Bill Corbett- Pastry Chef at Absinthe Brasserie and Bar

March 2, 2011

San Francisco has many talented pastry chefs who don’t get a lot of recognition. This is the first of an occasional profile of some of the top pastry chefs in the Bay Area.  I recently chatted with Bill Corbett from Absinthe Brasserie and Bar and Arlequin Café and Food to Go about his sweet world.

Bill grew up outside of Toronto in Kitchener, Canada and moved to Tampa Florida with only $800 and no job, following punk rock bands before he got into cooking.  He says he learned pastry on the job.  “My first pastry position was with Lincoln Carson who is currently corporate pastry chef for Michael Mina. He was and continues to be a mentor of mine. Before that, when it was slow in a Brooklyn kitchen where I worked on the savory side, I would read and practice from cooking text books and learned the basics”

He and his wife always wanted to move to the West Coast, and when Carson let him know that the pastry position was available at Michael Mina, he jumped at the chance. “I moved having only been here for our honeymoon.”

Bill’s desserts focus on the combination of ingredients and technique. Since we are fortunate to have such incredible ingredients in California he feels sometimes chefs here rely too much on the ingredients and don’t focus enough on technique, whereas pastry chefs from other parts of the country rely more on technique. They do get good produce in the summer but their season is much shorter. The best tasting desserts use both.

What desserts on the Absinthe menu are you excited about?

The German Chocolate Cake with milk chocolate mousse, pressed coconut and candied Pecans. It’s a recipe I have had for awhile. Periodically I reinvent it. Also the Earl Grey Pavlova with Meyer Lemon Curd and Mint Ice Cream. The meringues are crispy on the outside and soft and chewy in the middle.

 What flavors/ingredients excite you now?

Yogurt- We make it and I love the acidity and creaminess it adds to desserts. Also Roobios Tea. It’s red tea from South African and has a red berry flavor. It’s especially good this time of year when I want to incorporate berry flavor but can’t get good berries. It pairs well with Manjari Chocolate from Vahlrona.

  What do you like least?

Nothing really, but I’m not a big of a fan of ripe payayas. It’s a textural thing.

 What dessert comes to mind when I mention the following ingredients:

Rhubarb– Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Passion fruit– Panna Cotta

Chocolate– Mousse

Strawberries– Angel Food Cake

Coconut– German Chocolate Cake

Almonds– Cherry Tart

What’s your least favorite pastry trend?

The avant garde and molecular trend when not done well. You have to really understand it. If the consumer can tell you used a bizarre ingredient you haven’t done your job as a pastry chef. It isn’t about the ingredient but how the dessert tastes. The ice cream may not melt by the time it gets to the table but if it tastes gummy from too much stabilizer that doesn’t make sense from a flavor perspective.

What would you like to see pastry chefs do more of?

Use more salt and acid. Desserts lack balance and aren’t seasoned properly. Taste desserts and add salt and acid as necessary. You can’t always just follow a recipe.

What dessert has someone else created that you wished you had thought of?

William Werner’s Green Tea Nougatine

 Who has influenced your dessert style?

Besides Lincoln, Sam Mason, Wylie Dufresne, Johnny Izzuni, Alex Stupak.

What kitchen tool would you be lost without?

A burr mixer

Where do you like to eat out in the city?

I live in Oakland. Boot and Shoe Service is around the corner. They have good pizza that’s well seasoned.

What was the last thing you made outside of work?


What was the last thing you ate? A Do-si-dos girl scout cookie. It’s an oat flour cookie with a peanut butter filling. It’s just like a Nabisco Pirate Cookie I used to have as a kid.

One comment

  1. I like this topic! I look forward to more in this series. Perhaps you could get someone to interview you? That would be interesting to see…

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