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Wylie Dufresne, gastronomy’s punk rocker

René Redzepi of Noma was driven to succeed by his fearless attitude to food – and their shared desire to surprise people

Lucy Farmer | september/october 2014

René Redzepi, 36, is the head chef and co-owner of Noma in Copenhagen, which this year won the world’s best restaurant award for the fourth time. Wylie Dufresne, 44, is probably America’s best-known proponent of molecular gastronomy; he is the head chef and owner of wd~50 and Adler in New York

The first thing I ate at wd~50 was the bread. This is the safest point in a menu—everybody likes a slice of warm bread with cold butter. But Wylie’s bread was actually a sort of cracker, deluxe and wafer-thin with an insane “crack”. This seems like a small gesture, but it was a move that said: “If you can’t be comfortable with this, then you won’t be comfortable with anything here.”

Wylie is a modernist, completely challenging everything that you think is correct about food. In the early 2000s, he was one of the first chefs to publish pictures of his food on his website, long before Twitter and Instagram. I followed his website every week, blown away by his way of thinking. He seemed to me the personification of New York—wild, showy, searching for new things, never standing still. To me, he was like punk music: “Who is this wild guy shouting into a microphone?” It is difficult to challenge the status quo. You need a big set of balls, and to be clever too. To work methodically and have a plan. You are bound to attract criticism, but he was unafraid.

Noma and wd~50 opened in the same year [in 2003]. At Noma, we had a seed, a base idea, but we didn’t know how to develop it and I felt totally inadequate. Wylie was so clear in his vision, though, he motivated me to study more and work harder, to become more adventurous and open to new ideas. Our food is very different, but we share a determination, hope and aspiration to make people happy, excite them and surprise them.

wd~50 was a situation, a place, a spirit. When it opened 11 years ago, the Lower East Side was a dump. Now it is up and coming. Unfortunately the restaurant will close in November because a developer is building condos on the site, but Wylie will move on. Meantime, he should be celebrated as a hero.

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