If you happen to take a look at this week's issue of The New Yorker, you'll find a rather lengthy of profile of chef Craig Thornton and his underground dining experience Wolvesmouth, written by Dana Goodyear, the L.A.-based New Yorker staffer who also penned award-winning profiles of James Cameron and food critic Jonathan Gold. In my opinion, it's a spectacular piece, and a must-read for anyone even remotely interested in the city's shifting haute-dining scene — but then again, I'm probably a little biased.
In my free time spent away from the Weekly, I work as a part-time member of the Wolvesmouth crew (I've done so for about a year) mostly trying to do whatever grunt tasks are needed and staying out of the way of more intricate kitchen work. It's been an indescribably revelatory experience to say the least, and I like to think my knife skills have improved to the point when quickly brunoise-ing celery root into tiny cubes won't risk me losing a thumb.
Around six months ago, Dana Goodyear began to shadow Craig on a near-daily basis, with plans to write a piece on underground chefs in Los Angeles. Goodyear quickly fell down the rabbit hole of Thornton's life, though, and what was planned to be a rather short piece unfolded into one of the longest profiles she has ever written for the New Yorker. She delved into Thorton's personal life in ways no one had before; nothing seemed off limits.
Weeks later, after Goodyear had finished, a New Yorker photographer arrived at a private dinner to shoot art; I remember she was bizarrely obsessed with the beheading of spot prawns for a seafood course. Fact-checkers made their calls soon after. The closer the date of publication became, the greater the stakes of such a high-profile exposé became. Everyone involved in Wolvesmouth waited with baited breath. What would be said? What would the reaction be? Husk chef Sean Brock, who catapulted to national prominence after his 2011 profile in the New Yorker, contacted Thornton with a few helpful words — something to the effect of (paraphrasing) “It's going to get real very fast after this comes out.”
But even such a sprawling 6,000+ word piece can't capture all the best details of Wolvesmouth's journey. Here are a few interesting observations shared from a behind-the-scenes view.
4. Dana Goodyear was in the late stages of pregnancy for much of her reporting.
The hectic dinner at Gonpachi? The Long Beach farm during a thunderstorm? A very pregnant Goodyear was there for all of it, complete with notepad and pencil resting on her extended belly (maternity leave be damned). Did she finishing the story or give birth first? I'm not sure, but either way she's now the proud mother of a healthy newborn.
3. The Wolvesmouth kitchen is a menagerie of awesome ingredients.
One of Thorton's other passions is travel, and specifically, picking up cool shit from those travels. His refrigerator and kitchen pantries are fascinating menageries, overfilled with wondrous and bizarre ingredients from across the globe. There was a point a while ago when his favorite thing to top plates with was a hard-to-find boiled cider syrup made in Vermont, which was one of the most intensely delicious things I've ever tasted.
2. Private and public Wolvesmouth dinners exist in stark contrast.
When working a dinner, it becomes immediately obvious whether it is a pay-what-you-like open-to-the-public dinner, or a private dinner, where the price is set beforehand and organized by single member of the dining party. Public dinners are filled with grateful patrons, some bordering on reverent, (they often offer to clear their own plates) who have waited for months if not years to attend. Private dinners are more extravagant affairs ($600 bottles of BYOB wine are not uncommon) wearing anyone from Paramount execs to porn stars can show up. Pepsi Co. once paid to have their entire marketing team come in to eat and, hopefully, become inspired for future product ideas.
1. Thornton had a third career option: Pro Snowboarder.
The article makes mention of his choice between becoming a painter or a chef, but undersells his ability as a snowboarder during his days at Mammoth. Thornton had a great deal of potential on the slopes, but decided to leave competition due to repeated wrist injuries. As for his former roommate Shaun White? Well, you know the rest.
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