Interview with Chef Wylie Dufresne

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By: Print staff | April 14, 2011

The son of a designer and restaurateur, Chef Wyle Dufresne is known as one of the more creative and successful culinary artists working today—you might recognize him as one of the frequent guests on Top Chef. Dufresne often employs the techniques of molecular gastronomy to create food that is a rare combination of delicious and delightful to the eyes. We met with Dufresne at his Lower East Side restaurant, wd-50, to discuss his approach to the design of food.

Q: Which parent was the designer? A: Mom was a full-time designer, and I learned a lot from her. But, honestly, also the people I’ve worked for and with over the years, including chefs Alex Stupak and Sam Mason.

Q: What is your philosophy when designing a plate?

A: I like geometry. I like big bold shapes, cubes, and spheres, and cylinders. There’s something really appealing to me about using them to create a dish. I like to combine them with more organic and natural elements as well. To me an appealing plate should have combination of order and disorder.

One of the things I most get a kick out of is creating familiar dishes in an unfamiliar way and also unfamiliar dishes in a familiar way. [Here he takes us through the restaurant’s image gallery on its website that includes great pictures of “eggs benedict” that look more like sci fi versions of Stonehenge as well as a bagel and lox creation that consists of spun salmon threads and crispy cream-cheese wafers.]

We take our work very seriously, but ultimately, we like to play with food. We make lots of mistakes but they’re usually pretty fun. In fact, sometimes the worst mistakes taste the best.

Q: Did you think about the concept of design when you started to think of the restaurant you wanted to create and the food you wanted to prepare?A: We wanted to make sure that our food and our space reflect the environment we live in. So, this being New York and a major melting pot in general, I wanted to use lots of different influences—for the food, of course, but also for the furniture, the décor, the art, everything. And it all plays a key role in the overall experience at the restaurant. In fact, if you look around the restaurant, you can see repurposed wood that was used from the original floor. And again, bold geometric patterns on the benches, strong colors on each wall. Lots of contrasting and complementary shapes. Q: How much of the eating experience would you say is visual?A: I’d say a large portion of it is visual. People decide within seconds if they’re going to like what you put in front of them. If something looks good, you’re already on your way to winning the guest over. If it doesn’t, then you have to convince them of something they’re already not quite sure of. That’s not easy to do.

Q: What’s the most important thing to remember before you plate a meal?A: Tastes good. Smells good. Looks good. In that order.

Q: What is it with you and eggs?

A: I love eggs and I think being able to cook with eggs, in a broad sense, goes a long way to someone’s skill as a chef. I think it’s a real badge of honor to be able to cook eggs properly. Not everyone can do it.Q: So where’s the best place to get eggs in the city?A: My wife and I know a place but I’m not telling.

Q: If we weren’t in the magazine trade we think we would have become chefs. Want to trade one day? A: Sure! My wife is an editor so I might have a leg up on you.