Pastry Chef Bill Corbett
Anthos | New York
Bill Corbett started out dishwashing in the canteens of his native Waterloo, Canada, broke into the New York pastry scene when a friend gave him Lincoln Carson’s business card, and went on to work with key players in the world of American avant-garde.
In 1999, after spending several years kitchen hopping, Bill traded Canada for Florida, working as a kitchen manager at a local café. Bill came to New York in 2002, working the line at a small Brooklyn eatery before claiming a post under Lincoln Carson at B.R. Guest. Under Carson, Bill developed a sense for classic pastry technique and left with a serious technical foundation that allowed him to push into new terrain.
Carson introduced him to then wd-50 pastry chef Sam Mason,
who hired Bill as his pastry sous and taught him about integrating
sweet and savory and breaking the rules – intelligently. The
next step was the executive pastry chef post at Dona; when
Dona closed in January 2007, Bill relocated to Anthos,
the new Greek-inspired project by Michael Psilakis and Donatella
Arpaia. At Anthos, Bill (who has no Greek background) had
the interesting task of creating a modern Greek dessert menu. His
creations came from intensive research and were inspired by everything
from classic Greek street food like loukoumades to the entire flavor
profile spectrum of sesame in different raw and processed forms.
In August 2007 Corbett re-located to San Francisco, California to
take the pastry chef position at Michael Mina.
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AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
BC: In New York, I worked with Lincoln Carson in the executive kitchens of B.R. Guest Relations. We managed the pastry production of seven properties there. That gave me a really good pastry foundation. After that, I worked as pastry sous under Sam Mason at wd-50 until I was offered the executive pastry chef position at Dona. When Dona closed in January 2007, Michael Psilakis and Donatella Arpaia opened Anthos, and I moved over there.
AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
BC: I think it’s good to go to culinary school, but I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum and the truth is that if you start out working at a great place, you’ll learn all you need to know.
AB: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
BC: Lincoln Carson, Sam Mason and Wylie Dufresne were all my mentors. Lincoln taught me how important it is for a pastry chef to have a strong foundation and solid technique. Sam and Wylie showed me how to interpret things in my own way. They are rule breakers – they encouraged me to use my foundation to twist things around and manipulate them.
AB: Where have you staged?
BC: I staged with Johnny
Iuzzini at Jean Georges. I still call him for advice all
the time. He really helped me build a solid foundation. After that,
I staged at wd-50, which led to a full-time position.
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
BC: I look for someone who has a really strong desire to learn. Experience isn’t important to me. You just have to be passionate and have a strong desire to get it right.
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
BC: Keep your head down, pay your dues, and don’t climb the ladder too fast – once you get to the top, it’s hard to go back down.
AB: What ingredient that you like do you feel is underappreciated of underutilized? Why?
BC: Oranges are incredibly versatile. You use them for zest, juice, confit, blossom water, to round out any dish or sauce – they have a lot of potential.
AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or borrowed and used in an unusual way?
BC: I bake shortbread, purée it to a fine consistency, and then combine it with tahini and halva. I first saw Jordan Kahn do something similar, but in my way, I mold the mixture in acetate and use it frozen in my sesame dessert.
AB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
BC: My sous chef is Thai and I really want to go to Thailand. I’d like to find some new produce over there to use.
AB: What languages do you speak?
BC: French and kitchen Spanish.
AB: What are your favorite restaurants off-the-beaten-path?
BC: Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches in the East Village, Oasis in Williamsburg, and Lily Thai for panang curry with chilies, basil and garlic.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
BC: People are trying a little too hard to be avant-garde. They are pushing savory flavors on pastry. They are also trying to use hydrocolloids all over the place, but not everyone is doing it properly. Sometimes it gets to the point that it’s not even a dessert anymore. At the same time, it can work really well if done right. Sam Mason works well with savory elements in pastry.
AB: How are you involved in your local culinary community on a national and global level?
BC: I try to set up stages for my cooks as much as I can – I want to influence them to network and broaden their experience. I would like to teach, but sort of on my own terms. I’d like to open a restaurant and set one afternoon aside every week to teach classes for people who want to get into the industry. I didn’t go to culinary school because I couldn’t afford it, and restaurants in New York almost always required New York experience or culinary school, so I know how hard it is. It would be nice to help some people out.
AB: What are your top three tips for pastry success?
BC: Find a mentor, build a strong foundation, and don’t jump too early into a position you’re not ready for.
AB: If you weren’t a chef, what do you think you’d be doing?
BC: Fixing bicycles! I ride my bike to and from work everyday.
AB: What does success mean for you?
BC: I’m vegan, so I’d like to open a vegan/vegetarian fine dining restaurant. I’m developing a vegan menu and pastries now.
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