Stevan Taylor of the Gluten Free Pie Company - now known as Taylor’s of Cheshire - took home the Free-From Bakery Product trophy at last year’s Baking Industry Awards. As he tells Alice Cooke, it “totally blew me away”

It took Stevan Taylor two years of development to perfect the pastry for the Pork, Black Pudding & Red Onion Pie that won him the Free-From Bakery Product of the Year at the 2016 BIAs.

“When I originally entered, I had an idea for a project using the pastry but hadn’t actually formulated a plan,” he says. “It was a bit of a stab in the dark, really!”

Taylor adds that when he started a mere two years ago, he “didn’t have a clue about gluten-free”.

A licensee by trade, he was made redundant in 2014, “and the only other thing I enjoyed was cooking, so I started producing organic ready meals at home”.

One of these was gluten-free. “People really loved that, it was an instant hit, and that one dish led me into the industry.”

Having made the decision to focus on gluten-free, Taylor says he spent the best part of a year “playing around” with starches and rice flours.

His first gluten-free product was a muffin, and he laughingly admits: “I thought it was disgusting, but the shocking thing was that compared to the rest of the gluten-free market at the time, people thought it was delicious – the feedback was amazing.”

He recalls one particular occasion at a county show in Yorkshire, where he had a tray of the muffins on sale. “A lady tried one and burst into tears because she thought they were so good. I thought, ‘Are you sure? I think they taste horrible!’”

But the gluten-free market is a completely different place now, Taylor is pleased to note: “You can’t tell the difference between gluten-free and wheat-based products, which is just brilliant.”

Taylor doesn’t add anything artificial to his products, which is not, he says, par for the course in the gluten-free market. And he thinks this is what sets him apart. “A lot of gluten-free products contain methocel or cellulose to help keep them moist and soft – mine are all natural. To achieve the same effect as the additives, we blend different starches, because different starches hold different types of moisture and also affect shelf-life – you don’t want your products to go doughy or dry in the middle, which ours don’t.”

As for the night of the awards, he confesses he can’t remember much: “The food was fantastic – that much I can recall – and the category sponsor, Ingredion, were perfect hosts. I think I drank rather a lot, but I’d love to go again.”

Having won the award, Taylor was approached by a number of businesses about his products, and is in the process of gaining the correct accreditation to be able to take those opportunities further.

While his business has this month changed its name from The Gluten-Free Pie Company to Taylor’s of Cheshire, artisan free-from bakers and pie-makers, Taylor says the products will stay the same, with the addition of a sweet range, which is one of the reasons for the name change. The company now also makes five vegan pies, which it introduced due to popular demand. “We do a lot of local farmers’ markets, and experimenting as a result of talking directly to the customers.”

When talking about the gluten-free market in general, he says: “There’s no reason why you can’t get the balance between nutrition and tasting delicious. I want my customers to buy my products not because of what they contain, but just because they enjoy them.”

Taylor adds that he expects the gluten-free category to become massive. “That’s why I’ve been working on a couple of breads, as there’s a big market there, but bread is such a difficult one to get right without gluten.”

He has been using customers as guinea pigs. “They say they’re just as good as normal breads, which I’m really proud of, but I haven’t got the ovens to bake bread en masse yet – hopefully sometime this year,” he adds.

Sponsor’s comment

“The pie was a very worthy winner due to its allergen-free hot-water crust pastry, which is hand-raised the traditional way. This was considered by the judges to be a particularly challenging product to produce allergen-free.

“It stood apart from the competition as Stevan had produced a free-from product that was deemed to be superior in texture, appearance and taste as well as being a truly light pastry compared to a standard wheat-based pie.

“The ingredients used in the filling of the pie were all locally-sourced and the end result was a truly flavoursome and high-quality product.”

Alan MacDougall, regional sales manager, UK & Ireland for Ingredion