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A Day In The Life Of Absinthe's Pastry Chef, Bill Corbett

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Bill chats with Staffan Terje as Kim Alter carries crates in the background.
Bill chats with Staffan Terje as Kim Alter carries crates in the background.

Here now, another episode of A Day in the Life, wherein Eater goes undercover with a professional in San Francisco's food scene.

[Photos: Eva Frye]

Today we follow acclaimed pastry chef Bill Corbett, who runs the pastry programs at Absinthe, Arlequin, Boxing Room, and Comstock Saloon. NBD. This is what Bill did on his birthday, Saturday, June 9th.

8:30 a.m.: Bill arrives at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market on an amazingly warm and sunny morning. First order of business: caffeine, obviously. Brave the Blue Bottle lines before wrangling a market cart from Cuesa.

9:00 a.m.: Caffeinated and carted, it's time to pick up orders placed the day before: strawberries from Dirty Girl, cherries from Hamada ("Cliff is great. He hand picks my orders for me."), and raspberries and blackberries from Yerena. Here he runs into Saison's forager, Jeffrey Stoneberger, and they start talking about a sweet strawberry hook up in Healdsberg, whose fruit sounds like a thing of legend: "Nancy Skall of Middleton Farms... Best strawberries of my life. You don't even have to cut the stems; they just pull right out. They're like double the cost of strawberries around here at $70 a flat, but they're so worth it if you have the money," Bill says. "Give me her info, man. Seriously," Jeffrey replies.

9:30 a.m.: When he's at K & J for his peaches, one of the owners bids good morning with a "Hi Bill! Happy Birthday!" They get to talking about meringue. She wonders why hers cracked, and he pipes back, "You probably whipped it too quickly. You have to whip it slowly to create tinier air bubbles. Here's an analogy I give my cooks: meringue is like a room filled with balloons. If it's filled with a lot of small balloons and a few pop, it's not a big deal. But if you have a bunch of big ones in a room and a few pop, that's when it breaks." He picks up $240 dollars worth of blueberries, 36 pounds, to create a dish for a Share Our Strength benefit on the roof of Charlie Palmer Steak in DC— white chocolate verbena cream, blueberry compote, almond frangipane, almond streusel. He'll make it in San Francisco, package it up, and personally see it to DC.

9:45 a.m.: Cart full of gorgeous fruit, he makes a prediction: "Now that we have strawberries, everyone is going to ogle the cart. You should see what happens when we get buddha's hand [citrus]." Sure enough, the sea of people slows to molasses near his cart. On his way out, Kim Alter and Ron Boyd of the Daniel Patterson Group stop Bill to say hi and wish him a happy birthday.

10 a.m.: Bill loads up a cab with his flats of fruit and heads to his production kitchen on Ivy Street, down the way from Arlequin, Absinthe, and Boxing Room. Carlo Espinas, the head chef from Comstock, meets him to discuss some new dishes.

Arlequin-Bill.JPG10:30 a.m.: Lunch lineup is at Absinthe down the street. On the way there, he grabs a Sightglass coffee from Arlequin. He explains dish changes and has servers try a new set: roasted white chocolate panna cotta, cacao nib praline, hibiscus meringue. Milk solids in the white chocolate are browned sous-vide for a rich, nutty flavor and the chocolate takes on a toasted hue.

11 a.m.: After the Boxing Room and Absinthe chefs let him know they're set for service, he starts planning, preparing, and plating his dessert for the event in DC June 12th. This is after, of course, he cranks up metal band Doom Riders. "This is my jam," he smiles.

1:30 p.m.: Bill works on two new dishes to be put on the menu Sunday:
1) Peaches and Coriander Cream with yogurt cake, white ale poached peaches. 2) Lemon Verbena Cheesecake, blueberry compote, graham cracker.

4:30 p.m.: After completing the myriad of administrative duties associated with being the pastry chef of four different restaurants, he does one last dinner lineup at Absinthe.

4:55 p.m.: After securing service with the chefs in charge while he's out of town, Bill leaves a few hours early in the spirit of birthday fun to celebrate with his wife and friends at Una Pizza Napoletana and see some metal at Slim's, because that's his jam.

11:00 p.m.: Brandon Jew at Bar Agricole next door went out of his way to put together some "on the fly awesomeness" in terms of snacks for him after his metal sesh.

12:45 a.m.: On the way home, Bill stops by the Tacos Mi Rancho truck in Oakland since no birthday is complete without a drunk burrito.

Thanks to our friends at the Absinthe Group who expertly dodged Eater cameras.

· All Absinthe Coverage [~ ESF ~]

Boxing Room

399 Grove Street, San Francisco, CA 94102 Visit Website

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