The website for wd~50 describes its cuisine as “new American,” which is a little like describing Michael Phelps as “a guy who swims.” Yes, it’s true, but it’s so wildly understated as to be borderline delusional.

When chef-owner Wylie Dufresne opened up his Lower East Side restaurant in 2003, he announced himself to the world as an envelope-pusher, a creative force who deep-fried mayo, served pizza in pebble form, and rolled noodles out of shrimp meat, all without so much as a by-your-leave.

But how, exactly, does an individual evolve to see a sauce and think “fried cube”? Cheese slice and think “rock”? Crustacean and think “noodle”?

Here, Dufresne takes us through the key dishes that influenced him on his way to earning three stars from the New York Times, one star from Michelin, and a nomination from James Beard for Best Chef New York for the past six years running.

The following interview has been edited and condensed.