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Big Night Out: Headbanging with the Patissiers
Rebecca Flint Marx | Photo: Mark Todd | May 2, 2014
How does a pastry chef unwind? By throwing himself into a mosh pit.
When: March 20, 2014, 11 p.m. Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell St. (near Polk St.)
The rock-metal trio Russian Circles is busy erecting a high wall of pure, finely calibrated noise. The crowd nods hypnotically, almost immobile save for the mass at its center, which quivers like pudding: the mosh pit. Without warning, William Werner, the culinary genius behind Craftsman and Wolves’ magical Rebel Within (a muffin with an oozy soft-boiled egg inside) and one of the most lauded pastry chefs in the Bay Area—nay, the nation!—dives in, slamming himself against the other sweaty male bodies that are ricocheting like balls in a lotto machine. Werner embraces the barely controlled violence with abandon—he’s a pastry chef possessed.
Suddenly Charles Brunk, executive sous chef at the Ritz-Carlton, comes into view, his bald head incandescent with sweat, seemingly conscious only of the intensity of the music. When it slows, the men in the pit come to a brooding standstill; then it builds to a boil and they erupt again, smashing and trashing. This, Werner casually mentioned a while back, is how chefs blow off steam. Tonight’s group also includes Bill Corbett and Joshua Meisman, pastry chefs at Absinthe and Commis, respectively, who were rather spirited while waiting in line for will-call.
The conversation turned to food critics, specifically Michael Bauer. “Fuck that guy!” Meisman said enthusiastically. That led to grousing about this year’s upcoming James Beard Awards. “You should have been nominated,” Corbett said to Werner. “No one is doing more creative work here.” The judging process, it was agreed, is an inherently problematic one. Now, absorbing beer and sound waves, the chefs are placated. Bauer carries no currency here—only fuzzed-out guitar chords will do. After the show, Werner shrugs off his wild-man antics. “At the end of the day,” he says of this means of release, “it’s all just listening to music and drinking.”
Originally published in the May issue of San Francisco.