“We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warmly together and loved each other.” — Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
In San Diego, just about 2 miles north of the Convention Center during the onslaught that the city endures during Comic-Con, lay an oasis: An opulent penthouse, all raw materials and clean edges, housed an underground supper club known in Los Angeles as the Wolvesden. Temporarily relocated to San Diego, chef Craig Thornton, aka Wolvesmouth, had brought his unique brand of dinner party to the SDCC, and it was a perfect fit with his cooking philosophy. The dinners, sponsored by Dos Equis, were to be a respite for convention goers, an eye in a storm of comic and movie panels, exclusive toy releases, and more celebrity appearances than you could shake a lightsaber at.
Now, you might be wondering how the philosophies of a classically trained chef could dovetail with an event normally known for greasy pizza and fluorescent nacho cheese sauce… and the answer is quite logical in its polar opposition. Thornton believes one should be able to enjoy seasonal, fresh foods, and, when doing so, take the time to enjoy the experience and the company with whom one’s sharing it. Though many people talk the talk, Wolvesmouth walks the walk — his seemingly impenetrable dinners in L.A. (the waiting list is a 4 digit number, mathemagicians) are run out of his loft and are an aromatic testament to this idea. Operating on a donation-only basis, the key to the gates isn’t through social standing or wealth, but rather what kind of dynamic you can bring to the table. At any given event you can have a struggling actor seated next to software manufacturer, with an experimental animator across from the both of them… and the Con dinners were no different. Over the course of four dinners, 120 people were fed, among them a WWE champion, a director who had been super-sized, a Mythbusters build team member, and the Nerdist himself, Chris Hardwick, along with civilians from Thornton’s mailing list who just love food.
And, that’s where the crux of the Wolvesmouth mission statement is most important; Though food and cooking are the medium that he chooses to use, his true idiom is creating experiences for a disparate group of people. There is a moment, usually between the third or fourth course, when pretenses are dropped and a sincere bonding starts to occur between guests who shouldn’t have a Venn diagram overlay but nonetheless find a common ground. These are the truest achievements of the dinner, and the strongest manifestation of its intent. An important thing that the inertia of fast food culture has taken from us is the decompression from a busy existence, and Wolvesmouth is trying to bring that back, one dinner at a time.
Born with a plastic spoon in his mouth, Craig came from a rough childhood that had in it the genesis of what he is doing now. The creation of a warm center that holds amidst the chaos of life through his dinners is an offshoot of the anxieties he suffered as a kid; Paired with a virtuosity in cooking and an intense DIY mentality, he was bound to end up where he did on his own terms. Leaving behind a fruitful career as a private chef and the restaurant path to control the entirety of his output and to have a hand in all facets of his creation was a leap of faith, and none of Thornton’s vision could be realized if he wasn’t an extremely gifted chef who creates dynamic food. Paced like a Pixies song and plated as chromatically nuanced as a Rothko, the courses of his meals are unconventional and tend to have a loud-quiet-loud feel to them, leaving you not knowing what to expect next, and always wanting more. The experience is also heightened by his accessibility during the dinners — if you want to watch him plate, ask him a question about technique, or just shoot the shit, he’s at your disposal. The camaraderie that is built over the course of an evening is brief but intense, and the flirtation with communication and connection is a jarring break from the usual humdrum dining experiences we’re accustomed to, and leave the patrons not wanting to call it a night.
There are already plans for a follow up event at Comic-Con next year, and the Dos Equis collaboration will continue throughout the year with stops in Austin and New York next on the agenda. The beautiful thing about the business plan is that it’s not so much about expansion as it is about refinement… in no way does Wolvesmouth want his reach to exceed his grasp and tarnish the product, or fail to live up to his own ethos. Rebuffing numerous offers for restaurants and TV shows, he’s staying true to who he is, and letting integrity and talent build his legend rather than hyperbole and empty rhetoric. I implore anyone that is or will be in the LA area to get on his mailing list; You have as good a shot as anyone to get in, and you deserve an exceptional dinner and an extraordinary experience.
Join the mailing list at wolvesmouth.com
Follow Craig on Twitter: @wolvesmouth
Follow me on Twitter: @matthewebone