Dave Arnold would like to fix you a gin and tonic. Sound good? It will be. It will be very, very good. It will be like no gin and tonic you have ever seen or tasted in your life. It will also be considerably more involved, shall we say, than cracking open the Tanqueray and Schweppes.
First, Arnold believes, he must clarify the lime juice. Why? Because his uncompromising conception of culinary perfection requires that gin and tonics be completely, crystalline clear, that’s why. And so, from a closet in the back of a teaching kitchen at the French Culinary Institute in New York City, behind a door labeled Caution: Nitrous Oxide in Use, Arnold wheels out a cart piled high with laboratory equipment—a rotary evaporator (rotovap) that he salvaged from Eli Lilly on eBay, cheap, and that he has jerry-rigged for just this sort of thing. At his side, FCI chef and V.P. Nils Noren supports a somewhat wobbly condenser as Arnold pours a liter of freshly squeezed lime juice, pale green and cloudy with pulp, into a teardrop-shaped Pyrex vessel. Because heat would destroy the flavors and aromas of the elixir, Arnold brings the vessel just above room temperature by partially submerging it in a bath of precisely regulated warm water. He then connects it to a vacuum so that the juice will vaporize at low temperatures.
Arnold flips the switch. The machine gurgles and hums, the vessel spins merrily, the lime vapor drifts up into the condenser, and an absolutely clear liquid begins dripping into a beaker. The result smells like lime, but it’s lost much of its punchy flavor in distillation. So Arnold works to bring his clarified juice back into balance. From a series of plastic bottles, he adds 4.5 percent powdered citric acid, 1.5 percent malic acid and 0.1 percent succenic acid to the solution, places the beaker atop an electromagnetic stirrer, drops in a little Teflon-coated magnetic bar, and flips the switch. Instantly, the bar begins spinning, whipping up the liquid and dissolving the powders. Voilà! Clearlime, Arnold calls it. A touch of quinine powder and some simple syrup (2:1 sugar and water), some water, and, after a couple hours of labor, he’s halfway there.