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Cambodian migrant's bakery scoops Australia's Best Pie award for a third consecutive year

Best Pie Awards winner for 2018, 2019 and 2020. Ryan Khun in the middle holding the trophy with his team members from Country Cob Bakery. Source: Country Cob Bakery

Cambodia's Kampot pepper that was almost wiped out by Khmer Rouge is the secret behind Australia's best beef and pepper pie that helped a bakery in regional Victoria win Australia's Best Pie award for the third year in a row.

A Cambodian migrant's bakery in regional Victoria has won the top honours at Australia's Best Pie competition.  

Country Cob Bakery at Kyneton has won Australia's Best Pie Award for the third consecutive year at the annual event organised by the Baking Association of Australia.

Owner Ryan Khun said his team entered many flavoured pies in the competition, including Khmer, Thai, Korean and American styles with a filling of lobster, scallop, pork, quail egg, and beef.

As a result, Country Cob Bakery won five gold medals for their beef and pepper pie, vegetarian pie, plain beef pie, and gourmet pie (BBQ pork with quail eggs), with beef and pepper pie named Australia's best.

Country Cob Bakery win Australia's best pie award 3 years in the row
Country Cob Bakery has won Australia's Best Pie Award for a third consecutive year

Mr Khun says beef and pepper pie being very commonly available, his family put their heads together to think of ways to make it exceptional.

The magical ingredient that was nearly wiped out

They came up with the idea of using Cambodia's famous Kampot pepper that they import from their beloved homeland. Kampot pepper usually has a very strong smell and taste, so just a little bit of it gives the pie the perfect aroma and flavour.

“It’s a common pie flavour, so we needed to make it taste special with the attractive aroma of the Cambodian Kampot pepper,” he told SBS Khmer.

With Stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne, the competition had to be moved to Sydney and most of the participants from outside NSW had to post their frozen pies beforehand.

Country Cob Bakery's pies sent to the competition for Australia's best pie award
Country Cob Bakery's pies sent to the competition for Australia's best pie award

“We had to send those frozen pies some time in advance, as the express post could not guarantee the delivery will be on time,” says Mr Khun.

He says the competition felt a lot different from its previous editions as he couldn't be there physically and instead watched a live stream on Facebook.

However, as soon as Country Cob's pie was announced a winner among nearly 2,000 entries from over 350 bakeries across Australia, it just didn't matter. 

"We felt like we were flying when we heard the judge announce us the winner of the 2020 Australia's Best Pie."

Kampot pepper
Cambodia's Kampot pepper is the magical ingredient of Australia's best pie.

The pie's magical ingredient Kampot pepper was nearly wiped out in the late 1970s as farmers weren't allowed to plant it as the Khmer Rouge needed people to fight for the regime. The farmers could begin to once again plant Kampot pepper only once the Khmer Rouge was defeated. 

Business impacted by COVID-19 

The Khun family has been running their bakery business for many years in Kyneton. Six months ago, they started to expand and started another a branch of their bakery in Boronia in Melbourne's east. 

Then, the coronavirus pandemic began. 

Ryan Khun says the family-owned business has been severely impacted by the restrictions has have been in place because of COVID-19.

They decided to temporarily close the Boronia business during the first lockdown in Melbourne,  shortly after opening it. ​But, Mr Khun says, the business was reopened in April after their customers requested them to do so.

Best Pie Awards Winner, Country Cob bakery in Kyneton
Country Cob Bakery
Country Cob Bakery
 But this wasn't an option when Stage 4 restrictions began in the first week of August and they have moved their Boronia business entirely online with home delivery options. 

"It's struggling, but we still can survive as we have got plenty of customers supporting us online with our new updated website and social media. However, both of the businesses are still down by 30-40 per cent," he says.

But difficulties with the business due to COVID-19 is no reason for them to slack off. The Khuns are already aiming for their fourth consecutive best pie award.

"The judges do not like the same thing every year, they want to see something new, something different."

So, the team has already started work, experimenting with new flavours and ingredients, to find a winning pie for the next year's awards. 

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