Chef Uses Molecular Gastronomy to ‘Incredibly’ Bake a ‘Clear’ Pumpkin Pie?
An October 17 2019 post on the site CanYouActually.com, “Chef Uses Molecular Gastronomy To Incredibly Bake A Clear Pumpkin Pie,” racked up tens of thousands of shares across social media platforms:
There’s nothing more traditional than pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. Unless your chef Simon Davies of Chicago’s 3-star Michelin restaurant Alinea!
Davies transformed the classic pumpkin pie into something that looks straight out of the future, unlike anything you’ve probably ever seen before.
So how did he make it clear you ask? Davies used a rotary evaporator machine, something that very popular in molecular gastronomy cooking. What that device does is creates a liquid distillate of the flavor you’re looking for.
Customers that have had this dish at Alinea say it tastes just like the real thing. Check it out below!
What followed was a gallery of Instagram posts and other images, depicting what looked to be a completely clear slice of pumpkin pie. Judging by its unfettered share count, the post had little competition about the supposedly novel piece of information. But CanYouActually.com didn’t seem to be a very well-established source for information.
As it turned out, the claims were largely scraped and recycled from a series of food news articles two years earlier. Somehow, the post accrued massive engagement without tripping Facebook’s content quality filters for largely reproduced or misleading blog posts.
Back in October 2017, Vogue reported on a then-new menu item at “Alinea, Chicago’s radical and pioneering temple of progressive cuisine.” Unlike the above-quoted post, Vogue‘s original reporting explained that the dessert only “tastes … like” actual pumpkin pie and described how the clear tart is made:
Alinea’s fall tasting menu includes a magically translucent slice of pumpkin pie that tastes exactly like the real thing.
Executive chef Mike Bagale and chef de cuisine Simon Davies are behind Alinea’s newest dessert course, made from a distillation of pumpkin pie set in gelatin that’s then poured into a traditional pie crust … To make their translucent pumpkin pie, Bagale creates a heavily spiced traditional pumpkin pie filling, blends it with water, and then pours that liquid into a rotary evaporator, a device that distills liquids. He explains his process:
“We put the pumpkin pie stock under a vacuum, and that stock boils at room temperature. 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. You get a condensation water that blows off the stock, and once you season it you have something that’s really really special.”
Vogue also included a recipe for adventurous bakers who happened to have a rotary evaporator on hand. In early November 2017, Slate.com reported that Alinea’s “clear pumpkin pie” was available for a limited time:
The tiny slice of pie is currently on the menu at Alinea and will stay there for as long as pumpkin is in season. Though it may be far from traditional, mini clear pumpkin pie is a break from convention I’d love to try.
Cooking site TheKitchn.com reiterated that the item was on Alinea’s menu for fall 2017. And Davies noted if Alinea’s “clear pumpkin pie” was “over-gelled” it would not be worth serving. While the dish was on the menu, the photographer/author of The Alinea Project insisted the texture was eerily similar to that of pumpkin pie, purposely, to amplify the flavor-tripping experience:
Allen Hemberger, a photographer and author of “The Alinea Project,” told ABC News that aside from the “drastic visual difference” from traditional pumpkin pie, this treat still tastes like the orange-hued holiday favorite.
“[Its] texture is completely indistinguishable from the pumpkin pie most of us grew up with,” Hemberger said. “This is by design. If it tasted drastically different, the dish would just be weird for the sake of weird.”
An October 2019 article titled “Chef Uses Molecular Gastronomy To Incredibly Bake A Clear Pumpkin Pie” circulated on Facebook, containing real images and some accurate details about a two-year-old flash-in-the-pan viral news story. When Alinea added an homage to pumpkin pie to its fall 2017 tasting menus, images of it wallpapered food blogs. Retreads of the story give the inaccurate impression the news was current, and occasionally implied home bakers could replicate the recipe without an expensive “rotary adaptor.” The dish was once real, but we found no mention of its appearance at Alinea or elsewhere after November 2017. Sharing scraper blog content is not necessarily harmful, but it does often cause inaccuracies to proliferate as well as driving traffic away from the original sources where actual reporting on the story was done.
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