By Amelia Levin, Contributing Blogger
Innovation. Where does it come from, what does it cause, what keeps it going. That was the overarching theme during the a Monday afternoon session at the World Culinary Showcase featuring leading American “molecular gastronomy” proponent Wylie Dufresne, chef and owner of New York City’s wd~50, and Dan Coudreaut, McDonald’s Director of Culinary Innovation, arguably “the most powerful chef in the world.” Moderator Aaron Noveshen, founder of The Culinary Edge asked some thought provoking questions around the topic of creativity and innovation. Read on for some highlights.
Wylie on “molecular gastronomy”
“Molecular gastronomy is a bad name,” Dufrense said. “We still need another name, something more delicious sounding.”
Noveshen posed “Yumalicious gastronomy.”
Dufrense continued, “No one asks, do you want to have Chinese, Thai or molecular gastronomy tonight?” Dufrense continued. “I think that’s a tough sell. But I think chefs have always been about playing with their food, poking at, trying to understand it in different ways, from the moment someone put a piece of meat over a fire. It’s a never-ending story because it’s about education, that means it will always endure. People talk about fads, what comes and goes, but luckily molecular gastronomy will never go away because it’s about learning, and no one is going to say learning is a fad, we need to get over that soon.
Wylie on trends
“We don’t’ pay attention to trends, even though ultimately we’ve become part of the trend,” Dufrense said. “Last month we put an edible egg shell on the menu. That’s definitely not the next big trend. Dan is definitely not going to figure out how to put the shell back into an Egg McMuffin. But we often look backwards in order to go forward. We hope we’re contributing to what’s next but I don’t believe we ever really know what’s next.
Dan on McDonald’s French Fries
“I think we got it down,” Coudreaut said. “But we have to constantly look at how do we keep that process going? How do we keep that standard a gold standard? How do we keep our processes in place to make sure it stays that way?”
Dan on sushi at McDonald’s
“Would you ever picture sushi at McDonalds?” Coudreaut said in response to a question about potential future products or concepts from the restaurant giant. “Would anyone ever see that? I don’t know, honestly. It could be five years from no, 10 years from now, who knows, but that’s how I view my job…you have to ask yourself why not?”
Wylie on finding inspiration
I love going to the grocery store and just walking through the aisles. I read labels constantly to see what’s in foods. I’m fascinated by McDonalds and how they make things and the technology that goes into that.”
Dufrense mentioned he always carries a pad of paper and a pen around “because you never know when you’re going to have a creative movement.” At the same time, you have to have an open mind to receive that.” If the way light hitting a window makes you want to cook a certain dish, it’s the combination of seeing those bits of inspiration when they happen, he said.
Dan and Wylie on working with suppliers
“We’re in it together – it’s truly a partnership between supplier and company,” Coudreaut said. But, he added, not all creative products may work for McDonald’s. “If I wanted to get into a company, I would try and know their business as much as I can. As a chef I might go in their restaurant and sit and watch people in the kitchen.”
Dufrense noted the importance of building relationships with farmers and suppliers at the ground level. “We can only be as good as the ingredients,” he said. “We don’t have a don’t have a product to make a bad tomato taste good. We need a good tomato to start with.”
Wylie on a recent innovation moment
“The other day we figured out how to deep fry mayonnaise, and we were very excited,” Dufrense said, which drew a laugh. “To be honest I thought the next call would be from McDonald’s. We have a little yellow and red phone and thought they’re going to call, but nobody called.”