When around 30 of the world’s best chefs travelled to New York in 2014 to surprise Wylie Dufresne in his own restaurant, they did it because as they all said he deserved it. A real chef’s chef, massively respected in the industry for the work he did at his now closed wd-50 restaurant and for some of the amazing dishes and techniques he and his dedicated team developed.
A modern American style, he’s the master of the egg and a chef that’s always smiling. On top of the amazing contribution to gastronomy he made with his wd-50 restaurant he now has Alder and perhaps more importantly he’s helped train a whole host of chefs have gone on to do great things.
In keep with his role as a teacher, Dufresne has signed up to be one of the mentors for S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015. He will advise Vinson Petrillo from the Zero George Street Hotel and Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina on how to improve his winning dish of Pressurised octopus, chorizo, Parsley, wagyu cheek agnolotti and octopus ink emulsion - a complicated dish that Petrillo will cook again during the finals in June at Expo Milano 2015.
We caught up with Dufresne before the event to find out more about his own career as a young chef and just how he thinks he can help Petrillo achieve the title of S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015.
Who was your most important mentor for your profession and why?
Jean-Georges Vongerichten. I always admired his approach to food - keeping it as simple as possible on the plate.
What is the best advice you were ever given when you were training?
To be the tortoise, not the hare. Take the long, slow road.
Do you remember one of the big mistakes you made in a kitchen when you were training?
I was butchering a piece of venison once. The chef had asked me if I knew how to do it, and I said "yes!" But in truth I didn't, I just didn't want to say no to the chef. And I screwed it up and I realized it is better to say that you don't know how to do something and have someone show you the right way than to do it the wrong way.
Is there one mistake you see young chefs making very often? What should they do instead?
One problem is that now cooks want to graduate from school and be the chef in 6 months. You have to take your time and learn. It is a craft and it takes time to learn the craft. You can't become a great meat butcher, a great garde manger cook overnight. It takes time.
What are the best characteristics a young chef can have nowadays?
It takes the right attitude. I'd rather have someone with no experience and a good attitude than someone with a ton of experience and a bad attitude. Every chef likes to do things differently. And when you arrive in any kitchen you should be enthusiastic about learning the way that chef wants to do anything! Whether it is something as simple as peeling a carrot or as complex as making a sauce.
What are the worst?
Dull knives!! That's pretty bad! But in seriousness it is again about attitude. When you get a cook that thinks they know everything it is really frustrating. Because none of us know everything!
What's your main focus in advising the S. Pellegrino Young Chef candidate of your region?
We are trying to figure out ways to make the dish better and the best way to serve the dish. And I'm trying to help my young chef do all this while navigating the parameters of the competition. But ultimately just helping them make good decisions and get the dish to the best possible place.
What's your message to all the finalists of S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 worldwide?
Good luck! They've all made it this far for a reason so they should be very pleased and excited that they got this far. It is not really - ultimately - whether you win or lose. Enjoy the experience.
Interview to his mentee Vinson Petrillo