Cronut Wizard Dominique Ansel: "I Want to Make the World of Pastry Exciting"
In May of this year, Dominique Ansel and his Dominique Ansel Bakery (189 Spring Street, 212-219-2773) quietly unleashed the Cronut upon Manhattan, and within three days, the mania had begun. Lines formed down the block in the early morning before the shop opened, celebrities tweeted photos, and knock-offs proliferated so quickly that Ansel had to trademark the name of his treat. And Ansel was propelled to instant food stardom, cementing his place in the annals of culinary history as the creative thinker behind big ideas in the sweet realm.
Courtesy Dominique Ansel
It's hard to believe, but Ansel's bakery has only been on the scene for two years, and before he had the Cronut, he had a fervent local following for his other treats, including his kouign amann, a flaky caramelized pastry with roots in Brittany.
The French-born chef rose through apprenticeships at bakeries in his home country, which he started fresh out of high school. "After school in France, you have to choose whether to go to college or to start working," he explains. "My parents didn't have any money -- they had four kids -- so I decided to start working."
After a three-year stint in the military in French Guyana -- during which he cooked for the troops -- he spent all of his savings to move to Paris, where he landed at the famous French bakery Fauchon. That began an eight-year run during which he became a sous chef tasked with opening franchises of the pastry shop around the world.
In 2006, Daniel Boulud asked him to come aboard as the pastry sous at Daniel here in New York. "I wasn't a pastry chef in the restaurant -- I mostly worked in the bakery," Ansel recalls. "I needed a lot of different skills and knowledge. It was a big change for me." In the six years Ansel spent at Daniel, the restaurant racked up a number of accolades -- and the pastry chef was nominated for a Beard. The natural next step from there, he says, was his own place, and he'd always wanted a bakery. Two years ago, he made his dream reality, and now, his tiny Soho jewel is an international destination.
In this interview, Ansel weighs in on greatest hits, lessons learned from Daniel, and where the idea for the Cronut came from.