Chef Wylie Dufresne Likes to Play With His Food

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."

Related Articles

Why Japan's hikikomori isolate themselves from others for years

These modern-day hermits can sometimes spend decades without ever leaving their apartments.

700,000 Japanese people are thought to be hikikomori, modern-day hermits who never leave their apartments (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images).
Mind & Brain
  • A hikikomori is a type of person in Japan who locks themselves away in their bedrooms, sometimes for years.
  • This is a relatively new phenomenon in Japan, likely due to rigid social customs and high expectations for academic and business success.
  • Many believe hikikomori to be a result of how Japan interprets and handles mental health issues.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less