The Absinthe Group’s Executive Pastry Chef Bill Corbett said the origins started on Twitter, with conversations between Lincoln Carson, Corporate Pastry Chef for The Mina Group and some of his colleagues. “There was an ongoing conversation between a few of us and someone asked Lincoln what his five favorite things were to eat. After he explained his choices, I chimed in and asked why didn’t we create a menu like that – items we were fond of,” Corbett said. “I was actually on the East Coast at that time and that sort of sprouted the idea to do a fun event with those types of items.”
So Corbett, along with Carson, Brooks Headley of Del Posto Restaurant in New York, Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar in New York, Francisco Migoya with The Culinary Institute of America and Michael Laiskonis with the Institute of Culinary Education formed Killed By Dessert, a group of pastry chefs putting out fun dinners focusing on their favorite menu items, concepts and ingredients, the kind of event that “they wanted to do.”
“We have all done these large events where we don’t really have much of a say in how it is organized. We might plate desserts and explain what the dish is to all of the guests. But that’s not what we wanted. We want Killed By Dessert to be more free from a set structure – guests can watch us in the open kitchen, ask us questions, maybe even plate dishes if they so please. We’re breaking the barriers of the wall between the dining room and the kitchen.”
So far, the crew has held events in New York, Austin and Washington, D.C. The San Francisco stop is the biggest yet, with a bake sale and a dinner (which is sold out) both on the schedule. Corbett said it’s a little easier to plan in San Francisco since both he and Carson are based here. The dinner will feature multiple dessert items from all of the founding chefs (Migoya cannot attend so Matthew Tinder with the Daniel Patterson Group is replacing him). Corbett said that it won’t be all sweets as there will be some savory hors d’oeuvres and main items as well.
After word got out about the event coming to San Francisco, several of Corbett’s friends in the pastry industry here asked if they could participate, which led to the creation of a bake sale on Saturday, May 11. “There are so many talented pastry chefs doing amazing things in the Bay Area. We knew we couldn’t keep adding on to the dinner so we have a number of chefs creating items for sale. We figure we have more than 2,000 products for sale on Saturday. We thought it would be a great way to showcase what pastry chefs are doing.” All the founding chefs will be on hand for the bake sale along with Shawn Gawle of Saison, Jessica Sullivan with Delfina, Greg Mindel of Neighbor Bakehouse, Belinda Leong with b. patisserie, Melissa Chou with Aziza, Stephanie Prida of Manresa, Nicole Krasinski with State Bird Provisions and the aforementioned Tinder.
Corbett, who develops pastries for Absinthe, Boxing Room and Arlequin, said organizing the event has been a lot of work (he even quipped that Killed By Dessert might kill him first on Twitter), but the group has had help from Share Our Strength. Although they never planned for the event to be charity-driven, they also wanted the money raised to go to a good cause. So Share Our Strength is helping with the logistics and the money raised will go to the worthy cause of ending childhood hunger.
Growing up in Canada and moving to the East Coast, Corbett was mentored by Carson and has worked at some of the best restaurants across the country, including WD-50 in New York and Michael Mina and Coi in San Francisco. While many pastry chefs talk about the differences between the sweet and savory side in the kitchen, Corbett said he actually works with both, learning the techniques first and then borrowing techniques from the savory side to create menu items.
He also said the landscape has changed in the world of pastries, which can be seen in San Francisco. “More and more restaurants aren’t spending money for a separate pastry chef, so they are leaving it up to the other side of the kitchen. Other than some of the corporate or hotel restaurants, there really aren’t a lot of positions available for pastry chefs. That’s why I think in San Francisco, there are so many chefs doing their own thing.” He said one of the positives of that outsourcing is that chefs are now able to run with their own concepts and develop inspiration through conversations with the rest of their staff, chefs and produce they are getting from the local markets.
The Killed By Dessert bake sale takes place on Saturday May 11 from 11:00-2:00pm at the San Francisco Cooking School on 690 Van Ness Avenue. The event is free to attend and items are being sold a la carte.
Photo Credit: Shuna Lydon, Killed By Dessert event in NY