World Chefs: Wolvesmouth on underground food, art and society

LOS ANGELES Tue Jun 10, 2014 3:24pm EDT

1 of 12. Chef Craig Thornton smiles in the kitchen at Wolvesden, an underground supper club in his loft apartment, in Los Angeles, California April 3, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Alcorn

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - For the 'Wolf' of Los Angeles dining, food has always been the medium for a higher social purpose.

Wolvesmouth, the alias of Arizona-native Craig Thornton, is the self-taught chef who emerged four years ago as part of the sweeping trend of underground supper clubs, serving up dishes inspired by raw nature and abstract art at his loft, Wolvesden.

Diners could eat pork belly and lobster infused in squid ink with yams and green apples, or a rabbit croquet served with plantains, jicama remoulade and jerk sauce.

Alongside hosting intimate dinners for donation amounts to guests curated from a waiting list of thousands of potential diners, the 32-year-old chef will present Ceremony on Friday, the latest project in his quest to merge gourmet underground dining with art and music.

Ahead of the event, the chef discussed his non-traditional approach to food and his desire to elevate dining.

Q: What is at the core of your events?

A: (The loft dinner) is a smaller, intimate setting, and usually when people are walking away, they're coming away with the food and it's the people they're meeting, the conversation, and the playlist that's playing, it's the whole thing.

Q: How would you describe your culinary style - it appears to take the raw experience of hunting and spins a gourmet twist?

A: It's always trying to have the balance of elegance and visceral. That is really where I like things, that are really beautiful and things that are grotesque in a way. But they're grotesque in such a way that they're pretty. Nature offers more of that than anything a human can ever create.

Q: When did you realize you had a very different approach to food compared to traditional chefs?

A: Even being in a restaurant kitchen, I always felt like I was a black sheep guy in that environment. I had a blast doing it but there was always an artistic element that I wanted, or a different element, which was the installations and being able to create events that go deeper than what's on your plate. For me, I wanted to create one linear idea and have the whole idea make sense ... But it was also about how can I make it more intimate and more sociable than just the norm of going to a restaurant?

Q: Where do you fit into the Los Angeles dining scene?

A: I just cook very much to my taste, and it is a very eclectic palette that I have. But I also balance my food a certain way, there's a certain approach to it. I don't want it to be overly serious. I don't really know where it fits within the actual food scene itself. I know that it really is an amalgam of stuff that I would love to get on a menu, so that's what I make for people, rather than trying to impress.

Q: Is there an issue of exclusivity, that certain types of food and dining are only available to a certain hierarchy of people?

A: Yes, and the thing is, we're technically exclusive, but we're only exclusive because we're a small ... team, that's the only reason why. We get our hate mails of people going "I can never get in." That's because we're not going to destroy ourselves doing a thousand people a night so that way there's nothing special about it. I'm not going to destroy something special just to get more people through the door.

Buttermilk panna cotta with vanilla.

Dehydrated strawberry. Strawberry Meringue.8oz buttermilk (room temp if possible)8oz cream1 vanilla bean (optional)pinch of salt3oz sugar2 sheets of gelatinTake cream, sugar, salt and vanilla, bring up to scald. Dissolve sugar, let vanilla infuse for about 15 minutes and bloom gelatin sheets in cold water before adding to cream base. Once dissolved, temper in the buttermilk mixture to avoid curdling. Temper into mixture when the cream mixture is not overly hot, adding a little buttermilk at a time. Once mixed, pour into container and let sit overnight.

Strawberry meringue (or use crushed up freeze dried strawberry)2 egg whites 3 tablespoons sugarpinch of salt1/4oz freeze dried strawberry (powdered)1 tablespoon powdered sugarWhip egg whites and salt gradually, adding sugar as it gains more volume. Whip to soft peaks, fold in freeze dried strawberry and powdered sugar. Place onto silpat and dehydrate at 150F for six hours or put into lowest oven setting, about 170F for four hours, checking periodically until dried out.

Dehydrated strawberry (or use raw strawberry tossed with sugar and a crack of black pepper) 1 pint of strawberriessugar to coatRemove hull of strawberry, quarter and toss with sugar. Lay onto silpat, dehydrate on 105F for five hours or place in oven on the lowest setting about 170F for one hour.

To serve: scoop out panna cotta, add dehydrated or fresh strawberries. Crush meringue over top to finish. Add optional shortbread or biscuit crumbled up for additional substance.

(Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; editing by Patricia Reaney and Andrew Hay)