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The Power of Pie

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By Lara Rabinovitch, Photos by Brian Feinzimer

Published Apr 1, 2020 8:00 AM


Kleiman’s Good Food contest shares the joy of baking.


Dashiell Nathanson's rose baklava pie.

“Pie is a lot like life,” says Evan Kleiman ’75, M.B.A. ’80, host of KCRW’s Good Food. “You learn humility. You go through this craft-like process of repetition. There’s a lot of complexity hidden in something very simple.” In 2009, Kleiman was looking for a summer project when she turned to America’s iconic baked good: “I just picked pie, and it turned out to be the greatest thing.”

The L.A. native baked a pie daily for 65 days, sharing the fruits of her labor with colleagues and friends. Her weekly show became a “pie-cast,” as Kleiman interviewed experts and inspired listeners to bake their own pies. “It took on a life of its own,” she says. “It was the beginning of social media, and it was an incredibly rich way to build community — unlike anything I’ve seen.”

Kleiman majored in Italian at UCLA and then operated several restaurants, including the beloved Angeli Caffe for 27 years. She also found time to write seven cookbooks. But that was not enough: In 2009, she decided to hold a pie contest to share her listeners’ enthusiasm. The first contest received 125 entries; last year, the number of pies topped off at 500. Each entrant makes two pies: one for the judges (chefs and expert bakers) and one for lucky members of the public to share.

UCLA has hosted the pie contest at Royce Quad for six years, with judging held on the Barbara and Joseph Goldenberg Terrace at the Fowler Museum at UCLA. Categories include fruit, cooked custard and pies of the 1920s, which coincides with the university’s centennial.

Last year’s contest had a Levantine category, an homage to the Fowler’s exhibition Dressed With Distinction: Garments From Ottoman Syria. Dashiell Nathanson’s rose baklava pie won second place in that category.

The event also will feature baking demos, cookbook swaps, an artisan marketplace and kids activities. “People get introduced to [UCLA] and enjoy themselves, particularly children,” Kleiman says. “I find that very meaningful.”

For Kleiman, whose apple pie recipe was featured in a 2018 episode of The Simpsons, returning to campus brings back memories. “You walk through life, and you acquire all these different threads of knowledge,” she says. “And if you’re lucky, you get to braid them together and share them. That’s what this iteration of my interaction with UCLA is.”

KCRW’s Good Food Pie Contest will be held at UCLA’s Royce Quad on April 19. For more information, visit: pie.kcrw.com.

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