The kitchen team at 51 has gone from concept and recipe development, to food trials, to opening and ongoing operations, to continued taste tests, rather nonstop for months. They have risen to the challenge–Malabar cuisine showing off its Eastern Mediterranean multicultural influences–and surprised our palates pleasurably. But now a quick break with a fun story, for the team at 51.
Everyone loves a well-planned and meticulously executed surprise when the outcome is a big smile. Why not chefs, too? Chef stories are on our radar lately and this one, if it is to be believed in all details, has a surprise within a surprise in that these culinary artists who have all “made it” still deem to sleep in modest accommodation in the interest of pulling off the party of a lifetime, in secret, for someone they care about:
For forty-eight hours this week, some of the world’s most acclaimed chefs, who hold twenty Michelin stars and myriad awards between them, were living in hiding in New York City. The twenty non-New Yorkers were sequestered together deep in Williamsburg, in dingy rental apartments with thin mattresses on wooden slats, horrible lighting, and half-eaten bags of Doritos strewn about.
Downstairs at one apartment, René Redzepi, (of Copenhagen’s Noma, two Michelin stars, named the best restaurant in the world three years in a row by S. Pellegrino’s infamous list), was bunking up with Daniel Patterson (San Francisco’s Coi, two Michelin stars). Aprons spilled out of hastily unpacked luggage on the floor. Across the hall, Ben Shewry (Australia’s Attica) and Magnus Nilsson (Sweden’s twelve-seat Fäviken Magasinet, No. 32), who sports shoulder-length blond hair and considers dried, ground moose meat to be a seasoning, were sharing a room. And Fulvio Pierangelini, formerly of Tuscany’s Gambero Rosso, which was once ranked the twelfth-best restaurant in the world, and was largely considered the best restaurant in Italy before it closed, in 2008, was in a third room. Upstairs was a small, shoddily equipped kitchen and a couple of bedrooms set aside for women, including Agata Felluga (formerly of Le Chateaubriand, in Paris, No. 18). They’d all be there together for three nights.
It was as if MTV were making “The Real World: Chef’s Edition.” But while they were living together, the chefs, instead of making bad decisions in front of cameras, had to prepare for a multi-course meal of a lifetime in honor of their friend Wylie Dufresne (wd~50, one Michelin star). And no one, least of all Dufresne, could know about it.
This massive surprise party started taking shape years ago. The bespectacled Dufresne helped pioneer envelope-pushing molecular gastronomy, which has become popular in recent years—he deep-fries mayonnaise, makes noodles out of nothing more than shrimp and a chemical substance known as “meat glue,” and serves pizza in pebble form. Dufresne is beloved by members of the food world but often looked at a bit skeptically by those in other worlds—and his friends, an international chefs’ collective of sorts, thought that he was in need of some recognition, some love, on his home turf. Fried mayonnaise is not for everyone, particularly Americans, and while each of these chefs has been wholly embraced at home, Dufresne remains “big in Europe,” said his former sous chef, J. J. Basil, who was helping out by frying chicken. So, with the help of Andrea Petrini—the food journalist and organizer of international arts-meets-food performance gatherings called “Gelinaz!,” in which chefs honor each other by reinterpreting signature dishes of fellow chefs—they started putting together a plan. It would be a Gelinaz! but smaller and more intimate—and organized in secret, just for Wylie.
They’d focus on three of Dufresne’s signature dishes: shrimp noodles, cold fried chicken, and scrambled egg ravioli, a cube-like concoction made of scrambled eggs encased in a sheath of egg yolk. They’d form cooking groups, pick their dishes, and converge at wd~50 on a Tuesday, when the restaurant was closed. At the appointed hour, someone would call Dufresne to inform him that the restaurant was flooded. When he came rushing over, he’d arrive to the party of his dreams.
Of course, the whole incognito thing was a bit of a challenge. On Sunday, after landing, Alex Atala posted a photo on Instagram from the Ace Hotel. It got more than thirteen hundred likes. On Monday morning, Redzepi, Nilsson, and Shewry ventured to the farmer’s market at Union Square and stopped in a nearby café for a coffee. The barista took one look at Redzepi and asked, “So, do you all work at Noma?” They skedaddled out of there quicker than you can say fäviken…
Read the whole post here. Meanwhile, the publisher that right now brings you more high end food and cooking books than any other publisher–see the food section of their online bookstore here–had this account of the same:
“The email invitation came the night before the event. Number one: Was I free tomorrow night for a hush hush secret dinner with amazing chefs? Number two: follow #logladies, and Number three: Get there early before the guest arrives for the big surprise. It got more mysterious when I got to the location on the lower east side and saw Wylie Dufresne’s restaurant WD-50 covered in brown paper. It turned out, nearly thirty of the world’s greatest chefs, including five Phaidon authors, were represented. They would be collaborating and reinterpreting Dufresne’s dishes for the 65 or so guests (each chef could invite two people and there was some press).
Read the rest of the post here.