The business: Saffron Kitchen
What they're packin': Meat and vegetable pies with a South African flair
Where you can find them: More Valley farmers' markets will be added soon. Find your fix on Thursdays at the Market at Hayden Station Plaza in Tempe, 5-8 p.m. and Saturdays at the North Scottsdale Farmer's Market 8 a.m.- noon.
What you need to know: Bring your cash and get to the market early for the best selection, because these pies go FAST. Oh, and forget about the fork and knife -- this pie thing is a hands-on experience.
The story: Smell that? Of course you don't. But you wish you could. Think a personal-sized savory pie, filled with warm ingredients like beef, bacon, red wine and mushrooms, then enveloped in a blanket of flaky, just-baked pastry dough.
If there ever were a time to have Smell-O-Vision it would be right now, with a Saffron Kitchen pie gracing the presence of your computer screen.
Andrea Kretzmann is the brains behind the savory pie concept of Saffron Kitchen, which doesn't actually sell out of a food truck, but instead a booth that is becoming a fixture at farmer's markets across the Valley.
It's at these markets where she has the drifting scent of freshly-made pie do a lot of the hard work for her.
"Food is such a sensory experience. I think I have a bit of an advantage because they are hot, so you can definitely smell them," she says. "That attracts someone's attention and they come over and say, 'What is this?'"
After moving from South Africa to New York City 17 years ago to pursue a career in advertising and marketing, Kretzmann began to notice she wasn't like every other New Yorker.
"I always cooked, which is unusual," she says. "In New York, no one cooks, and no one eats in."
This revelation, coupled with many classes at the city's Institute for Culinary Education, prompted Kretzmann to make some changes. After 16 years in New York, she moved to Scottsdale to pursue her education at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, where she will graduate at the end of October.
What makes Kretzmann's concept different than any other baker's fare? Well, she's certainly not selling your typical apple pie -- Or any kind of fruit-filled pie, for that matter.
When someone utters the word "pie" to a South African, they immediately think of the savory meat kind, with the most popular fillings being steak and kidney or chicken and mushroom, Kretzmann says. The concept of a sweet pie is almost non-existent.
"What most people are familiar with is a chicken pot pie, so if I get to the 'what is this?' I describe it as a chicken pot pie -- but better," Kretzmann says.
Her idea of crafting a savory pie goes all the way back to her childhood, where she grew up eating the popular dish at her grammar school's tuck shop, the South African equivalent to a school cafeteria. Apparently disappointing food of the cafeteria-variety is consistently bad no matter what country you find yourself eating it in - these pies from her childhood were often wrapped in plastic and thrown in a microwave, Kretzmann says.
She definitely didn't want Saffron Kitchen to mirror these childhood experiences. Her business' emphasis is all about quality, not microwave-ability.
"I'm really putting a lot into what goes in because I think its going to be better at the end of the day for the person that's buying it," she says. "That's often the challenge for me, how you make a product financially available with those levels of ingredients."
Oh, if only our cafeteria lunch lady had the same views.
"Not everyone understands the value of grass-fed beef, and not everyone understands why you shouldn't have antibiotics in your food," she continues. "I've really stuck to my guns in terms of the types of ingredients that go in [to the pies]: It is grass-fed beef, all-natural chicken, and King Arthur Flour where I pay $50 for 50 pounds."
A quality product doesn't end at the quality ingredients, and Kretzmann carries this theme over to the hand-made production of each pie, timing it just right so they are baked and then immediately taken to whatever farmer's market she is selling at that day. That means waking up at 3 a.m. to prep and bake for a 7 a.m. farmer's market.
It's all in the name of freshness -- and that unforgettable smell -- to get the word out about her product.
"Farmers markets are a good way to get out there and get a response directly from the community. It allows me to finesse," she says. "And it's a hot food. I know launching in the middle of summer at 7 a.m. is not when people are thinking about eating [these kind of] pies, but I could only imagine it is going to get better."
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Kretzmann offers a different combination almost every market from her list of seven vegetarian, chicken or beef pies. She has dubbed them with names like Saucy (grass-fed beef, Fat Tire ale, and fresh thyme in an onion sauce) or the best-seller Sexy (spinach, portabella and shiitake mushrooms, basil, and three different cheeses), and they come in two sizes: a personal snack size or a larger pie for sharing. She updates her Facebook with what will be offered that day, and she shortly after she has people calling her to ensure they get their fix of Saffron Kitchen deliciousness.
"Word is getting around, which is cool," Kretzmann says. "Last week, I had sold out of all my big pies before I got to the market."
Obviously it hasn't taken much for the Kretzmann's pie concept to catch on. But there is one thing that might take a little bit more time for people to grasp.
"It's the ultimate street food, kind of like a sandwich," she says. "So, [the pies] are supposed to be hand-held, which I haven't communicated effectively yet. People are like, 'give me a fork!'"