Wylie Dufresne Talks Chemistry and Creativity
by AMNH on
Molecular gastronomy is a branch of food science that explores how chemical processes transform ingredients. Chefs like Wylie Dufresne apply this research from the lab to the kitchen, creating dishes that are both inspired and informed. At this month’s Adventures in the Global Kitchen event, The Magical Meal with Wylie Dufresne, Dufresnse will discuss how to alter the texture, viscosity, and appearance of food with the Museum’s Provost of Science, Michael Novacek. Below, Dufresne answers a few questions about his cooking inspiration.
How do science and scientists shape your food?
Wylie Dufresne: Cooking is a lot of chemistry. Understanding what’s happening to an egg while it poaches or a steak while it grills allows the cook to make an informed and ultimately better decision on how he or she would like to prepare a meal. If you know what the variables are, you can control them and use them to your advantage. Without the help of scientists in molecular gastronomy, we’d be working with blinders.
Some people describe your style of cooking as “molecular gastronomy.” Is this accurate?
Dufresne: I don’t like the term molecular gastronomy to describe food because it doesn’t sound tasty. But it’s also incorrect because molecular gastronomy is a field of scientific study in the same way that macrobiology is a field of scientific study. The molecular gastronomist is trying to understand what makes a soufflé rise, and that information is passed on to the cook so she can understand how to avoid problems when making a soufflé; but that does not make the chef a molecular gastronomist any more than a molecular gastronomist making a soufflé makes him a chef. Our worlds are colliding beautifully, but they are different worlds.
Where do you get ideas for new dishes or techniques?
Dufresne: My mother pointedly explained to me one day that cooking creativity is not linear. You must be prepared for when creativity hits you, but you can’t plan or look for it. At wd~50, creativity can start anywhere. Someone on my team may say I was at dinner last night and this came to me, or I was at the movies, or on the subway, or I was noticing how the light was bouncing off of buildings and casting a shadow and that gave me the idea of how to prepare the dish. While I’m ultimately the coach of the team, we create an environment where people are comfortable putting ideas out there.
What’s the most challenging ingredient to manipulate?
Dufresne: I struggle with vegetables because I’m not sure what to do other than boil, blanch, roast. Vegetables are delicious, but they aren’t easily manipulated as proteins, and I find it harder to be creative with them.
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