The ambassador for molecular gastronomic cuisine, Wylie Dufresne, shocked the culinary world late last year when he shuttered his groundbreaking restaurant, wd-50. The restaurant was having issues with the building’s owner and instead of relocating, Dufresne shut its doors and turned his focus to his second restaurant, Alder. The chef announced yesterday that he will open a new restaurant in New York’s Financial District next year. We caught up with Dufresne the day after the news broke.
Why open a new restaurant in the Financial District?
I think that neighborhood is in an exciting moment. It seems like a lot of people are considering revisiting it and rethinking about what can be done down there. There are a lot of chefs, it turns out, who are headed down there. We weren’t aware of that specifically at the time when we decided to go down there, but it turns out there’s a lot of people who are eager to.
Yesterday was our day to make it a matter of public record. But the restaurant is a long way off. We’re still trying to figure out what direction it’s going to go in.
How did the real estate market affect your decision?
It’s a difficult situation for chefs, for restaurants. Rent has always been a deciding factor. But there are a lot of restaurants in New York competing for spaces and Manhattan is becoming expensive. Union Square Café has got to leave, we just saw David Santos close his restaurant the other day because of rising rents.
Will we see more chefs move into areas like the Financial District that lack a restaurant scene?
That’s an interesting idea, right? That’s what happened in Brooklyn and Brooklyn is no longer affordable. It’s becoming as expensive as Manhattan. There were certainly large numbers of chefs who migrated there looking for more affordable real estate. I think we’ve seen that in Hoboken and Jersey City as well. We as chefs need to be somewhat nimble and go where we can find the opportunities.
Why haven’t you opened a restaurant outside of New York yet?
I haven’t had an opportunity yet. For a long time I was just focusing on wd-50, hopefully making it a great restaurant. Now we’ve opened Alder and we’re focused on that. We’re slowly thinking about our next place, which we’re excited about. But I’m not opposed to moving outside of New York City at all. It’s just a matter of finding the right opportunity.
How do you keep people interested in molecular gastronomy? Is it just a trend?
Molecular gastronomy at its core was about education. I think they’re calling it modernist cuisine now. But it was about learning about what’s happening when you cook. The sidebar things, the foam and the gels, things like that, some of it may come and some of it may go like any culinary movement. But at it’s core, it’s about making us as cooks more informed and more knowledgable about our subject. And people are always going to be interested in what they’re doing on a deeper level.
Why did you turn Alder’s menu into a traditional tasting menu?
We wanted to make it a place where you can have multiple experiences. Now you can sit at the bar or outside on the patio and have some of our more notable, standard pub fare or you can come into the dining room proper and have a very reasonably priced five-course tasting menu. This is only our fifth week of doing it and we’ve already changed half the menu. It’s an opportunity to be creative. It’s a great value.
What is inspiring your cooking right now?
I try to be aware of what my contemporaries are doing. But right now I’m more interested in the cultural. I’ve always been interested in the food and cooking of France—that’s where I got my start. Over the years I’ve become very interested in what’s going on in Japan, what we can learn from the Japanese and their stripped-down cuisine. India is where you are going to begin to see things happening because there’s not a lot of people exploring that culture and it’s a really rich culinary landscape. It’s a gigantic country with a lot going on, much in the same way we’ve discovered China and all of its culinary riches and contributions.
What’s your favorite city to eat in?
One of the places I’ve always loved to go and unwind and eat is San Sebastián. It’s somewhere I went many years ago before wd-50 opened and it really resonated with me. There was about a 12-year span when I went at least once a year. I’m eager to get back. It’s a really nice city with friendly people and it allows you to eat the full spectrum. You can have delicious tapas or as they call them there, pinchos, all of the way up to several different great three-star Michelin restaurants nearby.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d really love to be in Tokyo or London right now eating, because I think they’re exciting. I also think that there’s a lot going on in L.A. right now.
Any L.A. restaurants that come to mind?
I was there a couple of months ago and had one of the best meals in recent memory at Ludo [Lefebvre]’s place, Trois Mec. The city just feels like a fun place to be right now.
Where are you eating in New York now?
I had a delicious dinner recently at Shuko. I’m trying to get into 15 East before the end of the month when the sushi chef who’s been there since it opened moves to Vietnam. It’s my favorite sushi restaurant in the city.
You can’t get a reservation?
Yeah, they’re fully booked right now. I’m officially on the waiting list. I’m going to have to call in some favors.
Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. Follow her on Twitter: @amshep