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In the kitchen with Chef Wylie Dufresne

Chef Wylie Dufresne (Talia Herman)

Chef Wylie Dufresne (Talia Herman) Credit: Chef Wylie Dufresne (Talia Herman)

Food is fun at Wylie Dufresne’s wd~50.

Though widely known for his whimsical “molecular gastronomy” dishes, chef Dufresne dislikes the scientific term.

“First, it doesn’t sound delicious. Second, not that many people know what it is. And third, it’s a field of scientific study — and I’m not a scientist,” Dufresne quipped.

We shadowed the chef and his team around the restaurant kitchen last Thursday and watched as they prepped for dinner service. By 5 p.m., we were completely beat — and they were just getting started.

The restaurant
At the Michelin-starred wd~50, familiar foods are deconstructed and reinterpreted. The tasting menu features a poached egg in an edible shell. The eggs Benedict is served with deep-fried hollandaise. “Everyone’s expected to be creative,” said the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, Jon Bignelli.

The scene in the kitchen
We watched a fish cook butcher a monkfish, a meat cook layer super-thin lamb shanks with an edible glue, and a chef at the garde manger station mold the edible eggs around balloons.The mood is light — music is usually blasting and jokes are made.

A (very) full day
The day we shadowed him, chef-owner Dufresne had a babysitter emergency that meant he got to the restaurant at 1 p.m. He usually arrives between 11 a.m. and noon and calls it quits around 10:30 p.m.

The problem solver
On this day, the Internet was down and the sea bass that came in were too small. “That’s what happens when your menu is contigent on things that are seasonal, growing and living,” Dufresne said. The staff takes it in stride — and with a sense of humor.

Taste tester ...
Dufresne tastes new dishes throughout the day. In this instance, he worked with Bignelli on perfecting the flavor profile and look of the week’s amuse-bouche — a cauliflower soup with mackerel.

... And toy tester
Dufresne and his head of research and development, John MacCarthy, were treated to a tutorial on a new chamber vacuum machine from Spain, which they’re considering purchasing for sous-vide preparations. The restaurant recently acquired a centrifuge, which they’re having fun playing with.

Champion e-mailer
Dufresne is always fielding calls and e-mails, so his BlackBerry is ever-present. We watched him handle email inquiries from reporters (this day’s was a Vogue writer) and requests for reservations from regular customers.

Dufresne has a stack of notebooks with long-term menu ideas, which he compares to songs and stories that don’t yet have endings. Here, he’s looking into deconstructing tofu and remaking it with a protein other than soybean.

Line cook
Dufresne doesn’t just oversee the kitchen during dinner service, he stands next to the fish cook, working on hot appetizers and helps her with garnishes.

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