Side Orders: Pie expert shares her secrets

Christine Nguyen is an expert at baking pies. She sells her creations at Plus Coffee in St. Elmo, Bread & Butter bakery in Red Bank and at Chattanooga Market on Sundays, as well as online at But pie baking wasn’t always in the stars for Nguyen.

“I’m Vietnamese, and pies aren’t a big thing in my culture,” she says. “Plus, my family were not really bakers at all.”

So she taught herself, beginning at an early age, before enrolling in culinary school at the Art Institute of Washington, where “I learned a little bit about making pies,” she says.

After her 2011 graduation from culinary school, she dabbled in the Washington, D.C., restaurant industry, working as a line cook at Source, one of Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants, and at a bar/music club in Arlington, Va. She also worked as manager of Crepe, a D.C. food truck, and at a Whole Foods Washington location as a catering liaison.

Eventually, though, she began concentrating in one area: cooking pastries in fine dining restaurants including Founding Farmers, a farm-to-table eatery in D.C. Suffice it to say, food is her world. And two years ago, after she and her husband visited Chattanooga as tourists, they moved back as residents.

“We were just taken with the city,” she says.

Lucky for local pie lovers. In 2016, she made her debut at Chattanooga Market as Mama Crunk’s Pies, a name that hearkens back to her days in college.

“I got the nickname ‘Crunk’ in college from a bandmate in my first band,” Nguyen tells. “It was shortened from ‘Crunkstine.’ If you look up Crunk in an urban dictionary, it basically means someone who enjoys the life of the party.”

The name stuck and, after giving birth to a daughter, she added Mama to the name, “since I am also now a motherly figure who loves to cook for…

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