WHAT IS IT: Pie Night at Dominique Ansel Kitchen in New York City
WHO TRIED IT: Mark Marino, PEOPLE.com homepage and content director, @mamarino
WHY WE DID IT: Unlimited slices of pie for 35 bucks? Uh, yes please!
I’ve always wanted to enter a pie-eating contest.
They just seem like so much fun on TV shows and in cartoons and movies, where competitors bury their heads in pie plates, sloppily gobbling berries till they’re ready to burst. I’ve spent my whole life envying them and wishing that one day I’d be found face-down in the Mississippi mud.
So you can imagine my joy when I was invited to attend famed chef Dominique Ansel‘s first-ever Pie Night, which as it turns out, was not an actual pie-eating contest — though nobody told my stomach that. No, Pie Night was a ticketed event held at New York City’s Dominique Ansel Kitchen, where, for $35, guests could eat as much and as many of Ansel’s sweet and savory creations as they wanted.
And all-you-can-eat, I did, devouring one slice from each of the nine pies served that evening: salted caramel apple pie; blueberry pie with buttermilk oat crumble; flambéed banana cream pie; bourbon pecan pie; 66% dark chocolate cream pie; whiskey-kissed sweet potato pie with torched marshmallow; lemon cream pie with thyme and brown sugar meringue; dark meat chicken and fall vegetable pot pie; and roasted heirloom tomato tart.
And did I mention that I also had three scoops of ice cream? (They were offering and I didn’t want to be rude!)
The genius idea for Pie Night came about after Ansel took his staff on an apple-picking excursion in New Jersey. The fruits of their labor were transformed into salted caramel apple pies, which were ultimately served at the event. “I’m an apple lover, so this is one of my favorites,” he tells PEOPLE of that particular pie.
It was my favorite too — as were the eight others that made their way into my belly.
The Cronut King is known for putting his own unique spin on traditional desserts and he applied that same logic to his pies, nesting sweet-tart blueberries in a crumbly sablé shell instead of a flaky crust, adding a splash of Champagne to the cream that adorned a silky chocolate ganache and giving extra depth to a rich chicken pot pie with the addition of pork belly.
“They all have a little something special, whether it’s the crust or the filling,” he says of the pies. “We used pretty classic flavors but prepared them in a different way to make them tastier.”
The French chef wasn’t always a master baker. The very first pie he made — apple, naturally — when he was 12 or 13 seemed amazing at the time, but Ansel admits, “if I look back now, I would be like, it was just OK.”
So what’s his secret to making a great pie? Simplicity, he says. Though pie baking may seem complicated to the average home cook, Ansel insists it’s really a piece of cake.
“When it comes to pie, it’s all about flavor, it’s about taste,” he says. “You don’t have to make something amazingly beautiful. You just have to make something tasty.”
If you live in the New York City area, you can try several of Ansel’s Pie Night delicacies for yourself now through Oct. 18. Pies can be purchased online and are available for in-store pickup only.
STARS IN THEIR PIES
As a pastry chef, Ansel is always experimenting with different flavors. So we asked him to tell us which secret ingredient he would use if baking pies inspired by the following celebrities:
-Kim Kardashian: Ansel would choose “something fun” like an exotic chocolate for the reality star
-President Obama: all-American peanut butter
-Taylor Swift: chili pepper — perhaps a nod to her fiery Bad Blood video?