RANDOLPH — Staff sat poised over evaluation forms in the glass-walled conference room. Nervous employees peered in at them. Annual performance reviews? Not exactly. It was Pie Day.
The May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities at the May Institute held its seventh pie baking competition last fall before Thanksgiving. According to Pie Day planner Kathleen Barry, an administrative assistant, the event started as a festive occasion for staff not going home for Thanksgiving. It became a competition the following year when a 5-gallon jar of pepperoncini and gift cards were awarded as prizes.
May Institute, headquartered here, is a national organization that provides educational and rehabilitative services to individuals with autism spectrum disorder and others with developmental disabilities, brain injuries, and behavioral health needs. All participating bakers are staff, and the coveted role of judge is filled by folks from across the organization.
There was a surprise in the awards last year. With her white-chocolate caramel macadamia cheesecake pie, Gaby Tellez wrested first place from three-time winner Jenn Iverson. Tellez, coordinator of training, offered a pie with a cinnamon-flavored Graham crust, cream-cheese filling, and caramel sauce topping. Iverson, director of curriculum and school programming, came in second with a classic pecan pie. Third place went to a cheesecake apple pie from Kristen Daisy, family services coordinator.
One of the few rules is pies must be baked by the contestant. Most are sweet — apple, berry, cornmeal, cheesecake, pecan, sweet potato — though occasional savories, like chicken or turkey pot pies, are submitted.
Entries were anonymous, set out on long tables; 14 judges looked over the array before being served slices. Each judge employed different strategies to get through 11 entries. Janine Taylor, senior director of employee welfare, said, “I pace myself, taking small bite-size pieces.” Not so COO Ralph Sperry. “I eat all the pie, no leftovers.” Presentation, flavor, crust, texture, and overall impression each count, and “Closest to Grandma’s” is an honorable mention.
Judges made comments such as “this caramel has an aftertaste” and “these veggies taste frozen’’ (they weren’t). As the last wedges were presented, someone shouted: “I’m on a sugar high!”
Finally, with calculator in hand, Kelli Leahy, assistant to the president and a Pie Day veteran from the beginning, declared, “We have an upset!” And so Tellez won.
What remained of the pies was put in the staff lounge for communal enjoyment. Victory was sweet.