How the Cronut king conquered the pastry world
While Dominique Ansel is globally famous for his genius invention of the Cronut – a literal and viral sensation that still generates daily lines down the street some five years after its birth – that creation is merely the highest profile weapon in the chef’s considerable culinary arsenal.
The French-born, New York-based pastry specialist is a serial originator, putting his relentless creativity to effect at his Dominique Ansel Bakery café-shops in New York, Tokyo and London, as well as at the bakery-restaurant hybrid Dominique Ansel Kitchen in Manhattan.
His creations include: the Frozen S’more – vanilla ice-cream wrapped in salted chocolate encased in honey marshmallow that is then torched to order; the Cookie Shot – a warm cookie shaped as a shot glass filled with vanilla-infused cold milk; an original take on a traditional Breton bun called Dominique’s Kouign Amman (DKA); a filled-choux indulgence called Paris-NY; the popular Christmas Morning Cereal and many more.
What so many of Ansel’s innovations share is a desire to take established pastry tropes and push them forward, initially referencing the culture of his adopted home in the US, but later picking up elements from the UK and Japan for his bespoke menus there. From the outset, Ansel’s offer has been wide, encompassing savoury dishes, Viennoiserie, ice cream and quality coffee in order to tempt his customers to linger. This has been matched with smart marketing devices including limiting availability of some items to certain times of the day, changing the menu regularly and introducing a new Cronut flavour every month.
Born in 1978 in the northern French town of Beauvais, Ansel grew up in a working-class family where going hungry was not unusual. He started work as a dishwasher-cum-chef at 16, moving to Paris aged 20, by which time he had fallen in love with the baker’s art. After working his way up the hierarchy at luxury Parisian food purveyor Fauchon, he was headhunted by fellow French chef Daniel Boulud to join him at his successful New York restaurant.
After six successful years as executive pastry chef there, during which Daniel earned its third Michelin star and rode high in The Worlds’ 50 Best Restaurants list, Ansel struck out on his own, opening a small outlet in NYC’s Spring Street in late 2011. It was from here, boosted by the overnight Cronut phenomenon in 2012, that he rapidly built his reputation. In 2015, he and partner Amy Ma opened the much larger Dominique Ansel Kitchen (DAK) in Greenwich Village, incorporating a production facility, where they offer pastry and bakery items on a made-to-order basis.
At DAK, Ansel also serves a sit-down tasting menu entitled UP, standing for Unlimited Possibilities. A table for 12 hangs suspended in the kitchen during the daytime, only to be lowered for dinner service. It offers the chef the chance to express himself more fully and for the team to build relationships with diners that are not possible in a retail environment.
In the coming autumn, Ansel will take that process a step further with the opening of his first full-service restaurant – alongside one of his bakeries – in Los Angeles, drawing on his early chef training and his years working under Boulud.
As for the Cronut, he remains grateful for its transformative power, saying, “It is a beautiful product, but it’s not everything. I always say that we don’t want our creation to kill our creativity.” For the newly crowned World’s Best Pastry Chef, there seems little danger of that creativity being curtailed.
Dominique Ansel Bakery
189 Spring Street (between Sullivan and Thompson)
New York, NY 10012
+1 212 219 2773
Images: Thomas Schauer
Now read our interview with Dominique Ansel, where he discusses his mentor Daniel Boulud, veal brains and moving beyond bakery