This week The New Yorker takes a look at Craig Thornton, chef and big chief of the underground dinner-party Wolvesmouth, currently “the toughest reservation in the city.” Noting this 30-year-old’s “playful, semi-wild bearing of a stray animal that half-remembers life at the hearth,” the story lays out his impoverished childhood and rather ascetic adulthood which often finds him abstaining from food, holding court over a flock of “lost boys,” and controlling a raging demand from an eclectic group of eaters, sixteen of which are selected from hundreds of applications “with an eye towards occupational balance.” Pursued by Top Chef and camouflaging complicated arrangements as mere simple ingredients, one admiring mind says Thornton is “obsessed with obscurity.” The chef even spent a short stint making “ugly plates” when he felt the aesthetic beauty of his dishes was overshadowing dinner. His neighbors aren’t exactly ecstatic about the popular donation-based underground restaurant he’s holding in his apartment, adding fuel to a lasting distrust of authority stretching back to his abusive upbringing where food was scarce and Hellish addict freak-outs the norm.
His independent streak was evident when Thornton staged his own escape, running away to live with cousins in Menifee, California. Primarily a painter, Thornton eventually dismissed art school for the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, leading to an eventual line job at Bouchon Vegas and later, a position in L.A. as a private chef for Nicolas Cage. It was then that he began forming Wolvesmouth, holding the dinner party at several locations before setting up at his own loft in Downtown.
In a stirring profile, Dana Goodyear breaks the news that Thornton may have a more fixed location for Wolvesmouth now in mind, as he and partners are taking over a “failing Korean barbecue joint” in Little Tokyo with plans to serve diners during one nightly seating at 24 communal seats at the cost of $110 for eight to ten courses. Whatever the result and no matter how charged the demand, it’s clear that for now, Wolvesmouth will thrive strictly on Thornton’s own terms, no matter what it takes or who comes knocking.
Toques from Underground [The New Yorker]