Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fresh Perspectives - Craig Thornton (Los Angeles, CA)

Fresh Perspectives - Craig Thornton, a.k.a. Wolvesmouth
Thu 02/10/2011, 04:00p-08:50p

The invitation to this very special episode of Wolvesmouth advised us to approach the evening "as a Wolvesden dinner and art exhibit (food+art)." Food and art sure--but how about food as art?

Certainly, Chef Craig Thornton's cooking qualifies as such in my eyes, but corporate giants Lexus and Microsoft also agree. In fact, as part of their "Fresh Perspectives" campaign to promote the new Lexus CT 200h hybrid, Thornton was one of six artists selected to create unique works of art in 24 hours to express the themes of "Challenge", "Empower", and "Escape". Thus, in the Wolvesden, foodstuffs were transformed into Thornton's paint, knives his brushes, the plate his canvas, and us diners his willing fanciers, ready to indulge in his latest creation.

The other five artists chosen were: fashion designer Robert James, graffiti artist Augustine Kofie, paper sculptor Jeff Nishinaka, photographer Tod Seelie, and singer-songwriter V (Veronika Bozeman).

The finished product of this collaboration can be viewed on the Web series' official web site (launching on April 18th), so what follows here is a behind-the-scenes peek at the making of the video (directed by creative duo the Sniper Twins).

When I was invited to attend this dinner, I certainly knew that there would be filming going on. However, by "filming," I was picturing a guy holding a Handycam. The reality turned out to be quite different.

Wolvesmouth Kitchen
Thornton's loft was transformed into a full blown set, replete with multiple cameras, a dozen or so director's chairs, and catered food. The kitchen was even gussied up with the addition of candles, incandescent bulbs, and LED lights.

Wolvesmouth Loft
There were no less than 20 people involved with the shoot, including camera men, a sound guy, riggers, gaffers, grips, two directors, a still photographer, a stylist, production assistants, and senior management from the two companies. This was serious business.

Wolvesmouth Menu
Here was the night's menu. Note that, due to the nature of this dinner, it only comprised six courses instead of the usual 14 or so. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties (i.e. the power to the entire block shutting off), only two of the six were completed. Click for a larger version.

Wolvesden Loft
At this point, we were ushered into a corner of the room and asked to sign waiver forms.

Catered Food Set Catering
Given the slow pace of filming, the catered food was starting to look awfully appetizing!

Filming Wolvesmouth
Lights out. Time to get going.

Julian & Shrooms
Julian was Thornton's sous for the evening, and even through the filming, he was busy prepping mushrooms.

Christine & Aaron's Lap
Some of us were getting quite famished at this point.

Filming Wolvesden
The Chef in action--all eyes on Thornton.

Wolvesmouth's Wood Craig Thornton's Wood
By this time, the food was pretty much done, and Thornton's final touch was torching up some applewood, the goal of which was to use their aroma to convey the feeling of being in the woods.

We Finally Sit Down
We want food!

Julian Shaves Truffles Julian Pours
Julian had the honor of prepping the truffles, which were added to our plates at the last minute, and was also quite adept at keeping our glasses full.

A Toast to Evil!

Not sure what's going on here...

Escape: wandering the forest
wandering the forest. rabbit. cocoa malt tuile. black truffle. pine. carrot. mushroom. lime plants. green tea shortbread "moss". soil.
Thornton's first course tackled the theme of "escape." Constructed of braised rabbit, chicory malt "soil," green tea shortbread "moss," various herbs, flowers, mushrooms, black truffle, and pine liquor, the composition was intended to invoke the sensation, as the name implies, of wandering the forest, which is exactly what Thornton seeks when he needs a respite from the world. The rabbit was clearly the star of the show here, braised tender, with a distinct leporine sapor commingled with a hint of sweet astringency. Augmenting this were the mushrooms and truffle, which added a palpable heft to the course, while the "soil" contributed a subtly bitter earthiness and crunch to the fray. A very appropriate course given the Chef's lupine alter ego, one that used taste and texture to evoke a different sense of time and place--escape.

Julian Resetting the Table Caleb Resetting the Table
Julian and Caleb resetting the table for the cameras between courses.

Empowerment: beet (blackberry)
beet (blackberry). granola. hazelnut. feta. radish. pickled red onion.
"Empower" was the key theme for Thornton's next course. With this, he wanted to create a dish that was, quite simply, more than meets the eye. The Chef wanted us to really delve into the dish, to truly understand the food, rather than judging it simply by outward appearances. What we have here looks like dessert, a parfait specifically, but was instead a cleverly disguised savory beet salad comprised of beets, feta, pickled red onion, hazelnuts, Meyer lemon vinaigrette, and allspice. A silicone mold was specially created by Thornton to produce the very convincing "blackberries." The signature relish of beets was faithfully presented, countervailed by the creaminess of the feta and piquant tang of red onion, all while the hazelnuts and granola laced the dish with an overarching earthy crunch. Much in the way of Homaro Cantu's famed "Cuban Cigar," the cognitive dissonance really got to me here. Indeed, the mind is powerful, and deceiving--we want to believe what our brain expects; we tasted hints of dessert even though the dish clearly wasn't!

Since we only had time to complete two of the six courses planned, there was a boatload of produce left over. I suggested to the Chef that he could cook another dinner the next night, but he would do no such thing, being insistent on only serving product purchased the same day. The rest of us weren't quite as demanding, and so we were left with a bounty of top quality tuna, clams, mussels, squid, shrimp, scallops, and a couple hundred dollars worth of sea bass (pictured above), all of which was given away to the film crew.

Exit Interview Craig Thornton on Film
The exit interview.

To get a sense of what a typical Wolvesmouth event is like, please see my two dining reports: August 2010 and November 2010.

Filming Craig Thornton


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin, this is AWESOME. Thanks for sharing! Cognitive dissonance in food is definitely one of my favorite chefs "tricks" and really never gets old :)

Sunday, April 17, 2011 7:58:00 AM  
Blogger KrisDub said...

Such a shame they didn't get to finish the shoot! I love Craig's food so much!

Monday, April 18, 2011 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Daniel: Where else have you experienced it? Moto is the only one that comes to mind at the moment.

Kristen: Tell me about it! I was especially looking forward to that "coffee & cigarettes" dish.

Thursday, April 21, 2011 1:14:00 AM  

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