It's almost universally agreed upon that the food at Comic-Con sucks -- that is, unless you're a fan of floppy pizza slices and soggy hot dogs marked up to movie-theater prices. Yet just like music festivals, gaming conventions and other pop culture gatherings, Comic-Con is experiencing an influx of attendees who expect higher culinary aspirations than Doritos and Mountain Dew during their stay in San Diego.
Centerplate, the company that provides concessions for the event, designed a special organic salad bar especially for this year's event. A miniature food truck festival called "Invasion of the Pier" sprung up just a few blocks away from the Convention Center, providing fans decked in anything from Boba Fett gear to Valyrian steel armor with a cornucopia of barbecue, sushi and gourmet grilled cheese.
But the biggest food event of the festival probably was one that most fans didn't know was occurring. Chef Craig Thornton, the man behind L.A.'s popular underground dinner club Wolvesmouth, had traveled south the day of the festival with a refrigerator truck loaded with produce from the Santa Monica farmers market. The plan was to serve four six-course dinners over the next two nights, inviting a mix of comic book artists, actors, writers, musicians and professional wrestlers to dine together in a swank sixth-floor penthouse in San Diego's Little Italy.
The party was sponsored by Dos Equis, which recruited Thornton a few months ago to be part of its "Most Interesting Academy" campaign, which included former NFL star Dhani Jones and collage artist Michael Anderson. There were several cases of beer, a couple of musicians playing harps and sitars, and a tiny kitchen retrofitted with induction burners, thermal circulators and a portable deep-fryer. Soon guests began to file in.
Half the cast of NBC's Community sat at one edge of the tables, worn out from a day of panels and greeting fans. Their faces lightened when the first course arrived, a slice of medium-rare ribeye cap accompanied by a spoonful of homemade pimento cheese, cherry tomatoes and a grilled spring onion. At the other end of the table WWE champion CM Punk chatted with documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock while slurping a sweet corn veloute topped with buttermilk-soaked crab, jalapeno and sprigs of an odd, saline-tasting plant called agritte.
The co-creator of Wolverine and a visual artist for The Walking Dead sketched fantastically intricate drawings between courses of haricot verts with nectarine, potatoes, golden beets and horseradish, and sous vide pork belly with avocado, grilled pineapple and sliced radish. The Nerdist's Chris Hardwick, who is something of an unofficial figurehead for many Comic-Con diehards, savored a bowl of tres leches cake dotted with dehydrated strawberries and creme fraiche. The worlds of geekery and cooking, already intertwined in a off-kilter way, seemed to reach a new level of harmony that night.
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After an evening of intense cooking -- the kitchen was in the weeds during much of the first seating, but recovered to finish out strong -- the Wolvesmouth crew retired back to its hotel, lounging in the pool to soak sore muscles. A cocktail waitress from the hotel bar chatted with one of Thornton's sous chefs, Kevin Van: "Are you guys here for Comic-Con?" she asked politely. Van explained the previous night's adventure. The waitress had heard of Wolvesmouth, apparently, and confessed she was a huge fan. "Is there any chance you need an extra bartender for tonight?"
Note: The author of this piece is a volunteer crew member of Wolvesmouth.
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