Foam Fan Wylie Dufresne: ‘Farm-to-Table’ Is ‘Smoke and Mirrors’

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Molecular gastronomy is a favorite bugaboo among chefs. Whenever they’re asked to name a tired trend, it’s usually what they rattle off first, knowing that at this point, few chefs admit to practicing it, or if they do, they use another term, like “new cookery.” You’re not going to offend your fellow chefs by saying “molecular gastronomy needs to die,” because it’s pretty much already dead — the same way no one will admit to being a hipster, no chef is going to call themselves a molecular gastronomist. That’s why it’s refreshing to hear Wylie Dufresne stick up for it.

In a Big Think interview, the WD-50 chef points out that molecular gastronomy has helped us understand more about simple things like retaining a steak’s juices, poaching an egg, and preserving the color of vegetables: “I like the fact that there’s no right or wrong way to poach an egg, but knowing what’s happening to an egg as it goes from 60 degrees Celsius to 70 degrees Celsius helps you make the decisions about at what point you want to start or stop the cooking.” And he also goes so far as to defend foam: “Without foam there’d be no bread, there’d be no ice cream, there’d be no cappuccino.” He says, “You know, we chefs almost put a target on our back when we decided to embrace that notion. But I still find it very interesting that you can whip something, lighten something, put it on a plate, and eat it because I think that engaging something in a new way, whether it be vinegar or butter or a flavor, but encountering it in a new form is often very exciting to me.”

So what trend is the molecular gastronomist tired of? Why, the farm-to-table trend. Take that! Dufresne calls the term misleading and says, “I think sometimes that becomes a pedestal or a soap box to get people into your restaurant, but it’s not ... it’s almost empty in a way. I mean, my food comes from a farm and I serve it on a table.” He also shops at the Greenmarket, but he doesn’t brag about it. “I think you have a right as a diner to expect when you come to my restaurant that I’m using good ingredients, responsibly sourced. If you want to ask me about them, I’m happy to tell you, but the notion that ‘farm to table’ somehow signifies I’m shopping well, or ‘responsibly,’ I think is unfair. Is almost ... it’s like smoke and mirrors for the diner.”

A molecular gastronomist accusing locavore chefs of smoke and mirrors? Now, that’s the kind of rich you turn into a foam …

The full half-hour interview is below.