Making a name for himself in hometime Los Angeles with his outrageous food concoctions, Craig Thornton has been established as a controversial food pioneer and painter who uses the culinary arts as a way to creat art. His DIY attitude to fine food means he once gave away foie gras on a street corner to the unexpected public. As you do. Thornton runs intimate underground dinner parties from his LA home, which he calls the Wolvesmouth, and will be creating an edible art-on-a-plate piece for Beck's Green Box Project entitled, “Wolves in the Snow”. A lucky few will be presented with an array of mind blowing dishes, including his innovative signature dish, “Wolves In The Snow”, made up of seared venison, cauliflower puree, forest pine and beetroot and blackberry jus - to transport participants to a surreal, snowy landscape far, far away.
Dazed Digital: How well do you think food translates as art?
Craig Thornton: As with almost anything - in order to reach a level of what could be considered art, especially when it comes to food, there is the key of focusing on the craft and honing that to be able to understand where, why, and how you cross the line between craftsmanship and head right in the direction of what people may view as art. I think it translates well in my case when I focus on an idea or story. Whether it’s the basic idea and contrast of violence and nature, or a concept that represents my sarcastic and dark sense of humour. So at least I start with an idea that is clear and concrete where the plate of food itself may look very abstract and organic. I try to keep within this aspect of the "idea" to keep a strong focus on what I want to show or say in a particular dish.
DD: Does the inevitable breakdown of the food structure benefit to the effect of the piece as art?
Craig Thornton: The breakdown of food structure can contribute to the overall piece yes, but this is all in context. As with most my food - I play between the lines I create for myself. Sometimes a dish can straddle the line of art, classical cuisine, and comfort.
One of my tools is knowing how and when actual chemical changes occur structure-wise with a piece of food – when you understand this, then you can use those changes, say for instance a dish in which I take lime and rose and make it look like a silicon implant in the “Hollywood” dish… I was trying to figure out how I could work this idea of a feminine perfume, but didn’t want to just pour some sort of sauce or broth on the dish. I was also trying to make a sarcastic remark about the plastic surgery you see when you stroll the streets of Hollywood. I conjured up this idea of making the clear liquid sit up in this gelled sphere, just like an implant that when prodded would burst. These implants sat over a pile of chocolate and gold...
Really it's being able to control or try to control what your idea is from the get go and maybe along the way it takes you in a different direction as you learn more about the product, it could start as an idea of color then turn into an idea of texture, in the end the only thing that matters is if it is actually good, making bad food to convey an idea is just pointless, its the whole picture you are dealing with from temperature, texture, flavor, color, and something we cant control which is a diners personal connection to a dish whether it may stem from good/bad memories or just a general taste/distaste and the most important which in my opinion is probably the most important is the diners' headspace...
DD: What are your favourite ingredients to use right now? Any new discoveries?
Craig Thornton: I enjoy using so many different ingredients but usually vegetables that I can get that are at their peak excite me. I like cooking with these items because their textures, colours and flavours can be manipulated in so many ways. They’re so versatile that I tend to build "set ups" where I build out the whole dish at then the end I just add a protein based on the intensity or delicacy of the "set up". If I had to pick just one - at this very moment its gotta be the Tahitian vanilla beans my friend just brought back from her trip to Tahiti. Once they are gone - it will be something else. I would have to be a fool not to be using it throughout some dishes from savoury to sweet the beans add a depth that in some dishes people may not know what’s in it – really adds a whole new level...
I'm constantly learning things as I am cooking figure new ways to refine the execution of a dish. Small things like cooking a lobster and letting it sit overnight in some "butter brine" (more like the butter you'd poach lobster in) rather than cooking just before serving gives it a in my opinion better texture and deeper flavor. In the past few years I have learned more about things that should be served as fresh as possible and things that I thought should be served super fresh day of that actually get better with time over a day or two, the aging process is definitely intriguing and something I'm constantly discovering.
DD: What is the most adventurous thing you've ever tasted?
Craig Thornton: The most adventurous thing I have ever tasted was adventurous because of the way the dish came together. My girlfriend and I go to Oregon once or twice a year way up on the coast; The dish was roasted salmon with wild wood sorrel and thimbleberry. The reason this dish was so adventurous was because I went 15 miles out on a Jet Ski and caught the 17 pound Chinook salmon right off the back of that Jet Ski. Getting out past the breaking waves was scary as hell even with my surfing background. I mean it’s such a different and taking the waves on a Jet Ski is gnarly. Luckily I made it over the waves as the ski got taken into shore, I bodysurfed in and hopped back on then zipped out as fast as I could. Finally, I made it past the wave break, cruised out and dropped my line and fished. After about 7 hours trolling my line off the ski finally I had my bite! I reeled it in and bled the fish immediately… With blood everywhere I tied the fish to the ski and headed in. We cooked the fish no more than 45 mins out of the water, the wild sorrel and thimbleberries we foraged from around the house... It was definitely an adventurous dish to say the least...
DD: What other projects are you working on at the moment?
Craig Thornton: There’s really so much going on now and so much more I want to do, most of which I don’t really want to tell the world about yet. Rather when the time is right we’ll let the cat out of the bag… I can say we do have plans to be over in the UK very soon doing some of what we do best with the Wolvesmouth dinners.
Check out Craig Thorntonʼs Green Box Project from 19th - 24th October at Wynward & Ocean Front Walk, Venice Beach, CA