The genius behind croissantdoughnut hybrid, known as the Cronut, Dominique Ansel, whose Soho bakery always sees long queues. Image: Dominique Ansel Bakery
It is not unusual for customers to turn up at French pastry chef Dominique Ansel’s bakery in New York bearing home-baked gifts, such as pastries, cakes, jams and even kaya from Singapore.
They are all eager for him to try their sweet treats, in the hope of inspiring him to come up with new ideas for the Cronut, that much sought-after croissant- doughnut hybrid that he created in May last year which sparked a worldwide craze.
The innovative hybrid pastry, Cronut, sparked a global craze. Image: Dominique Ansel Bakery
Cronuts from Ansel’s eponymous bakery have spawned many clones around the world, from Los Angeles to London to Beijing. In Singapore, cronutinspired pastries include the Crodo from Da Paolo Gastronomia.
In an interview with Life! at his bakery in Soho on a cold, snowy morning last month, the 36-year-old chef, says: “I feel bad that people have to wait in line, especially during winter, so we try and do a little something to make the wait more bearable.”
Queues outside his bakery go around the block and start well before its 8am opening time, even in snow and sub-zero temperatures. For instance, during the winter months, he and his team distributed items such as hand-warmers, freshly baked madeleines and hot chocolate to people in line, which can often be 50 to 150 deep.
Knowing the chef or one of the 30 staff who work for him does not mean you can jump the Cronut line either – you have to queue like everyone else. Each person is entitled to only two of the 450 to 500 Cronuts that are made each day.
Asked if he tastes the food gifts and he says he does. “People go to the trouble of making things for me and I think it is only polite of me that I do.”
He does not rule out kaya as a potential flavour either, adding that he is also intrigued by the floral fragrance of pandan leaves, which he first came across on a visit to Singapore some years ago.
His Cronut flavours change every month and have included blackberry lime and raspberry and lychee.
On why he came up with the hybrid pastry, he says: “Doughnuts are very American and I love croissants, so I thought it would be great to create a flaky-layer pastry that resembled that of a croissant, but looked like a doughnut.”
He launched his Cronut creation with only 30 pieces on the first day and was satisfied that he had added something new to his repertoire. He “never expected it to go viral”, he says.
They are fried-to-order in batches of 10, piped with a lightly whipped flavoured cream and topped with a glaze.
But despite the craze that seems far from over, the chef insists he does not want to be known as just the creator of the Cronut.
Some of his other popular desserts include the Frozen S’mores, a Turkish-style Tahitian vanilla ice cream coated with chocolate wafers and a house-made marshmallow made with honey that is torched and served on a house-smoked apple wood branch; and more recently, the Chocolate Chip Cookie Milk Shot, a chocolate chip cookie made in the shape of a shot glass, served with fresh milk.
Dominique Ansel’s latest innovation, the Chocolate Chip Cookie Milk Shot. Image: Dominique Ansel Bakery
Ansel says: “I always do something new. I don’t want our creations to kill our creativity. I want to move forward and continue to think out of the box. Creativity is a big part of me and I want people to be excited.”
He draws inspiration from “everywhere”, which can range from his travels overseas to something he read in an article or saw on television.
He is the youngest of four children born to a food factory production line worker and a housewife in Beauvais, a city one-hour north of Paris. He became an apprentice in a restaurant at 16 and later worked at a bakery.
After a compulsory military stint in French Guiana where he served as a chef and culinary trainer, the then 19-year- old, with dreams of making it big, bought a 15-year-old Peugeot and drove to Paris to distribute his resume at various patisseries.
He landed a job at Peltier, a patisserie in Paris, and after a year there, took on a temporary position at patisserie-delicatessen Fauchon. He ended up staying there for about eight years, during which he rose through the ranks to become a corporate development chef who was also in charge of setting up Fauchon branches overseas.
He moved from Paris to New York in 2006 to take on the role of executive pastry chef at three-Michelin-starred French restaurant Daniel until 2011, when he left to venture out on his own.
That year, he invested all his savings to set up Dominique Ansel Bakery with his partner, Taiwanese-American Amy Ma.
Naysayers who warned that New York did not want a French bakery did not deter him, he says.
“No one is ever 100 per cent sure that they will succeed, but I had my vision – I wanted to do something that no one had done before. To open a pastry shop that had the quality and excitement of French pastry, but the creativity and fun of New York.
“I knew it had to be French in style but with some New York etiquette.”
Asked if he is considering expanding and he says he has his reservations.
“It’s very important for me to have mindful growth. Every concept has to adapt and be tailored to suit the market and environment.
“Even in New York, I cannot do the exact same bakery a block away. It would have to be something different.”
This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on March 24, 2014. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.