Chef Wylie Dufresne believes in playing with his food—but not in the usual sense of the phrase. In his popular New York restaurant, wd-50, Dufresne applies molecular gastronomy, a field of science that studies the chemistry behind cooking, to create new and unfamiliar dishes.
In his Big Think interview, Dufresne explains the oft-misunderstood field of molecular gastronomy. It isn’t just experimentation for experimentation’s sake, he says: knowing about food chemistry will make anybody a better cook. “Knowing mechanically how to poach an egg, but not what’s happening to it while it’s poaching is almost an empty knowledge. It’s not as useful as knowing that the egg white proteins are coagulating at this temperature and the yolks are coagulating at that temperature, and so I can control this or that.”
Dufresne also says that thanks to this scientific inquiry, we’ve learned more about cooking in the last 15 years than we have in the 15,000 years prior to that, including debunking a popular myth about steaks: “One of the famous misconceptions for years has been that searing a piece of steak, for instance, seals in the juices; that’s how you keep your steak moist, by searing it on the outside, trapping the juices inside. That was proven to be a fallacy by molecular gastronomy because in fact, anytime you get something super hot, you actually begin to draw the moisture out of it rather than seal it in.”
He also weighs in on the great foam debate in cooking, saying that foam has gotten a bad rap. “Engaging something in a new way, whether it be vinegar or butter or a flavor, but carrying it in a new form, is often very exciting to me.” He also tells us that the “farm to table” movement is “like smoke and mirrors for the diner.” All good restaurants should be using good ingredients without needing to scream that fact from the top of a soap box.
Finally, Dufresne tells us that Scandinavia is the next big culinary hot spot. “They’re introducing us, the culinary world, to a whole new group of ingredients that we are unfamiliar with. They’re exposing us to a an approach, to a style of cooking, that has been around for a long time, but we’re seeing it come back into vogue.”