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Posted at 8:00 AM ET, 02/10/2011

Chris Chen: Lawyer, photographer, pie fetishist

By Melissa McCart
20110128L2000046DinerSourCherry_opt.jpg The sour cherry slice at the Diner. (Chris Chen)

If you're a pie fan, you need to meet Chris Chen.

No, you've probably never heard of him via his day job -- as a lawyer for the office of Chief Counsel for U.S. Customs and Border Protection -- but you may have seen him snapping photos anywhere between H Street NE and Georgetown, sometimes while hovering over a fresh slice of pie.

A Maryland native, Chen, 44, calls Washington home and chronicles his city at furcafe. His photos are most often seen on Brightest Young Things, DCist's Exposed and in various photography shows throughout the year.

In an average week, particularly in winter, Chen eats about a slice a day. How do we know? He chronicles it on Twitter and Four Square, announcing his whereabouts and his daily slice. Though he doesn't call himself a foodnik -- and food photography is not his forte -- he admits to having developed a passion for pie.

Q: When did your pie fetish originate?

A: About a year ago, I thought that there has to be something better than cupcakes. They're too annoyingly cute. Aside from that, I love anything in a crust -- sweet and savory pies, quiches and empanadas. They're a pie, in my book.

IMG_1335_opt.jpg Chen, eating pie, not photographing it. (Melissa McCart)

Q: What's an appropriate time for pie?

A: This is too early. [We're at The Diner at 1 p.m.] Pie is usually for late night -- after dinner, after going out. That's why I end up at the Diner, Kramerbooks and Dangerously Delicious, since they're all open late.

Q: Where do you think you can find the best pie?

A: Dangerously Delicious definitely, though they have kind of an expensive monopoly, and they're not as easy to get to from where I live. [He's in Kalorama.] They're like what CakeLove was to cupcakes when it first opened. I like DD because they have savory pies as well as sweet. I'm a fan of the SMOG pie: steak, mushroom, onion and Gruyere as well as the pork barbecue pie. Thing is, they'd both be better with a beer, and DD doesn't yet have a liquor license.

Q: What's made you Tweet and Four Square your pie reports?

A: I Tweet, anyway. I think my mother is interested in knowing where I am. So my brother follows my tweets and tells her. And Four Square is like a game. I think it's fun.

20110131L2000183AfterwordsWildBerry_opt_opt(2).jpg Wild cherry at Kramerbooks. (Chris Chen)

Q: Let's talk about your pies this week. Pecan maple at the Diner, cappuccino pie at the Diner, Ho-Ho pie at the Diner, flourless chocolate pie at the Diner, peanut butter pie at Bourbon, wild cherry at Kramerbooks, buttermilk with lemon sorbet at Bar Pilar and a mixed-berry hand pie at Baked and Wired. What was your favorite?

20110129L2000049Baked&WiredMixedBerryHandpie_opt_opt.jpg Mixed-berry hand pie at Baked and Wired. (Chris Chen)

A: I'm a berry person, so this week it was either wild cherry or the hand pie. But I also like pecan, if there's bourbon in it. I really like cappuccino custard. Pie with coffee in it? Yum. The blueberry at the Diner is really great. [Open City, the Diner and Tryst pastry chef) Sol Schott does a great job with pies. Obviously I go there a lot, though I generally prefer a lighter crust.

Q: Speaking of, what do you look for in a crust?

20110204L2000194DinerHoHoCrop_opt_opt.jpg Ho-Ho pie at the Diner. (Chris Chen)

A: I prefer light and flaky, but most crusts around here are thicker because they're not made in-house and need to be heartier for transport.

Q: Yeah, I've been doing the research and very few pies around here are made with lard, and an all-butter crust is too unstable. It's all veggie shortening.

A: Damn vegans.

By Melissa McCart  | February 10, 2011; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chefs, Comfort Food  | Tags:  Melissa McCart  
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