Alex Smith liked to think scouring Australia’s countryside and then spending almost five years in Darwin with the Australian Army gave him a solid grounding as an unofficial pie connoisseur.
Upon realising he was at the end of a long queue, he literally joined the lead six years ago by managing a genuine pie shop – The Original Goolwa Bakery, established in 1910.
And now his claim the bakery makes one of the best pies – and all the other pleasant pastries that serious pie lovers cannot also resist – can be backed up with further acclaim after the bakery’s new link, The Cottage Bakery, was named the best business and best new business at the annual McLaren Vale Business of the Year Awards several weeks ago.
Most of the pastries are made at The Original Goolwa Bakery in Dawson Street, behind Cadell Street, owned by Rod and Rosie Hage. Their son, Sam, who previously managed the Goolwa bakery, and his wife, Mel, showed great initiative and enthusiasm to open a new shop along the main stretch of McLaren Vale about 12 months ago, and the move has obviously paid huge dividends. As they say by the ovens, the proof is in the pie.
Claiming both of the McLaren Vale Business Association’s top two awards is an outstanding local achievement by Sam and Mel, but Alex also sees the bigger picture; that the awards are a win for the Fleurieu Peninsula.
“We like to see ourselves as two bakeries working so close together and playing a small part in helping this region increase its profile as having a magnificent produce trail,” Alex said. “We hope it encourages someone from the city or wherever to come to Goolwa or McLaren Vale to try our pastries, and along the way also experience the many other great foods and wines others have to offer, like the region’s exceptional cheeses, olives, and so on.”
With a huge grin, Alex said towns were built around their pies. “We’re proud that we employ up to 20 people including five juniors in Goolwa, and we love it when people from all walks of life come into the bakery,” he said. “A bakery has probably always been one of the great meeting places, and everyone here is very community minded; it’s why we sponsor so many clubs or organisations.
“We are really thrilled that The Cottage Bakery won these awards, and they are being shared by everyone here and McLaren Vale, especially our head baker Jason Maynard. We all work well as a team, and Jason is forever trying something new with his pastries.”
Jason, who has almost 20 years experience as a pastry cook, has played a huge role in the success of the McLaren Vale venture. His expertise gave Sam and Mel the confidence to convert a bed and breakfast into a bakery after a lot of long hours.
And Alex’s favourite? “I love the gourmet option; our chunky lamb and rosemary pie,” he said. “We use a variety of ingredient for flavour to add to the taste of our chunky steak.
“It has to be fat-free too, because that can change the whole consistency of the pie and it would certainly not get past Jason who won’t hesitate to reject anything if it is not up to our high standard. This is the secret to making a great pie, pasty or anything else in our bakery – always believing that nothing but the best will do.
“A pie must also have consistency with the insides and the puff pastry. It can be good inside but the pastry might not puff and the magic is gone, and vice-versa.”
The McLaren Vale team, led by Sam, and his wife, Mel, set high standards, and like the Goolwa shop it’s also a battle to leave without also trying one of those ridiculously-tempting blueberry vanilla slices.
Which gets us to a key point… if this bloke has travelled the nation eating pies, and taking on the role as quality controller at The Original Goolwa Bakery, why isn’t he rotund like others who cannot resist?
“A pie, pasty or a cake here and there is not going to break the calorie bank,” Alex said. “Like every food, it’s about not over indulging and enjoying it within a healthy, balanced diet and exercise.”