William Werner worked as a beach lifeguard in his native Sarasota, Florida, during high school. He planed to pursue a career in emergency medicine and spent his free time surfing the waves. A group of older lifeguards showed him the basics of cooking and Werner was drawn not only to cuisine, but also the camaraderie that comes with it. He couldn’t afford culinary school and instead looked for a restaurant job, landing at a local vegetarian restaurant. The chef, a Chez Panisse and The French Laundry alum, became a mentor, instilling in him the standards and rigor of those great restaurants.
When a pastry chef position opened, Werner found the cerebral aspects of the sweet station appealing. Since transitioning to the sweet side, he has worked everywhere from The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company to San Francisco’s Quince, honing an impressive mastery of pastry techniques and developing a distinct creative outlook. In 2011 he developed the pop-up concept Tell Tale Preserve Company and began selling a wide array of inventive pastry at the city’s farmers markets and local coffee shops.
In summer 2012, Werner opened Craftsman and Wolves, a contemporary pâtisserie in the vibrant Mission district of San Francisco. He has garnered praise both locally and nationally in publications including Food & Wine, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, Bon Appétit, and Wallpaper, and he was nominated for the 2013 James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Pastry Chef” award. His next step includes plans to flesh out his pop-up high tea concept, Kettle Whistle, as a brick and mortar location.
Why: We all connect through food and all depend on it for survival. Delivering hot meals to homebound seniors is such a simple idea with a huge impact.
About: The Meals On Wheels Association of America is the oldest and largest national organization composed of and representing local, community-based Senior Nutrition Programs in all 50 U.S. states
Interview with 2013 San Francisco Bay Area Rising Star Chef William Werner
Katherine Sacks: What drew you to a pastry career?
William Werner: It’s kind of an off story. I was lifeguarding at the time and wanted to pursue a career in emergency medicine. I was lifeguarding on the beach, the youngest by far, and the guys I was working with were really into food. It just kind of exposed me because I was an only child and cooking very healthy wasn't something I was into at a time. Being exposed to these guys and the camaraderie was great. I remember the first Food & Wine magazine I bought; I hid it under my surfer magazine. So I started looking for a food job; I wanted to go to culinary school but couldn’t get the financial support for it. I landed in a vegetarian kitchen. The chef was really awesome, he had worked at all these great places, Chez Panisse, The French Laundry. It gave me tons of exposure to the food scene and the depth of cooking, he challenged me with that. I cooked for awhile, and I started dating the pastry chef. Things went south and it became my responsibility to do desserts. I didn't want to go home smelling like fish and I like the aspect of pastry that’s really cerebral.
KS: Where do you find inspiration?
WW: A lot of different things. Maintaining your craft, inspiration, can come from a lot of different sources. I'm inspired by anyone and everyone. I’m fortunate to be in San Francisco where we have some of the most talented chefs in the country.
KS: How would you describe your style?
WW: I think it's clean, minimal flavor combinations, texture driven, technique driven. Good ingredients are only a starting point.
KS: Now that you have your own shop, do you see yourself as a baker or a pastry chef?
WW: Definitely pastry chef. Chad at Tartine is a baker. We do breads but we are definitely pastry focused.
KS: What are the three rules to pastry success?
WW: Patience, discipline, and unrelenting drive to better yourself. To be a great pastry chef you need to be multidisciplined, to learn how to temper chocolate, laminate dough, work with sugar. Everyone has a strong suit but the cook who comes to me who can only laminate dough is only good to me if I only need someone to laminate dough.
KS: Where will we find you in 5 years?
WW: Hopefully on a sunny hot beach, somewhere relaxing. We have a concept called Kettle Whistle, which is like high tea, and we’d like to do it brick and mortar. There are different concepts built around this dynamic.