Born and bred in Manchester, England, Ryan Broomfield’s Scottish mum was a baker and he spent a great deal of time waiting for her in the shop after school, soaking up the tricks of the trade. The love of a good pie is an enduring one in the Broomfield family, with Ryan’s brother Neil, a former policeman, taking up the baking trade and specialising in all-butter pastry pies.
Ryan’s journey to becoming a pie-maker took a little longer. Having studied sculpture at Bath University, he ended up working in sales in London. “When I used to go back home, to actually spend any time with my brother, because he was so busy, I used to work in the bakery with him,” Ryan says. “I really loved it, because it was kind of like making something again, going back to being creative.”
That sales job eventually brought Ryan, his wife and young daughter to Sydney, where he’d catch the Manly Ferry to work and back every day. Often pulling long hours, he’d grab something to eat from the terminal, nursing cravings for his brother’s pies. But from today, it’s his own pies – sold from his nifty PieCycle – that will tempt passengers.
It’s the latest venture in a pie making career that began when his baker brother came for a visit to Australia, leading to a trip back to England and a stint working at Neil’s Great North Pie Co. Neil was crowned Supreme Champion of the British Pie Awards in 2015 for his Goosnargh chicken, mushroom and English mustard cream pie and picked up Best Beef Pie in Britain for his minced beef and Bovril (a yeast extract).
Neil suggested Ryan take the recipes for both of these pies and also his classic cheese and onion, then use them to set up his own bakery in Sydney, which Ryan promptly did. Not that Broomfields Pies is simply following in Neil’s footsteps - Ryan is constantly creating his own flavours inspired by his international travels and by Australian flavours.
“There were all these influences from Asia here that I hadn’t seen on such a large scale before,” Ryan says. And some of them now appear on his pie menu. For example, “A lot of my Manly mates are surfers and they love their Sri Lankan fish curries, so they challenged me to come up with a pie that used those flavours, so then I’m off researching and buying produce and testing it and getting my hands on the actual right stuff, then I find Sri Lankan people and get them to taste it and see what they think.”
He also took on the infamously stinky Malaysian durian fruit, introduced to him by his uncle who lived there. “When it’s raw, it’s rancid, you would just run a mile, but when it’s cooked down it’s beautiful, so I did a Thai Massaman curry [pie] with Indian Paneer to give it a bit of body.”
Other creations include a ham, Irish black pudding and sugar plum pie, with the pudding sourced from a freshwater butcher and the plums from a plantation in Griffiths. Partying at London’s world-famous Notting Hill Carnival, Ryan fell for the Jamaican delicacy jerk chicken. “You’d come out of the club at night before you go home, instead of having a kebab, you’d get jerk chicken with rice and peas,” Ryan says.
When a fiend opened a Jamaican restaurant in manly, Jamtown in Manly, Ryan promptly added the secret jerk paste to his chicken pies. He also uses another mate’s award-winning Tasmanian hot sauce, Deimen’s Stinger. Spanish holidays with his wife inspired a chicken, sweet corn and Manchego number.
The Bovril beef pie gets everyone talking either because they have no clue what it is, or because they do and can’t believe it’s in a pie. “It’s traditionally drunk on football terraces,” Ryan notes. “I used to swim a lot when I was younger, I’d get a plastic cup of it instead of a hot chocolate. It was hotter than the sun or the inside of a McDonald’s apple pie. It was like molten lava.”
Laughing heartily, Ryan says there’s a golden memory inside every pie. “I like to have a story. ‘Why am I making this?’ The beautiful thing about a pie, you’ve got this amazing capsule of all-butter pastry and then you can really go to town with the things you wanna do with it. It can be absolutely anything.”
Ryan’s Balgowlah Heights bakery is open to the public once a week on Saturdays, and the pies are also for sale at the Orange Grove Organic Food Market and the Randwick Racecourse Market, but the coffee cart-like PieCycle is a brand new idea inspired by those Manly ferry pie cravings.
Bringing back an old tradition, it ties nicely to some intriguing local history. While working a market stall, Ryan heard tell of entrepreneurial William Francis King, dubbed ‘the Flying Pieman’. An impressively fast man, the Londoner, born in 1807, immigrated to Sydney in 1829 and became infamous for his walking prowess. Eventually taking up a pie salesman gig at the Parramatta steamer’s terminal, he’d sell to boarding passengers then sprint to a drop off point for another shot at selling his packed pastry wares.
The story was enough to tickle the Manly Wharf management and now Ryan’s PieCycle will take up residence every Wednesday from 4pm, starting today. The cart will sell cooked, refrigerated pies ready to "take and bake" (i.e. reheat), hoping to tempt passengers looking for a quick mid-week meal solution. Ryan says his bother Neil, currently visiting, is kind of bummed he didn’t think of the idea first. Is there a lot of sibling rivalry, now they’re in the same game?
“Yeah definitely,” Ryan laughs. “Well, it’s more that I’ll be experimenting and he’ll tell me there’s an easier way to do it, which really annoys me, because he’s got all this knowledge. You taste his version and it’s miles better…”
Mostly there’s just a whole lot of love. ‘This was the only week free he had in his schedule and he got on a plane here,” Ryan says. “He’s really looked after me.”
Broomfields PieCycle will be at Manly Wharf every Wednesday 4pm – 9.30pm.
Want pie? Here's Neil's pho pie recipe, shared with SBS Food when Luke Luke Nguyen met Neil in Luke Nguyen's United Kingdom:
This pie is one of my all-time favourites and brings together some of Greece’s most popular ingredients – silverbeet, haloumi, Kalamata olives, rice and filo pastry. It takes a little while to prepare but don’t be put off, I promise it will be well worth the effort.
This is the quintessential Australian beef pie, flavoured with beer and Vegemite. You’ll notice I’ve given two options for the meat filling. If you like your pies a little chunky and more rustic, use chuck steak; if you prefer them more like the ones you get at the footy, use minced beef.
George Street image from State Library of NSW.