Who is baker Patrick Lam and how does he keep winning NZ's best pie?

Patrick Lam being presented with his seventh Supreme Pie Award.
Patrick Lam after winning his seventh Supreme Pie Award. Photo credit: Bakels NZ Supreme Pie Awards.

This is the part of a Newshub Q&A series with influential Kiwis who are making their mark on the world. 

For the seventh time, baker Patrick Lam has taken out the title of pie king. 

Lam, who owns three bakeries in Tauranga, Bethlehem and Rotorua, won the top award at Bakels NZ Supreme Pie Awards on Tuesday evening with his mince and cheese pie. 

Originally from Cambodia, Lam and his family fled to Vietnam when he was five years old. He lived in a refugee camp in Vietnam until he was 19, when he moved to Australia. While living in Australia, Lam would regularly visit New Zealand - and it was on those trips that he first fell in love with the humble Kiwi pie. 

In 1997 he moved to Auckland and started a lunch bar selling pies. He moved to Rotorua in 2001, where he'd bought a bakery.

He spoke with Newshub about how he built his award-winning pie empire and revealed why he thinks Kiwis are so obsessed with his pies. 

What makes the perfect pie? 

The perfect pie is about the pastry. If you have the perfect pastry and a good filling, then you have the perfect pie. 

Why do Kiwis love pies so much?

Pies are convenient. If you're rushing off to work you can run into a bakery and grab a pie and eat it on the go. 

You have won the Supreme Pie Award seven times, what makes your pies so good?

I think it's more like luck that we won again. We believe we have good pastry and good fillings and that's why we keep winning.

Why do you think your mince and cheese pies have won so many times? 

For New Zealanders, I think mince and cheese pies are very popular. It doesn't matter which bakery you go to, they will sell more mince and cheese pies than any other. It's a classic. 

A photo of a mince and cheese pie.
Patrick Lam won this year's award for his mince and cheese pie. Photo credit: Getty Images

Why did you decide to open a bakery specialising in pies?

When we first came to New Zealand, we knew nothing about pies, but we bought a lunch bar. 

We would get pies from other stores and sell them at the lunch bar and slowly we learned how to make pies. 

Eventually, we started to make our own pies, and in 2001 we sold our lunch bar in Auckland and bought a bakery in Rotorua. 

We have a lot of feedback from customers who liked the pies, so we worked really hard.

Do you remember eating your first pie? 

The first pie I ate was mince and cheese, and I really liked it. 

This was when we still had Georgie Pie. I would come to visit New Zealand when I was living in Australia and I would buy a pie every time. 

What's your favourite pie flavour?

I eat two or three pies a week. Normally I eat mince and cheese or steak and cheese. Sometimes if we are really busy, I will grab a savoury with a bit of tomato sauce. 

Are you going to let someone else win next year?

We aren't expecting to win again. The whole reason we enter every year is because we want to upskill and we want to keep our quality up. 

Luckily we keep winning but we are always really surprised when we win.

How did you come to own three bakeries?

I have one in Rotorua and my second one is in Tauranga and now I have a new one in Bethlehem. 

I am always running around all the shops.

I start in Bethlehem in the morning to do all the production and then I go to the Tauranga shop in the afternoon. 

I have a manager and baker who look after the Rotorua shop. I still go to Rotorua on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays just to do some new ingredients and flavours.

I am basically always running around making sure everything is okay. 

How did it feel to win the award for the first time?

We won the first gold medal when we just had our Rotorua shop. 

At that time, we knew nothing about pies. 

The first year that we entered we didn't win anything and then the second year we re-entered and we won two golds and the supreme. After we won, we worked so hard and kept entering and kept winning. 

Do people come in to try the winning pie? 

A lot of customers come from everywhere in New Zealand. 

We have people come from overseas like England, Australia, America and recently we have a lot of Asian people from Hong Kong, Korea or Singapore, they all tell us they have come from overseas just to try our pies. 

What's the secret to your success?

We don't have a secret. We make our pies properly and we work hard. There is no secret recipe. It's just hard work and trying to make the pies right. 

You have said that you're a refugee who makes the best pies in the country, that must feel pretty good? 

Absolutely, I can't believe that I have come this far and I am so proud and excited that we have done all the hard work and it has paid off.

I am so happy that the business is successful. 

How have your customers reacted to you winning?

They are so proud of us and they have supported us so much over the years. 

Some customers keep coming back and telling us different flavours to try, which we actually want to, but because we have so many flavours in our shop already our pie warmer is too full. 

We would love to create more flavours, but we have no room at the moment. 

Patrick Lam's seven supreme winning pies

  • Mince and cheese - 2019 
  • Roast pork, mushroom and cheese - 2018
  • Bacon and egg - 2016
  • Bacon and egg - 2010
  • Creamy bacon, mushroom and cheese - 2009
  • Mince and cheese - 2004
  • Mince and cheese - 2003