Wylie Dufresne kept customers on the edge of their booths with outlandish creations like aerated foie gras and fried mayonnaise at wd~50, the restaurant that defined molecular gastronomy in mid-aughts New York. In its 11 years of business, The New York Times called wd~50 a “vortex of avant-garde cooking” and its menus “rigorous” and “borderline freakish.” In retrospect, the food world agrees—knowing that these grain-of-salt signifiers are exactly why wd~50 helped set the bar for today’s haute cuisine.
Despite acclaim and devotion from the restaurant’s fans, Dufresne shuttered wd~50 in 2014. Now, four years, two James Beard Awards, and one wild Williamsburg doughnut shop later, he’s ready to revisit what made it so unforgettable.
In wd~50: The Cookbook, he resurrects recipes for the inventive dishes that shocked and delighted diners and takes readers through their sometimes complex executions. Readers only have to go as far as the first section on “Amuses” to get a recipe for an everything bagel and cream cheese—only this cream cheese is served crispy and the bagel is actually made of ice cream. Dufresne didn’t coddle his diners by serving the expected fare, but thankfully, his recipes explain the methods to this madness in plain English.
The book is flush with behind-the-scenes looks at the restaurant, including Dufresne’s conceit behind the lavash-instead-of-rolls bread service and his notes on how the carrot soup at Jean-Georges inspired wd~50’s plating style.
He also includes some earnest and humorous self-reflection throughout, making this cookbook part memoir, too. His tone, like his food, is complicated yet unpretentious. After all, how many Michelin-starred chefs set up shop in a former bodega, find culinary inspiration from TV dinners, or start their cookbooks with an apology of sorts?
“In theory, I could have written several books by now,” he muses in the book’s introduction. “The truth is I wasn’t ready.”
He even shares his insight on why the restaurant closed.
“We had no choice,” Dufresne writes. “But when I realized that wd~50’s days were numbered, I became singularly focused on documenting everything we had done there, from the first night of service until the last.”
And for that, we thank him.
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