The Chef on His Upcoming Book, Generation Next, Flirting with the Mainstream, and Formal Education in the Kitchen
Photographs by Evan Sung
We’re delighted to share Part 2 of our extensive interview with Wylie Dufresne, conducted shortly after WD-50’s closing last month. If you missed Part 1, you might want to read that before continuing below…
On Finding Your Own
Friedman: We’ve mentioned a couple of chef communities that have sprung up over the years ‑‑ nouvelle cuisine and California cuisine and New American Cuisine–and you have mentioned your contemporaries. As these movements have happened over the years, the people who fall within each group always seem find each other from coast to coast, and now internationally. Do you remember as you were becoming more known, how you first started to connect with these people and feeling like you were part of this group? Do you have a memory of that coalescing?
Dufresne: I think it probably to a certain extent started around … you know, the aughts were a time when this food conference notion blew up. I was early on the Spain train, and stayed on it for a really long time. When I was at 71 [Clinton Fresh Food] I went on a trip. They may still do it today, I don’t know, but back then ‑‑ we’re talking somewhere around 2000, ’99 — the Spanish government was trying to promote Spain as a culinary destination, like a lot of governments still do today, not including ours, of course; they get behind their chefs and put a lot of money into them in an effort to generate tourist dollars.
Friedman: There’s also often a national pride in that culinary tradition.
Dufresne: Correct. Which is sorely lacking in our country, probably due to size, it’d be almost impossible… And so I went on a trip. I’m not even sure how I got invited, but it was awesome… It was Paul Kahan, it was Michael Schlow, it was Gabrielle Hamilton, it was Susan Goin. I knew who all of them were. I was a fan of them all, kind of surprised that I was included in the list because I felt like I was a rung or two below them, easily, on the ladder, [and I] admired them.
And we went on this trip and we went all over Spain: El Bulli, San Sebastian, Arzak, the Navarra region. I unfortunately had to cut my part of the trip short because I was in a wedding so I missed the part in San Sebastian where they took the group to the gastronomic societies, which I would have loved to have gone to.
But going to Arzak, going to El Bulli at that point was like, whoa! I, at 71, had begun to sort of develop my own style and my own approach, and went there and saw how these people were thinking freely. And it was incredibly liberating. Before that I had my parents who always encouraged me to be a free thinker, and I had JG [Jean-Georges Vongerichten] who was very much, I think, a creative chef. But here were people that were encouraging taking the model, the existing sort-of dining formats, and destroying them. It was really eye opening.
And so I got excited about Spain and started going back to Spain every year for something like twelve years……