Fireman Derek claims to have the world’s best pies, and after one bite you might agree with him.
Derek Kaplan is a real firefighter (a cartoon of himself is the logo for Fireman Derek’s Pies) who works two 24-hour shifts weekly at Firehouse 1 in downtown Miami. Kaplan is the designated firehouse cook, making breakfast, lunch and dinner for 21 firefighters.
He bakes on his days off, specializing in pies, cheesecake, red velvet cake, brownies, flan and quiche sold in a small space in Wynwood that resembles a firehouse with brick walls and corrugated tin ceiling. His business partner, Kim Murdock, does the administrative work; her late husband, a fellow firefighter and friend of Kaplan’s, is honored in a painting on one wall.
Kaplan grew up in Miami and started cooking when he moved out of his mother’s house at 16 to live with his dad, who did not cook. He played football at Grambling State University in Louisiana but dropped out to attend the Fire Academy in Miami. He is a self-taught baker and developed his own techniques over the years, finding the process therapeutic, balancing the stress of his job.
He started off peddling his pies door-to-door at various restaurants, then had a food truck that plied the streets from midtown Miami to downtown Hollywood, until opening several months ago in what had been a Jamaican eatery.
There is no printed menu, so check the blackboard to see what is available by the slice. There could be pecan, coconut custard cream, banana chocolate cream thick as fudge, chocolate peanut butter and tart-sweet Key lime pies with Graham cracker and butter crusts.
Some days there’s Krack, an addictive salted caramel pie with an oatmeal cookie crust and S’more pie filled with chocolate ganache topped in mini-torched marshmallows. Cheesecake flavors include Amaretto, Nutella, caramel-brownie, guava and Oreo with crushed Oreo crust topped in white chocolate.
On the savory side, there are quiche such as spinach and feta; Mediterranean (bacon, chicken, sun-dried tomato and goat cheese); BBQ pork with caramelized onions, guava and barbecue sauce; loaded baked potato; mac and cheese; and Lorraine (ham and cheese). The potpie dough is enriched with butter, egg yolks and whiskey, making the crust tender and flaky — get the vegetarian with carrots, peas, celery, shallots, thyme and rosemary or chicken with vegetables.
He might battle blazes at his other job, but here the fireman plays with the heat of his industrial ovens.
Linda Bladholm is a Miami-based food writer.