Has science gone too far? This year’s Thanksgiving treat, a transparent pumpkin pie, serves up a resounding “yes.”
Alinea, the Chicago-based brainchild of “molecular gastronomer” Grant Achatz, is famous for its unusual take on dining. The restaurant has one seasonally-based tasting menu of 18-22 courses, and the “experience” can take up to four hours. Reservations to Alinea are extremely difficult to book, as it’s one of only twelve restaurants in America to attain the coveted three Michelin stars.
And a recent social media post has sent the restaurant’s fame skyrocket. On October 21st, Achatz posted what looked like a slice of clear jello with the caption “Clear pumpkin pie by @simon.a.davies #holidays #pumpkinpie.” On closer inspection, the pie has a perfectly non-see-through (if thin) crust and a traditional dollop of whipped cream on the top.
Six days later, @simon.a.davies himself posted another picture, where the translucency of the pie is even (pardon the pun) clearer. According to Davies, the pie is a “distillation of pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, and clove,” essentially a very fancy pumpkin jello. Davies assures skeptics that “texture is very important to us,” and that the pie “melts away.” Much of the texture comes from the pâte brisée (or buttery shortcut pastry) of the crust.
The main star behind the dish is a rotary evaporator machine, a device used in chemical labs for distilling substances. It uses pressure to boil liquid away at low temperatures, creating a concentrated “clear distillate.” As executive chef Mike Bagale explains, they begin by making a pumpkin pie filling, blending it with water, and then they pour it into the evaporator.
“We put the pumpkin pie stock under a vacuum, and that stock boils at room temperature,” Bagale told Vogue Magazine. “Because it’s boiling, it’s evaporating, and that evaporation hits the rotary evaporator’s chilled coils and drips into a collection flask. We take that collection flask and we season it with a little bit of salt and sugar, and then set it with gelatin. So, it’s basically pure aroma.”
The pie isn’t the only nostalgic item on the menu this fall. It’s served with “a smoldering birch log that functions as a pedestal for locally foraged sassafras sticks skewered with a caramelized birch marshmallow encasing molten ganache.” Or, for those of us without a three-Michelin-star vocabulary, s’mores.
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