#2. Chef Wylie Dufresne answers some not-so-quick-fire questions, the inspiration behind Stretch Pizza, and takes Q&A from the audience.
Chef Wylie reveals that stumbling upon a Breville pizza oven during the pandemic led to his obsession with pizza-making. His desire to understand the levers and variables involved in creating the perfect pizza dough became a source of stimulation and happiness during this difficult time, and ultimately led to the opening of his new concept, Stretch Pizza.
This conversation with Chef Wylie highlights the importance of recognizing the craft and technique that goes into cooking. While it's easy to copy a dish or recipe, it takes years of practice and repetition to truly master the craft. By seeking feedback, recognizing when a dish is balanced, and being open to new ideas, chefs and creators can continue to push the boundaries of what's possible, and leave their mark on the culinary world.
Where to find Chef Wylie Dufresne:
Where to find host Josh Sharkey:
In this episode, we cover:
(2:13) Lightning round
(7:15) Why American cheese is so good
(11:37) Funny moments at wd~50
(18:00) Du’s Donuts flavor hits and misses
(19:16) Why pizza saved Wylie
(24:35) How to identify talent
(26:37) When it’s time to stop iterating
(28:17) Is imitation really the greatest form of flattery
(31:00 ) What wd~50 was all about
(32:50) When to take a pause on ideation
(35:41) Innovating on equipment and ingredients
Josh Sharkey [00:00:00]:
Welcome to The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world-class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show.
Welcome to part two of my fireside chat with Chef Wylie Dufresne. If you didn't check out part one, I recommend having to listen to that. In part two, we finished our chat with some not-so-quick-fire questions and some inspiring Q&A from the audience. We had a ton of fun and learned a lot, and I think you will too. Hope you enjoy!
This podcast is brought to you by meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. As a chef and restaurant owner for the past 20 years, I was frustrated that the only technology that we had in the kitchen was financial or inventory software. Those are important, but they don't address the actual process of cooking, training, collaboration, and consistent execution.
So I decided if it didn't exist, I'd do my best to get it built. So the current and next generation of culinary pros have a digital tool dedicated to their craft. If you're a chef, mixologist operator, or generally if you manage recipes intended for professional kitchens, meez is built just for you.
Organize, share, prep, and scale your recipes like never before, and get laser accurate food costs and nutrition analysis faster than you could imagine. Learn more at www.getmeez.com.
We have a lot of questions from the audience and I want to get to those. So I'm gonna skip a couple of things. I'm gonna jump to a little quickfire. Okay. And then after that, we're going to do a bunch of Q&A I'll read some of you guys' questions and then also I can pass the mic around for anybody that wants to ask.
We're in New York. So is it bagels toasted or untoasted?
Wylie Dufresne [00:02:15]:
It depends on the time of day.
Josh Sharkey [00:02:17]:
Morning. You get your morning bagel?
Wylie Dufresne [00:02:19]:
Really? Fresh bagel?
Wylie Dufresne [00:02:26]:
No. Frozen. Yes. Toasted raisin bagel with scallion cream cheese.
Favorite tech gadget, whether in the kitchen or not.
Wylie Dufresne [00:02:50]:
Lately, I've really come to like my Remarkable digital notepad. It feels a lot like writing with a pen. It's like a stylist on steroids. Yeah, it's very simple. It's literally like a notepad that's digital. It's not backlit. In low light, you need light. But I decided to get rid of my notebook. We were cleaning out WD 50 and we had this orange room. It was called the orange room because the door was painted orange and it had so much in it.
It had a plastic box full of notebooks in it. And I went to grab it and it was full of tiny little dots that I realized were the byproduct of cockroach poop. They leave little dots everywhere. The whole thing had been full of roaches. I had to put the whole thing in the microwave because I didn't know what to do with it. So I put it in the microwave to sterilize it and it sounded like I was making popcorn. It was creepy. That's pretty disgusting. That's a good reason to go digital.
Josh Sharkey [00:04:15]:
You should talk to Remarkable about an ad for them. Don't want cockroach poop. Get it. Remarkable.
Wylie Dufresne [00:04:22]
It doesn't have a great cover, so it's not great in the kitchen. It doesn't shut off, which is nice. Like your phone is great, but at some point your phone turns off. My phone is waterproof because I'm an idiot. And it's like the size of a sheet tray. Anyway, Remarkable. Or a Y peeler. I think that's the other greatest invention of the last 20, 25 years.
Josh Sharkey [00:04:50]:
You always look at someone like they're crazy when they're not using a Y peeler.
Wylie Dufresne [00:05:00]:
You have to be over 80 not to use a Y peeler.
Josh Sharkey [00:05:29]:
My mom doesn't use one. I've given her at least four. Okay, Mary Lee, this question is for you as well. Wiley, what's your favorite candy bar?
Wylie Dufresne [00:05:42]:
It's funny, I don't consider myself as having a sweet tooth, but I really enjoy candy bars. One of my all-time favorites is the Sky Bar, have you all heard of it? The Sky Bar has five sections, vanilla, caramel, fudge, peanut butter, and chocolate, each one separated like a white rat. It's white and yellow. You can find the Sky Bar at Economy Candy on the Lower East Side, or you can order it online because they have everything."
Josh Sharkey [00:06:11]:
Most underrated food?
Wylie Dufresne [00:06:13]:
I struggled with this one. I think there are a lot of things that are underrated, like edamame or soybeans. Sure, people may order them as a side dish at a sushi restaurant, but they can be used in so many other dishes. We even made ice cream out of them! We chopped them up in a food processor, dehydrated them, and then reconstituted them in a pan, giving them a meaty texture.
I feel like soybeans are underrated in some ways, even though soy is in almost everything - that chair is probably made of soy. It's an ingredient that doesn't get a lot of respect. Granola is another example of an underrated food item, even though it's everywhere. People just don't give it enough attention and respect, but I personally like granola a lot. I was going to put American cheese in there.
Josh Sharkey [00:07:15]
Why is American cheese so good? In your opinion? I agree.
Wylie Dufresne [00:07:17]
Where are we? What country are we in?
Josh Sharkey [00:07:20]
Sergio here is the biggest cheese snob you'll ever. He also has an encyclopedia of cheese.
Wylie Dufresne [00:07:28]
So he obviously likes American cheese. Really I would recommend Cooper’s Sharp American. That is a fine American cheese. I think you’d have a hard time saying it doesn’t have a place, particularly if you’re in the Philadelphia area. It’s on everything. You get born and they wrap you in it. But honestly American cheese - I like processed cheese. I had three pieces of laughing cow yesterday with a great big smile on my face.
American cheese - the way it melts - the engineering behind it is pretty remarkable and cool. I also find the technology very interesting. If your fondue breaks and you add American cheese to it, it will come back to life, which is based on fondue. It has happened a few times, and I find it very enjoyable and delicious. I can say that with full confidence. The one thing I eat every day is cheese. It's not always processed, but it's very rare that I go a day without it. Nowadays, I take a pill every day, so it's okay, but I'm sure that's probably not great.
Josh Sharkey [00:08:50]
I don’t know if you want to talk about raw tomatoes, but I do. Only because I still don’t understand.
Wylie Dufresne [00:9:02]
Why I don’t like tomatoes? I generally try to stick to things that taste good. For me, it’s very textually off-putting, the seedy part. I don’t know, do you really think that’s delicious? You really think that snotty, seedy part is delicious? I’ve always struggled with the texture.
Josh Sharkey [00:09:20]
Do you like gazpacho?
Josh Sharkey [00:09:22]
Do I like gazpacho? I do like gazpacho.
Josh Sharkey [00:09:24]
So it’s a textural thing more than anything.
Wylie Dufresne [00:09:25]
Yeah, textually I find it very off-putting. Look, I know that there are thousands of tomato varieties out there, and there might be some sort of heirloom delicious tomato that actually tastes like a blueberry and it's amazing. And suddenly people start saying, "This one's delicious because it tastes like this." But for me, it doesn't taste like a tomato. It tastes like something even more delicious than a tomato. So now I see where you're going .”
Josh Sharkey [00:09:58]:
Okay, we're gonna agree to disagree on this one.
Wylie Dufresne [00:10:00]:
That's fine. I'm okay with that.
Josh Sharkey [00:10:02]:
All right, let's move on. Best meal?
Wylie Dufresne [00:10:04]:
I don't want to say that's a silly question because I like you, but I can't ignore it either. I had the pleasure of dining at El Bulli with my wife, and it was a great experience. Although I have dined there four times, the time I ate there with my wife was exceptional. I also had a lot of fun taking my dad to Per Se wearing shorts when you’re not supposed to, I enjoyed it.
Josh Sharkey [00:10:25]:
Okay. If you could go back and have one meal again that you had today.
Wylie Dufresne [00:10:27]:
Oh, there's so many that I haven't had that I want to have.
Josh Sharkey [00:10:29]:
Okay. What's one of those?
Wylie Dufresne [00:10:34]:
I was this close to going to Manresa - never been to Man Resa in my life. It's a huge gap. That's a major regret. David is a lovely person, an iconic, legendary chef. I'm going to make it to Noma. I've made that promise to myself before it closes.
Josh Sharkey [00:10:56]:
It's going to come back in Japan, right?
Wylie Dufresne [00:10:58]:
But I'm gonna make it to Copenhagen. That's my goal.
Josh Sharkey [00:11:00]:
I am so upset. I had a ticket to the Mexico event and I couldn't go because of my kid, which was a good reason. I love you Stone. Funniest or dumbest thing you've ever seen in the kitchen?
Wylie Dufresne [00:11:14]:
Dumbest - I feel like it's tough to answer that without being a little bit cruel and making somebody feel bad.
Josh Sharkey [00:11:17]:
As long as it's not about Kurt, we're fine.
Wylie Dufresne [00:11:34]:
This is about to leave the kitchen, the chef comes over and grabs it. Chef, you can't send that to them. They have a nut allergy. It's a coconut. Now that's cruel.
I think there's more general funny moments too. Like I think our pushup rule, our blue tape. You guys know the blue tape? You guys incorporate that blue tape, the painter's tape? I think there's a little bit of folklore around the tape and who started the tape, right? I don't think we know exactly who started the tape, but the idea.
We use quart containers in kitchens. It's the universal vessel in many ways. We get tired of them going through the dishwasher with masking tape. It used to be the tape of choice for restaurants. But when masking tape goes through the dishwasher the heat causes the glue to basically fuse to the plastic in a way that you can never fully peel it off. The glue is left behind and it's sticky and it's gross and it's annoying.
And somewhere along the way, somebody figured out that with painter's tape, worst case scenario, it just comes off in the wash, right? Or, if it goes through the wash, you can just peel it off. But the tape in and of itself goes on quart containers that are then stacked upside down and put in the corner to drain and in a place where all the cooks can access them for whatever they need.
It started to drive me nuts that you would go over there and there'd be tape all over the quart containers, even though they'd peel right off. Why is fucking tape on 'em? Why can't you remember to take the tape off before you put it in the dish pit? You have to walk from here to the dishwasher. While you're walking, pull the tape off. No. Okay. If you leave the tape on 10 pushups. The tape disappeared so fast.
But there was a lot of humor around it too, and it was a great egalitarian moment because everybody left the tape on. Everybody forgot in one way, shape, or form. Everybody loved seeing the chef do push ups.
Everybody loved seeing everybody do pushups because, again, it was not meant to insult you. I can't do push ups. Can I do 'em on my knee? Sure. I can't do push ups. Can I do jumping jacks? Sure. Just, there was no moment where you were meant to be made fun of because it wasn't about that.
And again, I think of those. There are so many funny moments. We had one guy who was training for an arm wrestling competition, so he took 15-quart containers and just threw 'em at the dishwasher, all with the tape on. So then he's doing 150 pushups and turning red and he's all fired up.
And then the dishwashers would save them. They would save the tape and they would wait until strategic moments and they would, they'd come up at 12:30 when we're all done, ready to go home, and say, "Hey Chef Mary owes you 10 pushups."
Josh Sharkey [00:14:08]:
I'm gonna use that and make people do stuff when they don't update their Asana board. Maria also upholds our HR, so as long as you're doing that, I think we're good.
Wylie Dufresne [00:14:23]:
As you can see, I am as well. These are generic moments that I think, again, are part of team building, but there's a lot of humor associated with them and I think that those are valuable moments. Like there's a lot of funny things, a lot of goofy things.
Like I started thinking I don't wanna make fun of that person for in the heat of the moment, thinking a coconut is a nut because that's mean. Did we all have a chuckle at the time? Yes.
Did you have the same rule? If they didn't cut the tape and they ripped it?
Wylie Dufresne [00:14:48]:
I was not into the cutting of the tape. Now I know that the spirit, again, also was born out of Thomas Keller, right? The idea was that instead of just tearing the tape, you would then take a pair of scissors and cut the tape. It was silly that it became this whole thing about cutting the tape because no one knows that there are tape dispensers where you just tear.
The tape square became this whole thing about. I cut the tape and as I cut the tape, I'm focusing my energy and I'm becoming more serious about what I do, and I'm focused. I take my job. They make fucking tape dispensers. You don't have to be so serious. An important thing - I would rather that you put the tape on there and label it and then put hospital corners on the bed as long as you make it.
Josh Sharkey [00:15:35]:
All right. One more dumb quickfire question for you.
Wylie Dufresne [00:16:38]:
Okay. I haven't answered any of them quickly. As you can see, I'm a complete disaster.
Josh Sharkey [00:16:45]:
This probably is a dumb question, and I don't know why I thought of it, but hypothetically, if you only had one fat to cook with for the rest of your life - duck fat, canola oil, grape seed oil, any fat. And you could only use one fat to cook with. What would you use?
Wylie Dufresne [00:17:03]:
Hair gel. No butter. No question. Because you can clarify butter.
Josh Sharkey [00:17:16]:
That's a good one. That's really good. This was amazing, chef.
Wylie Dufresne [00:17:19]:
Thank you so much. No, please. Let's ask some questions.
Josh Sharkey [00:17:21]:
We have, yeah, we have a bunch of Q&D and I'm going to start it off from the audience - why didn't you hire Gabe in 2004 when he applied for a job? Gabe you can add context if you'd like.
Wylie Dufresne [00:17:46]:
Did I dodge a bullet? I can't possibly remember that. I'm sorry. I am sorry. We're hiring now. I don't recall. Gabe. I do apologize. There were a lot of people involved.
Josh Sharkey [00:18:00]:
All right. That was more of a softball. But you had Du's Donuts, which were some of the best donuts I've ever had. Mostly cake donuts, then you started doing yeast donuts at the end. Lots of different flavors and it was in Williamsburg. Was there ever a donut flavor that you thought was going to be a smashing hit and it turns out it wasn't and why?
Wylie Dufresne [00:18:27]:
Oh yeah. No, there were lots. Honey Fennel was a flavor that I thought would be delicious.
Josh Sharkey [00:18:31]:
That was one of my favorite ones.
Wylie Dufresne [00:18:33]:
Okay, you didn't buy too much. You didn't ask me if it was good or not. Honey fennel did not work out. Eggnog, I thought, was going to be a flavor that would be popular. That kind of landed with a thud. We did one that was a riff on a Manhattan. We did like a whiskey glaze with cherry. We would often put two glazes on a donut, so we did whiskey and cherry.
That one didn't really resonate. Yeah, no, I could go on. People are boring. Obviously jokingly, I don't mean it that way. Vanilla's also my favorite. Vanilla is my favorite ice cream, so there you go. It's also everyone's favorite donut.
People like pepperoni on pizza. It's okay. Classics should be. I like the fact that there are classics, again, I think it goes back to my sort of stubbornness about "I'm gonna show people that donuts can be." I was trying to solve a problem that didn't exist at times.
Josh Sharkey [00:19:16]:
I'm gonna do an audible here just because we're talking about that. You're opening a pizza restaurant and you've been for, I don't know how long, been maniacally digging into every little detail about pizza. And why are you opening a pizza restaurant? What is it about pizza that fascinates you?
Wylie Dufresne [00:19:36]:
Cut me off if I make this story too long, but the pandemic hit and my donut shop closed. I'm up in Connecticut with my wife, our two daughters, my wife's younger sister, and her husband and their two kids. So we're an eight top and kids are being homeschooled. My wife's working from home and her sister's working from home.
The other husband is helping homeschool his kids. I'm not doing a lot because the donut shop closed. Seems like if someone has to feed everyone, I'm probably the best choice of those eight. With all due respect, they are all excellent at their respective careers.
I'm down in the basement sometime in April 2020 looking around, and I come across a Breville pizza oven sitting in a box. I had done some work for Star Chefs six months earlier, and in lieu of cash, I took some gear. One was an espresso machine, which we're using every day, the other was the pizza oven. I said, "That seems like a good way to feed eight people." Pizza's pretty popular universally. We're feeding from four to 50 year olds, so boom. Pizza.
One person's a vegetarian, and two people are picky. Pizza's perfect. Major caveat - I don't know how to make pizza now. I'd never really made it before. Sure, I'd done it for a staff meal. I know how to make tomato sauce, but I didn't know how to make pizza from the ground up.
So I did what anybody else did. I Googled pizza dough and that night, I made pizza dough with a King Arthur recipe. I was like, this is fine, but we can do better than that. And so I needed something to think about. I need something. So there are a lot of awful stories about the pandemic, but I can say for me, I feel very lucky.
Pizza saved me during the pandemic. It gave me something to do. It gave me something to think about. I was helping my family, obviously carrying my weight as a member of my family, which is the most important thing I could do. But I wasn't doing anything to stimulate my brain, and now suddenly I was.
And as someone who wanted to understand the levers and what they are and how to work them, I didn't really have any problem of what to put on top of a pizza. That's where 28 years of being a cook comes in handy. But I didn't know how to make pizza dough. I didn't understand the variables of pizza dough. I bought 15 books - all the books that you would think - and I got on all the different forums and started reading.
Learning how to make pizza became a little bit of an obsession. It's more like I fell down a rabbit hole happily. I'm the happiest when I'm trying to figure that kind of stuff out. Like probably if I could get General Mills and they pay me a lot of money to just be in a corner and figure out shit, that's really what I should have done.
I love restaurants and I would miss that part of it, but I love just figuring stuff out. I love understanding it and trying to figure it out and tweaking it and making it better. And that's what I did. And I got to the point where the pandemic was ending, the donut shop wasn't going to come back.
So I needed a job. I needed something to do. And I had been working with the owner of Breads Bakery, which is in Union Square. He had said to me, "We'd love for you to do some sort of pop-up here." Like we'd been trying pre-pandemic. We're going to do something with eggs, then we're gonna do something with donuts.
Nothing stuck. So one day I said, how about pizza? And he said you don't know how to make pizza. I said, wait a minute. And I live right around the corner from Bread. So I went home and I made him a pizza and I brought it back and it was an everything bagel pizza.
It was a white pie with everything bagel spices sprinkled on it. I gave it to him. He said, "That's not bad." I waited two days and brought him another pizza. I was like, here's another pizza. He said, okay. And so we did like a six-month pop-up of Stretch making pizzas at Breads. And, I said to him I would like to continue.
And figure out a way to open a pizzeria because I need to know what's next for me. I didn't have a "what's next" for me. And he said I'd like to do it with you. So there's a group of us and we've got a space that's under construction and there'll be a Stretch pizza in March.
Josh Sharkey [00:23:30]:
That's awesome. And we have an office like two blocks away from there that we can visit on Park Avenue. Deer Haven Pizza or Sallys?
Wylie Dufresne [00:23:35]:
I think Zuppardi’s is my favorite. I think their pizzas are good. They're nice people. They're all nice people. I like New Haven Pizza a lot.
A lot of what I like about New Haven Pizza is the families, the communities. They're nice and they’re really good people. Like sometimes they can be a little gruff because they’re dealing with high volume and all that. But I don't know. New Haven Pizza's always a pleasure to participate in because the people are always really friendly.
I've got to a point in my life where I only want to buy things from nice people. I can buy olive oil from anyone. I can buy a carrot from anyone. I just want to buy things from people that are nice. I wanna try to be nice and buy things from people that are nice. That's what I decided. New Haven Pizza is always nice.
Josh Sharkey [00:24:31]:
So I have questions for you, but if anybody wants to ask a question, just be proactive.
meez team [00:24:35]:
How do you identify talent? When you're meeting someone for the first time, what makes say I suspect there's greatness standing in front of me?
Wylie Dufresne [00:24:38]:
I carry a picture of Kurt in my wallet. I don't think I'm able to see that far down the road. To see greatness. Do you know what I mean? I think you hear what people say. I just want someone with a good attitude. I just want someone with the right attitude.
I'd rather have somebody with the right attitude versus some old dog that doesn't want to learn new tricks. That's true. Although sometimes it's fun to get the old dog and help them see things and look through things in a new way. There's a lot of satisfaction in taking someone stuck in their ways and having them realize that there might be a different way to do it.
I'm getting off track, but I don't have the answer to that. I don't know that you can see greatness, but you can certainly see the potential. And there have been people that I have bet heavily on and been wrong. And there have other people that I have completely underestimated and have beat me in a foot race.
I think you try, the more you do it, the more you probably get a little bit better at recognizing who's got the right mindset. But I tell you, there was a guy that worked for me the whole time at Du's who was shy and quiet and I thought was just going to stay in his little donut lane forever.
And then Du's closed and I asked him to come to help me at Stretch and he blossomed. That's not fair. He didn't blossom. It was always there and I didn't see it. I'm saying it the wrong way. I missed that this little guy in the corner was just doing his own business. It was awesome and he's going to come work with us at Stretch and he's super excited.
I'm excited. So I'm not giving you a good answer because I think people don't always show you their cards and you don't always read people. I think you try to do the best you can. I haven't given you much.
meez team [00:26:21]:
How often do you think you're right when you suspect it?
Wylie Dufresne [00:26:23]:
I think I'm right more than I'm wrong, but you only have to bat 300 to get into the Hall of Fame, so that's not really a good number.
meez team [00:26:35]:
What are your qualifiers for knowing when to walk away?
Wylie Dufresne [00:26:37]:
To walk away from the project, sometimes I have to be told I've done that enough times. I'm somewhere around 37 variations on my pizza dough, which when you consider the, I didn't know what I was doing, that's not a lot, right?
Because if you don't know what you're doing, the first 20 don't count. But with the donut, I got to 85. And at some point, I think I was starting to go crazy and I was starting to look crazy. The guys would come in and say "Which recipe is it going to be today, chef?"
At that moment, I thought, "Are you serious? Will a half-percent of potato starch really make the 'one’?" That feedback was helpful because it pointed out that changing the recipe frequently was difficult for them. It was like saying, "Come on, please stick to one recipe, it's great!" However, I didn't have much else to do in the process, so I got stuck.
Sometimes, you need other people to help you when you're stuck, and you need to recognize that as an adult. Donuts are different from dishes because you look for a specific function in a donut, whereas with a dish, you focus on the taste. Is it good? Do people like it? Is it balanced? Once a dish is balanced, it's probably ready to go.
Does it taste good? Do we all like it? Do a bunch of people like it? Is it balanced because I eat more salt? Does it have enough acid? Once a dish is balanced? I think that's probably a good time to let your kid go to college and hope it does. Okay. You know what I mean, I think being who you are, which is the person who brought something new to a place that didn't really have it.
meez team [00:28:17]:
When you started seeing people do it too, how did it make you feel?
Wylie Dufresne [00:28:19]:
I think that saying imitation is the greatest form of flattery is a hundred percent accurate. I think that it makes you feel good if you're doing something that people want to copy. Generally, you're doing something right.
There was an instance of a chef in Australia - this was probably 2004 -2000. He opened a restaurant in Australia and had come to America and gone to Mini Bar, wd~50, and Alinea. We don't know where else he went, but for sure he went to those three places because he put dishes from those three restaurants on his menu verbatim. Now that's tricky. I would love to think that I can inspire people.
That's a good feeling. Straight-out copying without acknowledging that you're going to copy somebody? Then you should acknowledge it. Copywriting food protection of food ideas is impossible, right? Vanilla Ice is still stinging from some mistakes he's made, right? But we have no recourse other than food forums and things like that.
And so that guy got exposed for plagiarizing and it went poorly for him. And I felt bad about that. When confronted by it, he stuck to his guns about what he was doing. So I still feel bad that it ended poorly for him. But I think that percentages, xanthan gum, shrimp noodles, deep frying, hollandaise, cooking grains, juices, and any number of other ideas that were born out of wd~50, find their way into the main, then that makes me feel like we were additive.
All I wanted to do was for us to add to the conversation. I just hoped that we could be additive. That's really it. To say we've left it better than we found implies that there was something wrong. We found it in a bad place. We didn't find the industry in a bad place.
Again, we're not talking about workplace toxicity. I'm talking about food on a plate. So I just hope that we added to the conversation, we added to the dialogue, and I believe that we did. And so if people are copying certain things then, I think that means we had some good ideas.
Josh Sharkey [00:30:26]:
I think the cool thing about it was it highlights why cooking is more than just an art but a craft. You can sous vide a piece of meat and cook a leak, but if you cut the meat with the grain and you don't know how to do it properly, it doesn't matter. All the other shit went out the window and I think that's something that was highlighted when, after that, when everybody started doing more of those things.
You saw a lot of restaurants pop up where they would just take the idea without knowing that there are 25 years of technique behind that and repetition on top of the idea.
Wylie Dufresne [00:31:00]:
Yes, agreed. A hundred percent. At the end of the day, really what I would hope is that the takeaway for Kurt or anyone else is more just how to think.
Sure, you can take this technique or that technique if you want, but I feel better if your takeaway was a methodology, an approach, and thinking about things differently, because that will ultimately lead you down your own path. And although weird, wacky shit that we did, that wasn't the point.
That was part of it but we were about knowledge. We were looking for information. What you do with that information is on the next page in the book. But really, we were looking for the information. We were looking to understand what was going on in the food as we were cooking it, and that information is equally valuable for the bistro chef on the corner who wants creamy mashed potatoes and bright green beans and a bennet's sauce that won't break and crispy, moist chicken, right?
You don't have to make foams and this and that and do all this wacky stuff to get at the core of what wd~50 was about. That was a subtext to the concept. We were looking for answers to information. We're looking to understand what was happening to our food as we prepared it so we could prepare it in a more informed way.
There's no right or wrong way to cook. There's a more or less informed way to cook, and we were looking to be more informed about what we were doing, and that's the real takeaway for anybody. Come to wd~50. I don't care if you never make another whatever in your life, but you think about food more holistically and you understand it a little bit better because what you do with it is totally up to you, but you have to understand what's happening to a piece of fish when it's in a pan or chicken when it's in the oven or any number of other things.
In order to make them better, you can then decide you want to go off in this weird fantasy. Or you can decide, I just want to make food that's not dry, or food that's not bitter.
meez team [00:32:53]:
Can you talk about a time that you experienced burnout and what you did?
Wylie Dufresne [00:33:02]:
Not of a dish necessarily, but it sounds probably ridiculous or romantic to say I loved every minute of it. I'd say that I worked six days a week for the first seven years. I was the only employee that worked six days a week. Everybody else worked five, even my sous chef, who at one point was on six and asked if they could go back to five. And after seven years of not going on vacation, I was definitely tired.
And so I don't think I would've used the word burnt out because burnt out I usually associate with getting to a point where you're no longer finding joy in it. When I'm burnt out, when someone says they're burnt out, I think that means they're done. They're done with that thing.
I never was done, but little did I know that having a child would redefine tiredness. Because there's a picture of me sitting on the staircase of wd~50 with my head against a ladder, and that's a hundred percent because I hadn't slept for a day and a half because of my child.
That was exhaustion. Children will teach you exhaustion in a way like you never thought of. So that's where I was after I took a vacation. I took my first vacation in seven years, something like that. So that's where I was. I was tired, but not in a negative way.
meez team [00:34:36]:
Like more in terms of ideation, like you're pumping ideas constantly. Is there ever a moment where you're like, I need to take a pause and just do it for a minute so that I can refuel for more ideas?
Wylie Dufresne [00:34:50]:
I think that is probably one of my shortcomings. I don't always perceive that. I would say if I look at myself in the mirror like I sometimes am willing to bang my head against the window or that wall or whatever when I don't need to.
Sometimes, it's like the wind-up toy that walks into the wall and doesn't know that it should stop. I am guilty of that. I would say that my wife is one of the best. There are a lot of reasons to love my wife, but her telling me, and being good at saying, you're hitting the wall like enough already.
So that's a weakness of mine that I don't always recognize. I seem to have an innate ability. I think we all do. We can all be our own worst enemies, right? In any number of ways. I think I enjoy the tweaking so much that sometimes I do it to a fault. Thank you for pointing out my shortcomings.
meez team [00:35:41]:
I’ve got a question. I was curious to what extent you have ever innovated on the equipment. Either to build or hack something that was in the kitchen, or buying something for not its intended use but getting a novel use out of it.
Wylie Dufresne [00:35:58]:
I'm a big fan of using things not for their intended use or using things like, again, we've talked a lot about percentages. And this is not an equipment, but I think fits your example. Like xanthan gum is an ingredient. I don't know if you're all familiar with it, if you're not, it's a thickener that doesn't need to be cooked.
Flour is a starch that needs to be cooked to thicken. Xanthan gum is just basically a bacteria that was scraped off of cabbage and dried, and then you blend it with water at high velocity and it thickens things and it's one of the most interesting ingredients in the whole world. I. Why math is important is you use it at like the total weight of a sauce.
You use it at 0.2 or 0.3%. Beyond that, it starts to look like egg whites and gets really ropey and snotty. So we put 2% in coconut milk once. You're not supposed to do that. So that's all it takes for me to do it. If someone says, you should not do that, I'm game. I'm totally game. So we did it, put it in the blender.
If you did that with water, you'd probably fry the equipment because at some point it gets so thick that you're asking too much of the machine. But there's so much fat in coconut milk, it made this wonderfully weird textured thing, and we served it with crab meat. We put it in a pastry bag, we piped it across a bowl, and then we built all this crab on one side and we poured soup on the other. It was this weird white tube of coconut and a texture that coconut never lived in before.
So it was this idea of like okay, “We're not supposed to do this, but let's try. No one's gonna get hurt.” We have seven blenders. So back then Vitamix was giving them to us for free and it was fine, but there were also times when we made some equipment that didn't exist. We had somebody make equipment for us.
Dave Arnold, I know you know who Dave Arnold is, but he is one of the great mixologists, bar people of the world. He's also my brother-in-law and he happens to be an amazing builder and tinkerer of things. And there's alginate. You mentioned alginate earlier.
Ferran Adrian made the idea. He took a high school science experiment with alginate, which is another gum that you can use to set liquids, and he famously took a high school experiment of blending alginate with something and dropping it into a bath of calcium chloride and alginate reacts with the calcium chloride.
And then let's say if you dropped mango out of a dropper into a bath of water and calcium, because the calcium reacts with the alginate, you'd get these little, he famously he made caviar of a thousand different things, but we wanted to get something inside of something and so we needed to drop one flavor and another flavor at exactly the same time into a bath.
And so Dave built a piece of machinery for us that would literally dose one at a time. And we dropped milk and coffee in the same way. And so we got a sphere of milk and coffee. Together. So we had coffee and a bite and we rolled it in cocoa and coffee grounds and stuff. So you had this little tiny thing that was a bite and it was this crazy Rube Goldberg machine that had all these things.
And it never went on the menu. You know what a peristaltic pump is? It's a pump that will just push liquid through it in a timed way. This might have been at the restaurant when you were there. It's just a pump that's used in hospitals a lot. It's a pump liquid, it's a tube, and you can dial in. It just basically pushes liquid through - a very systematic amount.
So we also took coffee and we had it with pectin in it. And we were dropping coffee with pectin into a bath with calcium at a very dosed amount, and we had to figure out the distance and we got it to hit the water and pancake on the surface. So after a while you had this giant container. It would take hours, you just put it in the corner, you put one hose in a bucket of coffee, and the other hose was clamped above a bath at a certain height so that each one would pancake and then fall.
When you harvested it out, it looked like a bowl of lentils. But it was coffee flavored lentils. And we served that with a piece of foie gras. It was coffee, it was foie gras, and lentils. So that's not at all what a peristaltic pump is used for, but that kind of thing of taking equipment and seeing what it does and then seeing what can we do with it.
And then there's other ideas of seeing things and just completely doing them incorrectly, like using an ingredient at a completely unthought of concentration level just to see what would happen.
Josh Sharkey [00:40:52]:
Awesome. We are right on time here. Chef, just thank you again. I think I don't know about you guys, but I'm super inspired and hopefully everybody learned a little bit about how we can be more creative and curious and think outside the lines. And the big takeaway is be nice and buy things from nice people.
Wylie Dufresne [00:41:10]:
I wanna thank you. Like I said, we've been friends a long time. I wanna thank you guys for having me. I enjoy these kinds of conversations. I think it's fun to talk. I don't want to be 80 sitting around here talking about the glory days with Bruce Springsteen playing in the background. There's a little of that, but I do appreciate the opportunity to talk to you guys.
I am a fan. I love what you guys are doing, and I think it's super useful. We're going to go deep with it at Stretch Pizza. We're excited to dive in, so thank you all for having me.
Josh Sharkey [00:42:00]:
Thanks for tuning into The meez Podcast. The music from the show is a remix of the song Art Mirror by an old friend, hip hop artist, Fresh Daily. For show notes and more, visit getmeez.com/podcast. That's G E T M E E Z dot com forward slash podcast.
If you enjoyed the show, I'd love it if you can share it with your fellow entrepreneurs and culinary pros and give us a five star rating wherever you listen to your podcast. Keep innovating. Don't settle. Make today a little better than yesterday. And remember, it's impossible for us to learn what we think we already know. See you next time.