Special Sauce: Dominique Ansel on Why He Doesn't Take Advice From Anyone

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[Photograph: Thomas Schauer]

"So many young chefs—including myself—are told to replicate the food, to produce, and that's it. People should be told how to create and how to think differently," says innovative pastry chef and Cronut® inventor Dominique Ansel in this week's episode of Special Sauce. With four thriving brick-and-mortar establishments in NYC, London, and Tokyo, plus his thoughtful book, Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes, Ansel continues to surprise and delight pastry lovers with original creations and reimagined classics. This week, we discuss why he doesn't bother taking advice about how to make all of it work.

Ansel, who grew up in very modest circumstances in France, was fascinated with pastries practically from the moment that he came out of the womb. Ansel and his mother would visit bakeries four times a day, developing the young man's appreciation for warm baked goods straight from the oven. These visits set the standards that his businesses are built on today. For example, they bake madeleines to order: "When you bite into it, that experience is really the essence of what good food is—it's warm, pillowy, fluffy—it's this beautiful lemon flavor, it's in the moment." Ansel says that when people are watching you do something different, they might think you're crazy, but he learned what's good for him regardless. "To respect time as a supreme ingredient is a battle of breaking habits and changing perceptions," he wrote in his book.

In this episode, we discuss how Dominique Ansel went from army KP duty to the kitchens of Fauchon in Paris (where he arrived in a clunker he bought for $400), to being the pastry chef at New York gastronomic palace Daniel. We also talk about what inspires him to do the impossible in the face of doubt, and why his gut is the only thing he trusts when it comes to running his business. The dessert master also tells us why he considers great vanilla ice cream one thing you're hard-pressed to find.

Special Sauce is available on iTunes. You can also find the archive of all our episodes here on Serious Eats and on this RSS feed.

[Cronut® photograph: Thomas Schauer]