Slices of Science

By on July 19, 2017

Orion Bellorado

(Photo: Laura Dotson)

JACKSON HOLE, WY- If you’ve spent a Saturday morning strolling through the Farmer’s Market on Town Square, you’ve seen Orion Bellorado’s pies at the Roots Kitchen and Cannery stall. Well, if you were there early enough, that is. The golden-baked pastries, brimming with apples, berries, peaches or pumpkin, usually sell out within a few hours, and it’s no mystery why. Bellorado, who also happens to be a high school math teacher and partner of Roots Kitchen and Cannery with Ian McGregor, Willi Brooks and Patrick Burr, is a pie-making master.

He’s been crafting pies locally for more than 10 years, a journey that began in his mom’s kitchen. At the age of 13, he discovered a recipe in one of her cookbooks, “Foolproof Pie Crust.” He gave it a shot, and was soon confident enough in his desserts that he was entering them into the Teton County Fair.

Since then, his pies and quiches have been flying out of the Roots Kitchen and Cannery stall at the Farmer’s Market. As the summer begins, he loves baking with the season’s best and brightest berries, and as the season wears on, peaches and apricots come into their own. When the weather grows cooler, Bellorado bakes with countless varieties of apples and pumpkins.

But it’s not only the final product that excites Bellorado. He loves every step that goes into his work and is passionate about using local and regional products whenever possible. Relying on foods that are sourced close to home comes with a wide array of benefits, but as far as Bellorado is concerned, the highlight is the dynamic nature of seasonal food.

“The constant cycles and changes in flavor are a good thing,” he said. Sure, this week’s peaches might be sweeter than last week’s, but he’s quick to note that’s not a challenge—it’s an opportunity to try something new. “If you eat seasonally, it forces you to change your perspective on what you’re eating, and to try new things, and to experiment, which is fun. And it’s delicious.”

And Bellorado is always trying new things. “Pie is something so beloved, how do you differentiate it? How do you elevate it and make it truly great?” he asked. Fresh, seasonal ingredients aside, Bellorado also experiments with unexpected textures and flavors. Last summer, he crafted a masterpiece: a crust baked with bacon fat, filled with apple and cheddar, topped with a crispy bacon lattice. But don’t be overwhelmed by this ambitious feat. Bellorado says it’s not necessary to go that far. Start simpler in your own kitchen; tinker with spices and flours and fillings. It doesn’t need to be beautiful to be delicious.

“Looks aren’t that important,” he said. Even if your pie comes out looking less than Instagram-worthy, it will probably taste great. So don’t be afraid to experiment.

As a math teacher during the school year, Bellorado can’t help but see the myriad ways in which cooking, science and math intertwine. The chemistry of crusts and the tiny shifts in ingredient balance that lead to pie perfection aren’t haphazard. They’re careful measurement, observation, and repetition. And for this local baker, that’s added up to a recipe for success.

PJH: What’s your favorite season for pie?

Bellorado: The thing that I like best is that there are seasons for pie! I love that right now is the fresh berry harvest, and that berries are super exceptional now. And I love that there are so many apple and pumpkin varieties that happen in the fall. That’s the whole point of seasonal foods—you get excited about different seasons.

PJH: Why is pie appropriate for all occasions?

Bellorado: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it hits the sweet-salty button, so it doesn’t have to be paired with anything. Pies just engender great memories for people. Food bonds with memory, and we can all remember great pie. There’s something really universal that everyone can bond over together. I mean, you can have a slice of cake on your own, but you have to share a pie!

PJH: What are your thoughts on gender stereotypes in cooking/baking?

Bellorado: Well, I think there’s a lot going on there, and I’m sure people have done some interesting studies on it. It’s obvious that the lineup of head chefs is pretty dominated by men. But from a skill set perspective, women are equally – if not more – equipped to do the same job. Socially, there’s a stigma to some degree that ladies are in the kitchen in the home, and the stigma of men in professional cooking roles. Once you make it a profession, it’s something that men seem to try and dominate. Of course, that doesn’t make any sense at all.

PJH: How are science and baking connected?

Bellorado: Cooking is a science! You rarely get anything perfect the first time. Regardless of how it turns out the first time, it’ll be better if you repeat the process. You tweak things, you change things. Science is all about observing, changing something, and then observing again and seeing the cause and effect. That’s the cornerstone of science. Cooking is a wonderful manifestation of science. It’s the best experiment ever! 

PJH: The kitchen tool you can’t live without?

Bellorado: We use an immersion blender constantly in our kitchen. It’s a really awesome piece. You can emulsify fats into sauce really nicely; they’re useful at different temperatures, you can do marinades or salad dressings immediately.

Lightning round

PJH: Breakfast—sweet or savory?

Bellorado: Savory

PJH: Best topping for toast?

Bellorado: My jam

PJH: Blueberries or huckleberries?

Bellorado: Ooh… that’s a tough one. Huckleberries.

PJH: Jenny Lake Lager or Snake River Pale Ale?

Bellorado: Pale ale

PJH: Chocolate or vanilla?

Bellorado: Chocolate. Wait. No. Can I change it to vanilla? Pairs better with more things.

PJH: Best food show?

Bellorado: Cooked by Michael Pollan is amazing.

About Melissa Thomasma

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