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Dominique Ansel On Hard Work, Creativity And Cronuts

Joyce Jude Lee |
November 6, 2014 | 9:31 a.m. PST

Web Producer

Chef Dominique Ansel sat down with Web Producer Joyce Lee. (Joyce Lee/Neon Tommy)
Chef Dominique Ansel sat down with Web Producer Joyce Lee. (Joyce Lee/Neon Tommy)
Despite the continued success of the Cronut, Dominique Ansel works relentlessly to create new desserts and is as humble as celebrity chefs come. 

His eponymous bakery in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood attracts tourists and locals alike and has garnered him the attention and hype he rightfully deserves. It’s been over a year since he launched the Cronut, but people still line up hours for it and the bakery sells out every morning. 

While the Cronut definitely lives up to its reputation, when you’re visiting his bakery, be sure to try one of his many other innovative pastries. 

READ ALSO: Dominique Ansel Draws Crowds At L.A. Book Signing 

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to consume everything the French chef has to offer in one sitting. But luckily for those of us who don’t have the stomach space or the funds to travel to his New York bakery, chef Ansel just released Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes. The book features recipes and stories about his extraordinary creations (yes, the Cronut recipe is in there!) that’ll help the everyday baker recreate his pastries.

READ ALSO: Cronut Craze Far From Over, But Ansel Already Working on Next Big Thing

DKA Ice Cream Sandwich and the Lobster Tail. (Joyce Lee/Neon Tommy)
DKA Ice Cream Sandwich and the Lobster Tail. (Joyce Lee/Neon Tommy)
After first meeting him at his Bastille Day pop up event, I later sat down with the awe-inspiring chef at his bakery for a chat over lattes and pastries, where we talked about everything and anything food related.

Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes is now available on Amazon and at all major booksellers.


NT: Was there a food-related moment or a dish that inspired you to be a chef?

Not specifically, I mean, if you grow up in France, you eat a lot of good food. Since you’re very young, you eat good butter and drink good milk. If you grow up eating good products, then you learn to appreciate food. If there’s one dish, let me think. I remember eating a lot of good dishes. I remember eating beef tongue boiled with lots of vegetables. It was braised, and it’s really good.

NT: What inspired you to go into the pastry route?

I was a chef for about two years. I was an apprentice; I did this for about two years, and then I descended into baking. I really enjoyed the scientific aspect of baking. I was trained as a chef, so I’m very comfortable cooking. I try to cook for the staff every once in a while. Last time, we cooked rabbit with mushroom and white wine.

NT: Do you feel any pressure when you’re creating the next dessert given the success of the Cronut?

Not at all. I don’t want the creation to [harbor] the creativity. I don’t really push on myself. I do things that I love, and I really try to enjoy myself and be creative. [In regards to the Cronut], we are not a PR company, we didn’t try to force it on people, you know? Even if we did it may not have worked. Especially with food, if people enjoy it, they’ll talk about it; it goes where it has to go.

Chef Ansel's made-to-order madeleines. (Joyce Lee/Neon Tommy)
Chef Ansel's made-to-order madeleines. (Joyce Lee/Neon Tommy)
NT: So before you opened this bakery, you worked closely with chef Daniel Boulud. What has he taught you that you’d want to impart on others?

So much...getting to learn from another person is something truly unique. It really depends on your personality: what you want to learn, how far you want to go, how fast you want to learn.

NT: Yeah, I was reading Marco Pierre White’s autobiography and every chef has different styles, some are aggressive, some aren’t…

There’s a lot of yelling in the kitchen [laughs] but not here. I don’t yell, I’m very calm [laughs].

NT: What advice do you have for young, aspiring chefs?

I think the best advice is to not be afraid of work. And that there’s always more to do, there’s never enough time. When I was an apprentice, I was working 10 hours a day. Then when I became a chef, I was working 12-14 hours a day. Then I came to New York, and I was working 14-16 hours a day. It’s challenging yes, but it’s so rewarding. I thought I was working a lot before I opened my shop, but now I opened my shop…I don’t go to bed until midnight every day, and I wake up at four in the morning. I work a lot now, but I think there’s still more for me to do, so I can come up with more products and keep up the ambition in the future.

NT: Marcella, one of the girls who works here, was named Zagat’s 30 under 30, and I’m sure she has the same work ethic as you!

Yeah, she works very hard, she’s not even 20 yet, she’s 19! But she worked so hard that we just naturally promoted her. It’s so important to have a good attitude, and I really believe that anyone who wants to grow with us can. I have chefs working here that have been with me for years. And this is the smallest kitchen I’ve ever worked in. But what’s really important is to have a good team behind you. Here, we have so many beautiful products to create, and there are so many steps that need to be followed. Some chefs that are my friends that come in are surprised by how many products we’re able to create with such a small space. Well, I say that it is possible, if you work hard and don’t limit yourself to the quantity and quality that’s present.

NT: Thomas Keller (The French Laundry, Per Se) says his favorite part about cooking is nurturing others, would you say it’s the same for you?

Oh yeah, for sure. When you see people eating ice cream in the morning here, you know it’s because they’re coming for the experience. The best part is making people happy. When you see them eating your food and their eyes light up and they smile…you can feel it, you know? That makes me really happy.

Lightening round:

The Cronut. (Joyce Lee/Neon Tommy)
The Cronut. (Joyce Lee/Neon Tommy)
NT: Last supper?

Something very simple, a bowl of noodles maybe. Ramen, or soba.

NT: Five people you’d like to eat dinner with, dead or alive?

That’s a good question. Esocffier [one of the pioneers of the French cuisine], President Obama, who else…Dalai Lama, Joel Robuchon, Steve Jobs…I would have loved a chance to meet him.

NT: What’s your favorite drink?

I like a good beer, Belgian beer.

NT: What’s your favorite song?

I sound very boring right now, I’m always in the kitchen [laughs], I like the music we play here, music from the 60s’.

NT: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve eaten?

I don’t know if it’s interesting more than weird…but I’ve had a cannabis drink. It just tasted like grass…it tasted like nothing.

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