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French know-how saves the English pork pie

TO SOME it is the quintessential English delicacy, but it took a Frenchman to fine-tune the crispy crust of a Melton Mowbray pork pie.

For 170 years the Leicester pie maker Walker and Son has traded on its reputation for quality, becoming one of the country's biggest producers of mini Melton Mowbray pies.

But in the cut and thrust of the late-1990s world of pork, tradition would not suffice. Far too many of the company's pastry shells were turning out tilted or with a cracked crust.

A call for help brought in Herve Mazenod, a 26-year-old Frenchman. The nearest Monsieur Mazenod's previous culinary experience had come to a pork pie was pate en croute, but he and fellow engineers from De Montfort University used their expertise to discover why the pies were not coming up to scratch. The problem? A combination of machine and human error. As good cooks know, pastry is very sensitive to changes in temperature, but M Mazenod pointed out that it is also affected by the way it is moulded and mixed.

The solution? Gallic charm. M Mazenod used his to persuade the entire workforce to work in the same way. Or put another way: follow the recipe to the letter.

According to Mike Deacon, chief engineer at Walker and Son, staff had been reluctant at first to believe a newcomer, perhaps particularly a Frenchman, could teach them anything. But he could - and saved the company pounds 150,000 a year.