Pastry Maestro Bill Corbett Eats Vegetarian, Loves a Good Avocado, Prefers Belgian Ales

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Corbett in New York for last summer's James Beard House dinner, with Absinthe executive chef Adam Keough in the background. Photo: Courtesy of Absinthe

Bill Corbett, the award-winning pastry chef at Absinthe and Boxing Room, spends his days developing and testing new desserts for the restaurant at the Absinthe Group's off-site kitchen, occasionally dropping by Absinthe for some of their house-made potato chips, or a grilled cheese with avocado from sister café Arlequin. For his San Francisco Diet, he relays a week of eating that's full of some drool-worthy desserts, but a few smoked apple tarts and chocolate-chicory mousses with cinnamon genoise are all in a day's work for him.

Take it away, Bill...

Wednesday, November 7

Arrived back at work a little groggy but riding high after a great Killed by Dessert/Fun Fun Fun Fest weekend in Austin, TX.

First priority of my day always tends to be coffee, luckily Emma was working, she’s one of our lunch servers at Absinthe and she makes the best iced coffee, so I placed my morning coffee order with her. Once I had that in my hands I grabbed a day-old cashew financier, and surprisingly it was still pretty moist and it went great with my coffee. One of my cooks was about to scoop cookie dough that I noticed looked darker than usual, so I pulled off a piece of dough and tasted it to see if anything seemed off. It tasted normal so we baked one off to try. I ate a quarter of it and it tasted good so we went with it.

For lunch I had the veggie sandwich and fries from Arlequin Café. After lunch I began working on a new dish of quince, almond frangipane and rose geranium ice cream. This led to snacking on some poached quince. After we baked off the frangipane we tasted it with the ice cream, it worked together so then we added an olive oil sabayon and tasted again. The dish still needed texture so we decided to revisit the following day.

After that I had to head over to the San Francisco Cooking School for a media event, so I grabbed a second coffee for the walk over. When I arrived I was offered wine and a nice crostini topped with cannellini bean puree, escarole and leeks made Chef Instructor Catherine Pantsios. After the event I headed home. When I got home I realized that the season premiere of Top Chef was on so I grabbed a beer and snacked on some tortilla chips dipped in hummus: a pretty ghetto dinner. I love the beginning of Top Chef because that’s where all the real gems show up on that show. Nothing like watching some guy butcher ducks with a three-dollar paring knife in front of Tom Colicchio. The crap that some of these cooks pull in the first few episodes always astounds me.

Thursday, November 8

Kind of like groundhog day, I start the day with a coffee and a day old cashew financier.
For lunch this time I go with the grilled cheese sandwich with avocado added in. After lunch I start to set everything up for a photo shoot. A food blog wants to shoot my smoked apple tart dish step by step. So I snack on some apples pieces while I’m breaking them down. They’re really great Fuji apples from Knoll Farms. Once we get the dish completed and shot, we try it. It’s smoked caramelized apples baked into a tart with buttermilk ice cream, nasturtium and a hazelnut sort of butterfinger crumble sprinkled over the top. When that’s done I test out a new chocolate chicory mousse for Boxing Room. I head home and meet up with my wife and we go to the grocery store to grab a few things for dinner. I make us mushroom, kale, and goat cheese sandwiches on a garlic loaf. We have some seared acorn squash on the side, along with a Belgian ale.

Friday, November 9

As per usual, the first thing I go for is a cup of coffee. My prep cook Elmer usually has some brewed before I get in and it makes me very happy. Today I again go for the grilled cheese with avocado and add some fries on the side. I’m a sucker for pretty much any potato. More dish testing today. We dial in the almond quince cake and test a delicate almond base for it. We taste it and decide it’s ready for the menu. We also put together the new dish for Boxing Room which consists of chocolate-chicory mousse, cinnamon genoise, orange marmalade, and a chicory crumble. Both dishes get our approval so they both go on the menu tonight, which is a blast because I have to explain new dishes to two sets of servers fifteen minutes apart. After all is ready and both restaurants are set up for the night, I head home to Oakland. I don’t feel like cooking so we order takeout from Boot and Shoe Service. We try to order a cauliflower and pickled beets dish but they don’t serve that one for takeout. We get a margherita and a potato, leek, and Castelvetrano olive pizza. My wife loves those olives, so we also order an extra side of them, and we eat the pizza at home with some Belgian Pale Ale.

Saturday, November 10

I head to the farmers' market before work. I try some nice Asian pears from K&J; Orchards, a super buttery slice of Reed avocado from Brokaw. I buy one of the Reed avocados for home. Hamada had some really great super ripe Hachiya persimmons for me. I ate one of those on the over to the kitchen. I get to work and I’m really in the mood for eggs, so after I get my coffee I order a breakfast burrito. I run around to the restaurants to inform the front of house staff about the new dishes. When I get to Boxing Room, chef Justin is also going over some new brunch items so I taste some fruit from his new fruit bowl with house made cream cheese. Had a little fig, some Fuyu persimmon and a piece of banana. I get back to my kitchen and finish off my breakfast burrito. Not the lightest start to my day.

I spend most of my afternoon getting caught up on paper work and drinking coffee. I head back over to Absinthe followed by Boxing Room to go over the new dishes before dinner service. On the way I grab a handful of the potato chips they make in Absinthe, which I do all too often. After going over the new dishes I head back over to my kitchen to make sure everything is ready for service. We get a batch of caramelized apples smoking and I try the new coffee ice cream that my sous chef Becky has come up with. Thirty minutes later I take the apples off of the smoke and taste them. They’re pretty smoky, but that diminishes after they’re baked into the tarts. I also eat a chunk of sweet potato bread with salted butter — it’s something we serve for brunch over a Boxing Room. Around eight p.m., I swing by Arlequin to see what sales were like. There are a few morning buns left which have made it to family meal. So, like a jerk I rip the center out of one and put the rest back, the center is my favorite part. About an hour later I head home. I make some food for my wife but I’m not super hungry so I just dip some tortilla chips in hummus since I’m feeling a little cross-cultural.

Sunday, November 11

I wake up, take the dogs out, then brew myself a cup of Intelligentsia Coffee. Luckily my downstairs neighbor is a coffee roaster for Intelligentsia so I have a great coffee connection. I just want to eat something quick so I make some toast with fig marmalade and some of that goat’s milk cheese. My wife and I run some errands, we do some grocery shopping and then head home. When we get home I decide I should probably eat something healthy so I make some wild rice, okra sautéed with Serrano chiles, some crispy tempeh and I reheat some of the leftover kale from the sandwiches. A Belgian ale helps it all go down and then I brew myself another coffee and relax while watching The Walking Dead, Dexter, and Homeland.

Monday, November 12

Monday morning I wake up and brew myself the last of the Intelligentsia beans. This makes the rest of my day look a little grim. We head over to my wife’s office where she gets some design work done and I look for new bands to check out. She ends up working a little longer than expected and before we know it it’s dinner time and we haven’t eaten yet. I’m kind of bad about eating normally on my days off. We head home and I start getting dinner ready. I get a text asking if I’m going to the Napalm Death show tonight and I kick myself for forgetting. I’ve already settled into the idea of a quiet night at home when I got the text. Dinner is super lazy, I make seared tofu sandwiches and tater tots (oh it must be awesome to be married to a chef...). Halfway through “cooking” dinner I get a text from Johnny Iuzzini telling me he’s heading to Boxing Room. I didn’t even know he was in town. Now my relaxed night is a stressful one — I live nowhere near the restaurant so there is no way I can get in there to see the desserts go out. All I can do is make some phone calls and stress the importance of sending out as close to perfect food as possible. Hey no big deal, it’s only one of the best pastry chefs in the country and I get to play armchair pastry chef. I trust the cooks over there so all I can do is dip my sweet tater tots in some sriracha mayo and relax. So I have a couple of beers and watch some Sons of Anarchy.

Tuesday, November 13

Back to work from my days off, trying not to stress out about Johnny Iuzzini’s visit to Boxing Room, I grab my first coffee of the day and try a day old almond quince cake, since the cashew financier is now off the menu. Then I realize Emma is working lunch and I ask her for one of her great iced coffees. I decide salad might be the better choice for lunch so I order a farm greens salad with hardboiled egg and avocado. It’s a pretty busy day with parties, we have a party of 25 in our private dining room. They have a choice of gateau basque filled with sour cherry preserves, which I taste, or a chocolate pot de crème. Then during an afternoon meeting one of the office folks drops a large container full of leftover Halloween candies in the middle of the table. Everyone falls victim. I have a “fun sized” milky way and some Reese’s Pieces. Then I head back over to the kitchen to get some production done, grabbing another coffee on the way. I also grab a handful of those damn potato chips. Around seven I head over to Absinthe to plate up the quince dish so that one of the sous chefs can try it. I try a couple of the newer cheeses while I’m there, a Blythedale Camembert and Nuvola Di Pecora. I head home around 8 which gets me home around 9. My wife is in the mood for tacos, which sounds great to me because I won’t have to cook, so I head over to our favorite local taco truck Tacos Mi Rancho near Lake Merritt in Oakland. I get myself a veggie burrito and some tortilla chips to go with it. Another Belgian ale to go with it. So much for any effects that salad may have had. I try to finish the night on a healthy note by drinking a ginger kombucha.

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