French-born pastry chef and owner of Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City. Since its opening in November 2011, the chef’s eponymous bakery has become known for many signature creations including the Cronut, Cookie Shot, DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann), Frozen S’mores, and many other pastries.
THIS STORY IS FROM BOXY ISSUE 4 | TWIST. TO READ THE FULL Q&A INTERVIEW, AVAILABLE HERE.
Words | Darren Bridges
Baking with Creative License
Chef Dominique Ansel’s passion for pastry is what pushes him to make extraordinary, unexpected creations, like the oh-so-popular and delicious Cronut. His creative thinking and experimentation has helped him become a well-known pastry chef across the globe. We had a chance to chat with him about his successes, motivations, and favorite foods.
In 2011, you opened Dominique Ansel Bakery, and it quickly became a popular spot. What sparked your decision to start your own business?
When I was younger, working in kitchens in France, I always hoped that someday I might be good enough to open a shop of my own. I knew I had a lot to learn, so I worked hard and learned as much as I could—from my days at Fauchon to moving to New York to work at Daniel. I set out to open my own shop in 2011, not knowing what would happen. People would give me advice and tell me that a French bakery in New York would fail, and that I should make cupcakes and cheesecakes, but I didn’t listen. Instead, we started a small shop on a quiet street in Soho with just four employees. We made pastries and served coffee for our neighborhood. We started from humble beginnings and we’ve since grown a bit more, but I’ll never forget those early days. For us, it’s about continuing to create and sharing what we do with our guests.
Let’s talk about the Cronut. You just celebrated its 5th anniversary. Back then, did you realize it would be a viral sensation?
I get asked that question a lot. I could have never imagined it. The Cronut was just something that we decided to put on our menu around Mother’s Day in 2013. We change our menus every six to eight weeks at the bakery. For us, it was just another new item.
Along with the Cronut, you’ve pioneered creations like the frozen s’more and the chocolate chip cookie shot. Have you ever created something that didn’t turn out the way you expected?
Of course. For us, a pastry is never complete. There’s always a new, better way to do something, whether it’s in the presentation or with flavors and ingredients. If something doesn’t quite work, we keep on working on it to make it better and better.
Why do you believe your creations are so popular?
There’s something so nostalgic about pastries that ties into people’s memories and emotions. When you eat desserts, it’s for celebrations, happy moments, gatherings with friends, and family. It brings people back to their childhoods. Those early memories of baking something in the kitchen with your mom or grandmother. What’s most important for us is that our pastries tell a story and connect with people. For example, with the frozen s’more, it takes people back to those days around the campfire during summertime.
If you could only make one pastry for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I’d make our DKA, which stands for Dominique’s Kouign Amann. It has flaky tender layers on the inside and a caramelized crunchy crust on the outside. It’s been with us since day one and is our best-seller. It’s my favorite. I have one every morning for breakfast.
What else do you eat?
It depends on the day and where I am. I just returned from London a few days ago and was able to try wonderful new restaurants. But when I’m home in NYC, I like to explore. There are a few restaurants that I go to often that I really love, like Mary’s Fish Camp and I Sodi, right in our neighborhood in the West Village. I like sushi a lot. There’s also great Taiwanese food in Flushing. And late at night or on a weekend morning, it’s a fried egg with rice and good soy sauce—so simple and satisfying.