Fireman Derek Kaplan on Pumpkin Pie, Baking, and Opening a Retail Space
Photos courtesy of Derek Kaplan
This Thanksgiving, why waste time baking a pumpkin pie when you can just buy one? We're not talking about a mass-produced puck from Publix. We're talking about the ultimate pumpkin pie from Fireman Derek's World-Famous Pies.
Derek Kaplan -- a six-foot-two, tattooed City of Miami firefighter -- has been baking pies for 15 years. When he's not at the firehouse, Kaplan can be found baking anywhere from 50 to 100 pies per day from a kitchen in the back of a Wynwood warehouse.
See also: Where to Get Thanksgiving To-Go in Miami
So what exactly makes his pumpkin pie the best? He makes everything from scratch, including his pumpkin purée. That's right. This tough guy roasts and purées his own pumpkins. The result makes for a creamy, custard-like filling, cradled by a flaky, buttery crust.
Sweet potato pie (left) and pecan pie (center)
In addition to pumpkin pie, Kaplan also offers other varieties this holiday season, including pecan, chocolate pecan, apple, key lime, sweet potato, and pumpkin cheesecake.
Short Order spoke with the fireman about his pies, baking, and the possibility of opening a retail space.
Short Order: Your crusts are insane. What's your key to a perfect, flaky pie crust?
Derek Kaplan: You have to find the right balance of flour, shortening, butter, cold water -- you know what I'm saying? If you put too much flour, it makes it really gummy when you start mixing it up. Also, you want to have that nice consistency in your dough -- that really is the key. You want it to roll out really clean and not crumble apart.
What's your all-time favorite pie to bake and eat?
It's key lime pie, for sure.
What's a typical pie-baking day for you like?
When I'm off-duty and I wake up to do pies, I get up pretty early, between 7:30 and 8. I like to try to get a workout in before, especially if it's going to be a long night, and then I come to the shop or I go get supplies, or I go meet with one of the restaurants. Then I get to the shop and I start rolling out dough, making graham cracker crust, juicing key lime, or roasting pumpkins. Right now, I've got some cheesecakes in the oven. I work pretty hard. I'm a perfectionist when it comes to my product, so I really like making sure that it tastes perfect and looks perfect. When a pie leaves my shop, you know you're getting a good product.
There aren't very many pie bakeries around these parts. Why do you think Miami lacks a good pie scene?
Pie is labor-intensive. You have to make your dough. You have to roll it. You have to make your fillings. It's not like cupcakes, where you put it all into a bowl and squirt it into this little thing and bake it up, you know what I'm saying? I think people are just looking for the easy way out or to make money off of something that is on trend and make money off the cupcake shop 'cause it's easy to make cupcakes. Try rolling out 100 crusts per day, and try making an apple pie and fillings, especially when you're trying to make it right. You can take shortcuts, but people are going to figure it out.
What's next for Fireman Derek's World-Famous Pies?
I'm looking at retail spaces. The initial goal in the very near future is to have a retail shop where you can come buy my pies.
To order your pie for pick-up, call Derek at 786-449-2517. Pies are available whole ($15) or in single-serving cups ($3 each or ten for $25).
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Miami dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.