If you were chatting with Wylie Dufresne, and mistakenly, embarrassingly, referred to his former restaurant wd-50 as "WD-40," the toolbox-staple, he wouldn't be upset. He'd actually probably muse about whether the oil- and water-displacing spray could have culinary uses. As chef at the soon-to-close Alder in New York City and a proponent of molecular gastronomy, Dufresne has always gone the less traditional route. How does this transfer to food? Think deep-fried mayonnaise, noodles made of shrimp, and eggs treated to have yolks as orange as a carrot. So, when we asked to him to take off his safety goggles (kidding—maybe) and answer a few questions, we definitely did see a bit of that more cerebral side, but we also saw the simpler side—a guy who just really loves The Grateful Dead and wishes he could fly.
What is your favorite sandwich?
Fried egg and American Cheese on a kaiser roll. Eggs are one of my all-time favorite foods, and making the over-easy egg is a test of skill.
Your house is on fire and you can only save one thing. What is it and why?
Are we going to assume that my whole family is already out of the house? I think I'd grab my car keys and drive away so we don't have to watch. I have about 1,800 cookbooks and I don't want to watch them go up in flames.
What cookbook do you find yourself opening the most?
There are a few that I've read to the point that the book is actually falling apart. Essential Cuisine by Michel Bras and The Fat Duck Cookbook by Heston Blumenthal are two of those. As a pure source of reference, Modernist Cuisine is incredibly helpful. It's like a modern-day encyclopedia, except for a single subject. It's not always the answer, but it's always a starting point. I feel honored to have been able to contribute to it.
You're having a dinner party and can invite three people, dead or alive, and serve them one thing. Who are they, what do you serve, and why?
I'm going to invite Jerry Garcia and two of my college roommates. We'll serve the final tasting menu from wd~50, because that would take a while so we'd get to spend some time with Jerry.
What is your greatest fear?
Failing at fatherhood. Being a chef isn't the ideal career to intersect with parenting, but I try to be in my kids' lives as much as possible.
What is the most overrated ingredient? Underrated?
Heirloom tomatoes. I'm just not into tomatoes—especially raw ones. Instant coffee is underrated. You can have coffee whenever you want, which I don't think anyone should undervalue, and it's actually very versatile. I once mixed it with powdered mushrooms to make a coating for chicken.
You can have any superpower. What is it and why?
Flying. My kids would think that was really cool.
What is the best advice you've ever gotten, and from whom?
I was working for a chef a long time ago who told me to not skip steps or be in a hurry. Success in a kitchen is more like a marathon and less like a sprint. Rising up the ranks too quickly isn't necessarily a good thing. This advice was from a guy who was sorry he had done that and didn't want me to do the same.
What's the food we're most likely to catch you eating out of your fridge at 1 a.m.?
Ice cream. Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough or Breyer's Vanilla. I'm pretty open when it comes to ice cream.
What's the last meal you want to eat before you die?
A cheeseburger with a fried egg and a glass of red wine. Though if you gave me eggs Benedict, I wouldn't protest.