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- French-American pastry chef
Courtesy of Dominque Ansel.
More than two years after its invention, Dominique Ansel’s Cronut — ubiquitous king of the hybrid pastry scene — still draws lines around the block, the most devoted croissant-donut seekers lining up before dawn to get their fix. The Cookie Shot, a peer of the Cronut, also pulls in a daily winding line. Across town crowds wait in the heat for the chance to snag a cone of Ansel’s creamy, inventive burrata ice cream, topped with little droplets of balsamic caramel.
You could say Ansel, the brain and hands behind these creations, knows a thing or two about staying relevant. Over the course of the last couple of years, Ansel has transformed from a relatively unknown, if celebrated, pastry chef at Daniel, Daniel Boulud’s flagship restaurant, to a household name in his own right. Since first emerging with gusto into the cultural forefront with the viral success of the Cronut — arguably the most talked-about pastry in recent memory — Ansel hasn’t stopped since.
“I always remind myself to not let the creation kill the creativity,” Ansel says. “Just because you created something that every one talks about and loves, that doesn’t mean you stop. You have to keep moving, creating, and challenging yourself to do new and better things.” When the organizers of Taste Talks, a food conference being held in Brooklyn the weekend of Sept. 12-13, were looking for someone to speak on a subject of “Staying Relevant,” it was clear Ansel was the ideal fit.
This year’s Taste Talks will take place in Brooklyn on September 12 and 13. (Photo: Taste Talks)
“I love pushing myself and my team to create new things and come up with the best ideas — it’s a way of life,” Ansel says. Raised in a small city north of Paris, Ansel went on to work as a local bakery apprentice and military cook in French Guiana. Though he had this brief stint as a savory chef, his heart was always in desserts, and he soon landed a job at venerable French bakery Fauchon, where he worked his way up from humble beginnings to become the head of international expansion. Then, he moved on to become pastry chef at restaurant Daniel in New York City, spending six years there — the longest stint of any pastry chef in the restaurant’s history.
In November of 2011, Ansel moved to a new spot with his own name on the door, Dominique Ansel Bakery. It offered classic French pastries along with fun, innovative twists on the classic. Along with the Cronut, Ansel’s bakery offered popular inventive menu items such as the Frozen S’More, the Magic Soufflé, and The DKA, a caramelized croissant with crispy outer crust and flaky, buttery interior.
Courtesy of Dominque Ansel Bakery
While the bakery won numerous accolades and lofty critical praise, it wasn’t until after the Cronut craze took hold that Ansel became the center of a media firestorm, with everyone clamoring to get a piece of the man behind the mythic pastry. Ansel went on to win the 2014 James Beard Award for “Outstanding Pastry Chef,” land on Crain’s “40 Under 40” list, and earn a host of other accolades and titles — resulting in a book deal for “Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes,” and two additional locations — Dominique Ansel Kitchen (also in NYC), and a bakery in Tokyo, Japan.
On top of speaking on his Taste Talks panel, Ansel will be throwing the opening night bash with DJ, friend, and Brooklyn Taste Talks curator, QuestLove. At “Sweet Thinking: A Dessert Party,” guests will have the chance to enter Ansel’s dreamy world through menu offerings like matcha beignets, sage-smoked brownies, and miniature lemon yuzu tarts.
Ansel will also be offering a DKA ice cream sandwich, a mash-up of two of his beloved sweets — the DKA and ice cream, a new and popular offering from Dominique Ansel Kitchen, which opened its doors in spring of 2015.
“People love ice cream because it brings back memories. We all grew up with that fresh and sweet taste,” Ansel says. Plus, “There are a lot of fun things to do with it — it’s a little capsule for creativity,” Ansel says, whose own popular flavor was inspired by the “creamy texture of burrata,” which lends the soft serve a salty-sweet flavor that’s unique and unexpected.
Photo: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
On top of experiencing Ansel’s inventive treats, guests at the Sweet Thinking party will also get to take in the sound stylings of the night’s DJ, QuestLove, known as the frontman of Grammy-award winning band, The Roots, and for his stint as bandleader on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and now “The Tonight Show.” A fan of Ansel’s work, QuestLove met Ansel when the pastry chef visited Fallon’s show, and the pair formed a fast friendship. “We’ve always talked about doing something together that involves music and dessert,” Ansel says.
The pastry chef, who calls his taste in music “eclectic,” and has recently been favoring Bob Marley in the kitchen, is excited for the opportunity to let the food play off of the music, and vice versa. “Music and food go together so well because they’re both tied to memories, and memories effect what you eat,” Ansel says.
The Sweet Thinking party is sure to be a highlight of the Taste Talks weekend, as guests will be able to satisfy their sweet tooth and get their groove on in synchronicity. “Eating dessert is always a special occasion — it just makes people happy,” Ansel says, eager to kick off Taste Talks with his creations. After all, as Ansel knows best, sometimes the best meals start and end with dessert.