat, that we cast absolutely no aspersions on the integrity of the judges or the overall process which includes blind tasting. Our point is that people from different regions have different expectations of how pies should taste and look. This is bound to affect judgement and will favour those pies that are in line with the subconscious expectations of the judges. There can be no better illustration of this than the Awards in the Meat & Potato Pie category. The Meat & Potato Pie is pretty much the default pie throughout Lancashire. It is a straightforward, honest pie. Consisting mainly of potato, with differing quantities of meat. It is therefore unthinkable to anyone from Lancashire that the second and third prizes in the Meat & Potato pie category went to ‘peppered steak’ and ‘beef stew’ pies respectively. These are simply not Meat & Potato pies. How could judges and organisers overlook this? We can only assume that they do not have experience of what actual Meat & Potato pies look and taste like. Sadly, there were some real Meat & Potato pies from Lancashire entered in this category. To be ranked below pies that shouldn’t even be anywhere near the category must be a real kick in the teeth for these high quality and much loved pie makers.
Next is the judging process itself. The organisers stress the rigour with which the judging is done. Seemingly all judges award (or deduct) marks against a series of criteria. There are clearly issues with this approach that is exacerbated by the large numbers of pies to be sampled by a limited number of judges. In scientific terms the process of awarding and then totalling marks against a set of pre-defined criteria would be characterised as reliable but not valid. The process is reliable in that different judges are likely to award Pies similar scores. It is not valid though, as these scores, although consistent, do not necessarily reflect the overall quality of the pie. There are many reasons for this. In part the problem is due to the difficulty of weighting different criteria, in part it is due to the fact that the criteria themselves are not necessarily correct, and thirdly it is due to the false assumption that a pie (or anything else for that matter) is merely an arithmetic sum of its constituent parts. In most cases it is how elements combine rather than how they rank individually that provides the overall experience. This explanation may seem long winded, but a system that ranks a Ginsters pasty (yes Ginsters) as runner up in the pasty category cannot possibly be defended. How must it feel to be a passionate local producer of high quality pasties to wake up to the news that your pride and joy is ranked below Ginsters?
Again, we emphasise that we hope that these comments are seen as constructive. In the first instance we ask merely that the organisers reflect upon them. In an ideal world we would prefer it if the Awards moved around the country. Failing that it may be that the organisers might work more closely with regional groups and organisations (as they do with e.g. Scottish Butchers) in order to bring more judges into the fold and so encouraging a wider spread of entrants. This would help with the judging too, but here we would also ask that methods that include an overall mark and perhaps involve the general public be explored.