What's Burning podcast

025: Dominique Ansel - Chef/Owner of Dominique Ansel Bakery & Workshop

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James Beard Award- winning Pastry Chef, Dominique Ansel has shaken up the pastry world with innovation and creativity at the heart of his work. Chef Dominique is responsible for creating some of the most fêted pastries in the world, including: the Cronut® (named one of TIME Magazine’s “25 Best inventions of 2013”), The Cookie Shot, Frozen S’more, Blossoming Hot Chocolate, and many more. He is the Chef/Owner of eponymous bakeries in New York City and Hong Kong, and has been named the World’s Best Pastry Chef by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. He is also the recipient of the Ordre du Mérite Agricole, France’s second highest honor.

Perhaps what has been most widely been reported on is Dominique’s creation of the Cronut®, his signature croissant-doughnut hybrid pastry that first launched at his eponymous Bakery in New York in May 2013, soon becoming the world’s first-ever viral pastry. Within hours, photos of the Cronut® spread across the social media sphere, and a single blog post about this brand new pastry was linked to over 140,000 times in just the first day. Within days, guests visited from all around the world to line up for blocks around the bakery, rain or shine.

Taking two months and more than 10 different recipes to perfect, the Cronut® isn’t simply croissant dough that’s been fried. Made with laminated dough that has been likened to a croissant (but instead uses a proprietary recipe), it's first proofed then fried in grapeseed oil at a specific temperature. Once cooked, each Cronut® is 1. rolled in sugar; 2. filled with cream; and 3. topped with glaze. The entire process takes three days to complete. Today, Cronut® pastries are available only at Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York, with the flavor changing every month, never repeating. In its first year, TIME Magazine named the Cronut® one of the “25 Best Inventions of 2013,” and it has since appeared in the news across the world, from Good Morning America to the The Today Show, ABC’s The Chew, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Live with Kelly & Michael, CNN’s Piers Morgan Live with Anthony Bourdain, E! News, Bloomberg, and more. It has also been featured on TV shows like Modern Family, The Mindy Project, Jeopardy!, Two Broke Girls, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Gilmore Girls, and others.

But before the Cronut®, a time that our very first guests refer to as B.C. (“Before Cronut®”), it all began years ago from humble beginnings. Growing up in a small town in France just north of Paris, Dominique never set out to become a chef. At the age of 16, he began working at a local restaurant in order to help support his family. There was a free culinary school in his hometown, so he enrolled in their apprenticeship program, first as a savory cook and then as a pastry cook. It was the precision and scientific nature of pastry that appealed to Dominique immediately, and from then on, he knew what he was meant to do.

At age 19, Dominique went on to complete his military service in French Guyana in South America as part of a community program teaching locals how to cook. Upon returning to France, he used all of his savings to buy a beat-up car and drove to Paris, dropping off resumes at any bakery he could find. He later landed at the legendary French pastry shop, Fauchon, as one of 30 seasonal holiday workers. He was told only one employee would remain at the end of the season, and when the time came, he was the one they chose. Dominique stayed with Fauchon for nearly eight years, eventually leading international expansion, traveling the world opening new shops.

In 2006, Dominique moved to New York City with just two suitcases to serve as the Executive Pastry Chef of Daniel Boulud’s renowned restaurant Daniel. During his six years there, the restaurant earned its coveted third Michelin star and a four-star review from The New York Times.

In November 2011, with a team of just four employees, Dominique opened Dominique Ansel Bakery on a quiet Soho street. Serving both sweet and savory items with pastries reigning supreme, the bakery became a neighborhood destination and was named Time Out New York’s best bakery and Zagat’s highest ranked bakery in the city. Signature creations like the DKA (Dominique’s Kouign Amann) and made-to-order Madeleines quickly became guest favorites. It wasn’t until May 2013 that a new creation Dominique deemed the Cronut® launched, putting this small Soho shop on the map worldwide. The Bakery became the birthplace of more new creations and internationally beloved inventions, from the Frozen S’mores to the Cookie Shot, Gingerbread Pinecone, Christmas Morning Cereal, Blossoming Hot Chocolate and more.

In 2020, Dominique launched Dang Wen Li by Dominique Ansel in Hong Kong, featuring a capsule collection of brand new pastries created exclusively for Hong Kong, made-to-order specialties, and classic French viennoiserie.

2021 brought the launch of two new shops: a new location of Dang Wen Li by Dominique Ansel opened in June 2021 at H Queen’s in the heart of Hong Kong’s Central neighborhood. And in July 2021, Chef Dominique launched Dominique Ansel Workshop, a croissant counter inside of his Flatiron NYC kitchens, with a menu celebrating all things viennoiserie – from classics reimagined to old-school French recipes recreated with a modern twist.

Coming up in Fall 2022, Chef Dominique will be opening his first shop in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace. Dominique Ansel Las Vegas will feature a number of his signature creations as well as a collection of brand new pastries made just for the city.

Dominique published his first cookbook, DOMINIQUE ANSEL: The Secret Recipes (Simon & Schuster), in October 2014, featuring a number of signature recipes from his flagship Dominique Ansel Bakery in NYC. His second cookbook, Everyone Can Bake, debuted in April 2020, with his favorite go-to recipes for bases, fillings, and finishing so readers can mix-and- match and create endless possibilities of delicious desserts at home. Outside of the kitchen, Dominique is a dedicated supporter of various charitable organizations, including the fight to end hunger with Food Bank for New York City, City Harvest, and God’s Love We Deliver. In the Cronut®’s first year alone, he helped to raise over $100,000 by auctioning off just 24 Cronut® pastries.

On this episode, Dominique joins host Mitchell Davis and discusses the backstory and beyond the Cronut®, the importance of not giving up easily, and why it’s best to work for people you believe in.

Follow Dominique on Instagram @dominiqueansel

For more on Dominique and his work, visit: www.DominiqueAnsel.com

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