If, for Christmas, you were planning to have a meal at Manhattan’s wd~50cooked by chef Wylie Dufresne, don’t expect a special “festive” menu: Christmas-food is not Wylie’s thing at all, even if he’s a real fan of the holidays and the cold winter season: “I love the whole thing”, he says.
Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1970, Wylie Dufresne is one of the most creative and passionate young chefs in New York, delighting his lucky customers with his creativity and irony. At wd~50, Dufresne presents an elaborate cuisine, dishes that undergo a natural, but never-ending evolution. His signature, original creations include shrimp pasta served with paprika yogurt and nori seaweed, or the langoustine, endive, popcorn and hibiscus.
And who would ever believe that this boundary-pushing chef was such a picky eater as a child? His passion for food was ignited as a young man, when, one summer, his father gave him a job at a friend’s restaurant while he was in college, working at the pizza station. “I don’t think I was particularly efficient, but it’s when I got the cooking bug. There was a moment when I realized that this is what I wanted to do,” admit Dusfresne. “I had athletic ambitions, and somehow working in a kitchen satisfied my need to be physically and creatively involved in whatever work I decided to devote myself to.”
And twenty years later, in 2003, Dusfresne received his first Michelin star. Inspired by many great chefs like France’s Pierre Gagnaire, Spain’s Quique Dacosta, Ferran Adrià and the Roca Brothers, the UK’s Heston Blumenthal and the world’s current No.1-rated chef René Redzepi, Dufresne is rigorously disciplined in his kitchen, especially when it comes to inventing a new dish. For instance, today he has been restlessly trying to create a dumpling recipe all day – and he hasn’t yet achieved a result he’s satisfied with: “The dish does have to be functional, but most importantly there has to be a balance of taste and techniques,” he explains.
In his opinion, “thanks to the internet, the world is getting smaller, so it takes a few minutes to learn everything. Cooks have become more educated, and the average eater is certainly more exposed to greater cooking techniques.” That’s why the American restaurant scene has become so much more sophisticated, says Wylie.
"Americans don’t have an indigenous cuisine to brag about,” he says. “Ours is an international cuisine made of a culinary melting pot, where food and ideas are borrowed from everywhere, like Japanese ingredients and Mexican spices mixed with Indian dishes.” But, as Dufresne states: “This big modern movement of ‘terroir’, which emphasizes the importance of sourcing local ingredients is benefiting and helping the US food industry to move forward.”
What about Dufresne free time? During the few hours a week that Wylie spends at home, he takes a break and fully embraces his wife’s culinary skills. “My wife is a great cook, she keeps cold pasta for me in the fridge when I come home late at night”, but at least one night a week the two of them go out to eat, “so as to stay updated with the New York restaurant scene.” He spends time watching his two-year old daughter and he also enjoys walking in his favourite Manhattan neighbourhoods, rediscovering the city each time. “I also like to exercise and be mildly active, so that I’m not the fattest dad in the playground!” he laughs.
His commitment to stay in shape will soon come in handy, as his Christmas lunch at home will be too good to resist: “I hope I will relax and watch my wife and mother-in-law make a generous traditional American Christmas dinner: a big turkey with cranberry sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, gravy and maybe a pie or two.”
And here’s a little secret: while at wd~50, customers won’t find traditional holiday fare on the menu, there will be a special dinner served on the 24th – only to the staff. For this special occasion, everyone has their hand in the pot when it comes to making an unforgettable meal. “We all sit down together to eat and even get served a glass of wine before service,” admits Dufresne. A service that’s guaranteed to leave any customer happy...Even without the cranberry sauce.