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Wylie Dufresne: 'Young Chefs, Take Your Time'

Wylie Dufresne: 'Young Chefs, Take Your Time'

A chat with chef Wylie Dufresne, one of the Seven Sages at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016, about his past (and future) career as a chef.

By FDL on

Wyle Dufresne is the master of Amercian modernist cuisine and the smiley chef that made his mark on the US dining scene with his wd-50 restaurant in New York, before his Alder restaurant came along.

These days he’s one of New York’s hottest free agents, with a new food venture in the pipline that will no doubt have people queuing round the block.

The American chef mentored the USA finalist Vinson Petrillo at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015; this year he steps up to the mark as one of the "Seven Sages" that will select the ultimate winner in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 competition.

We spoke to him ahead of the grand final in Milan on 13–15 October about the importance of patience as a young chef and how he misses the long hours.

What advice would you offer to the young chefs of today?
Take your time. Being a chef is a long road – it’s a great, wonderful road, but you should take your time and enjoy the process.

What’s the best advice anyone has ever given to you?
Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s advice was always, “Keep it simple.” So many cooks are inclined to think, “What can I add to the dish to make it better?” Jean-Georges taught me to take things away, instead. When you serve only a few components on a plate, each one of them has to be strong – there’s nowhere to hide.

Tell us about a time when you remember making a mistake as a young chef: what happened, where were you working and what did you learn?
When I was working at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s JoJo in the mid-1990s, the chef de cuisine sent me to get a venison loin from the walk-in during the middle of dinner service. He asked me to trim it, and I didn’t have the courage to tell him that I didn’t know how to do it. I hacked away at it, and the chef looked over and saw that I had destroyed the loin, then one of the servers started laughing. I was so embarrassed. I should have been honest and asked him to show me how to trim it. You should never be afraid to ask how something should be done.

What advice would you offer to the young chefs of today?
Take your time. Being a chef is a long road – it’s a great, wonderful road, but you should take your time and enjoy the process.

What do you miss most about being a young chef?
I miss the craziness – the long hours, the nervousness, the excitement of dinner service, all of it!

What’s exciting you most about contemporary cuisine in the US?
There was a time when the best food in America was primarily concentrated in big cities, but now great chefs are opening restaurants all over the country, in unexpected places.

You have famously helped to train many successful young chefs – what’s a common problem you see amongst all young chefs?
They should read more! There’s more information available to chefs than ever before – and more cookbooks than they could read in a lifetime.

Everyone is waiting to hear what you will do next – are there any plans on the horizon that you can share with us? What are you dreaming about doing?
Yes – I’m opening a doughnut shop in the new William–Vale hotel in Williamsburg later this year.

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