Teaching an Old Craft Some New Tricks

by Rebecca Cohen
Antoinette Bruno
June 2013

Biography

Restaurant

From the widespread cache of the “artisan” designation, you might get the impression that an old-is-new food movement is taking place. But William Werner doesn’t buy it. “We’re trying to respect and be appreciative of classic techniques and traditions,” he says, “but we’re putting our own spin on it.” At his San Francisco pastry shop, Craftsman and Wolves, Werner draws from old-school pastry practices to forge his own forward-thinking style. He’s earnest, but not literal, with his sweet interpretations.

“The one thing I want to do, coming from the restaurant world, is drive a lot of change.” As a pastry chef in such high-end Bay Area kitchens as Quince and The Ritz Carlton Halfmoon Bay, Werner was at the cutting edge of pastry. But he wasn’t satisfied with catering to the elite clientele he found there. Rather, he was inspired to bring haute cuisine to the masses with a progressive patisserie where he could continue in the same spirit of adventurous culinary evolution. “We’re trying to create a new [idea] of what a pastry shop can be, take it to the next level, make it a little more chef-driven. It’s a new concept for people, so we have to educate them.”

Craftsman and Wolves

Craftsman and Wolves

Chocolate Croissant Stack

Chocolate Croissant Stack

Chocolate-Caramel-Vietnamese Cinnamon Cube Cake

Chocolate-Caramel-Vietnamese Cinnamon Cube Cake

Coffee-Caramel Éclair

Coffee-Caramel Éclair

When it comes to channeling his team’s exuberant creativity, Werner says, “We always have to ask ourselves ‘Is this going to translate well to the guest? Is it going to be as relevant to them as to us?’”

“If I wasn’t a business owner I might see it differently,” says Werner, “but I think it’s important to take your guests for a ride, while always making sure they’re comfortable.” This means gaining customers’ trust with expertly prepared classics. “If we’d opened this shop without a good muffin or a good scone, we wouldn’t have been able to go on that ride. You can do all the most modern, crazy, wacked-out techniques, but if you make a blueberry muffin and it sucks, you didn’t win.”

Werner appreciates the time-tested techniques he employs in his kitchen on a daily basis, but he’s not limited by the centuries-old practices. “[We make] constant improvements,” he says. “We’re looking at Viennese and French pastry, or even Japanese pastry, giving it a nod and keeping it recognizable, but applying our flavor palate to it.” With his impeccably laminated croissants and the precisely piped pâte à choux of his éclairs, Werner salutes these sweet standard bearers—and then proceeds with his innovations. His Chocolate-Caramel-Vietnamese Cinnamon Cube Cake is a sleek post-modern entremet. And his Thai Mango-Coconut-Green Curry-Ginger Scone would shake up even the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

Since it opened in 2012, Craftsman and Wolves has established itself not only as the kind of place locals stop by daily for a croissant and a coffee, but as the go-to shop for special occasions and a destination for tourists. “In the beginning I think everyone was thrown off,” says Werner. “But now they’re starting to understand what we’re doing and they look forward to what’s coming next.” Werner is cultivating a new generation of pastry lovers. “I think that’s a key of being an artisan—you’re not just perfecting and working on your craft, but you’re also teaching it.”