The Last Word: Wylie Dufresne

“We as chefs really don’t know what we’re doing,” confessed Wylie Dufresne on stage during the 2012 World Perfumery Congress (wpc.perfumerfl

In the culinary world, he explained, so little is known about why things are done the way they are or how it is that techniques work the way they do. Dufresne, whose unoffi cial motto is, “Whoever dies with the most information wins,” gained fame and a Michelin star as the chef and owner of wd~50 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a playful, inventive space where he and his staff whip up cutting-edge dishes such as mackerel nigiri with salsify, seaweed and sesame; lobster roe with charred lemon, green grape and coriander-brown butter; or amaro yolk with chicken confi t and peas and carrots. Each dish plays off of notions of tradition and novelty—a result, Dufresne said, of a focus on informed innovation.

During his presentation, Dufresne was asked about the tension between bringing newness to customers while reconciling with diners’ affection for the familiar. “The starting point has to be delicious,” the chef declared. “If we hit ‘delicious’ on the head, we can ask a little bit more from our diners.” Using a trope familiar to fl avorists and perfumers alike, Dufresne noted that his creations typically work on a theme of delivering new things in familiar forms or vice versa.

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