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Food

The New Yorker Profiles The Hottest Spot on L.A.'s Underground Dining Scene

wolvesmouth.jpg
A pork belly dish by Craig Thornton of Wolvesmouth, who is profiled in the New Yorker piece (Photo via MyLastBite on Flickr)
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Dana Goodyear stepped into chef Craig Thornton's "wolf's den" in order to demystify the allure of underground supper clubs for the latest issue of the New Yorker, and ended up getting an intimate look at the inner workings of one of our city's most celebrated young chefs. The piece reveals all sorts of interesting tidbits: how a diverse group of diners is selected for the exclusive Wolvesmouth events, that Thornton will in fact be opening a "real" restaurant in Little Tokyo, and that even Garret Snyder works there when he's not busy critiquing restaurants for the L.A. Weekly. (We're sure hope he's learning more than how to fan cocktail napkins, as the piece documents.) But it also takes an intimate look at this anonymous figure's personal history and how it's shaped his culinary perspective.

Thornton's Wolvesmouth dinners are some of the most highly regarded of their kind, on par with international "pop-ip" sensation LudoBites, but until now he's been a relatively anonymous character. Goodyear gets to the core of his success, which could in part be attributed to his unflinching obsession with excellence that grew out of knowing the worst of the worst. Thornton was the child to two abusive drug addicts, and he attributes his impeccable palate to the fact that he has a familiarity with canned meat, processed junk, and food stamps. Now he's practically consumed with his own high standards.

Thornton doesn’t drink, smoke, or often sleep, and he once lost fifteen pounds driving across the country because he couldn’t bring himself to eat road food. (At the end of the trip, he weighed a hundred and eighteen.) It is hard for him to eat while working—which sometimes means fasting for days—and in any case he always leaves food on the plate. “I like the idea of discipline and restraint,” he says. “You have to have that edge.” He dresses in moody blacks and grays, with the occasional Iron Maiden T-shirt, and likes his jeans girl-tight. His hair hangs to his waist, but he keeps it tucked up in a newsboy cap with cutouts over the ears. I once saw him take it down and shake it for a second, to the delight of a couple of female diners, then, sheepish, return it to hiding. One of his great fears is to be known as the Axl Rose of cooking.

At this rate, that seems unlikely. Thornton is at the top of the pile when it comes to underground dining in L.A., and has gained cred with the chef community too. And now that he has his own space, he'll be hosting one-offs at his brick-and-mortar; Chef Gary Menes has a pop-up slated as his new space.

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It's a really fascinating, well-written piece, going into depth in a way only the New Yorker could do. You can read all 7 pages here.