Dominique Ansel is the chef and owner of Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City. Since its opening in November of 2011, the chef’s eponymous bakery was awarded Time Out New York’s “Best New Bakery of 2012” and Metromix’s “Best Bakery of 2012”, all within four months of opening its doors. Today, it is also Zagat 2013’s highest ranked bakery and listed as one of the Best Bakeries in the U.S. by Daily Meal.
In 2014, Chef Ansel won the James Beard Award for “Outstanding Pastry Chef” of the nation and was one of Crain’s “40 Under 40″. Perhaps what has most widely been reported is Chef’s creation of the Cronut™, a croissant and doughnut hybrid that has been reported on throughout the world, and domestically on Good Morning America, the Today Show, ABC’s The Chew, Inside Edition, Fox & Friends, Live with Kelly and Michael, CNN’s Piers Morgan Live with Anthony Bourdain, E! News, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, as well as Bloomberg amongst others.
How did you get into the restaurant industry?
The old-fashioned French way, I guess. I started working in a kitchen when I was 16. I grew up in a very poor town and I wanted to start earning money to help out with the family. Cooking was something I immediately liked, and I was never very book smart at school.
What partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented which have attributed to your restaurant's success?
We don't believe in marketing so much as customer service and really being a part of our community. We work daily to try to service our line the very best we can. Hours before we open, we are sending out hot chocolate in the wintertime and lemonade in the summer. We make fresh piped madeleines for treats and I think that's always what keeps the customers coming back -- high quality products served with a lot of heart.
What are the most popular dishes at Dominque Ansel Bakery and which are your personal favorites?
Well, the world went crazy for the Cronut™ and more than a year later, there's still an average of 100 to 200 people daily. A lot of our regulars love the DKA ("Dominique's Kouign Amann"), and that's also one of my favorites as well. It's this beautiful, caramelized croissant with flaky and moist layers inside. I also like a classic cannele, which we do very well, and our madeleines -- baked fresh to order.
How do you stay successful within such a volatile and competitive industry?
It takes a lot of consistent and hard work. I don't think the job will ever get easier. But with enough passion, you need very little sleep.
What is your life motto?
You never run out of ideas.
How important does the design / architecture of your restaurant play into its success?
I think it's important to create a nice atmosphere. When I first opened the bakery, I wanted to make sure that it didn't feel stuffy and too elaborate -- like some of the old school French patisseries full of lace and gold. I wanted it to feel fresh, NEXT generation, and have a real New York vibe.
How important is location in selecting the creation of a new restaurant?
The most important. Especially for a bakery, which is something that people must conveniently pass by as part of their daily routine.
What literature is on your bed stand?
I wake up at 3am daily. There's hardly enough time to read, unfortunately.
Who is your role model - business and personal?
On a business level, Daniel Boulud, whom I worked with for 7 years was a wonderful mentor. He's excellent at teaching people to push and try to meet every customer demand. Personally, I have a role model as well, but I'm afraid it's between the two of us.
Describe a great night out and an ideal experience at your restaurant.
Well, we're a bakery, so we're closed for dinner. We offer a great start to every morning though, and the key is freshness. Fresh-baked items daily and coming out warm out of the oven.
What is your go-to travel destination?
I love exploring Japan and don't think I'll ever get tired of traveling there.
What’s next for Dominique Ansel Bakery?
I hope we grow thoughtfully and mindfully. And really create new and innovative things for our customers daily. I never want to cut and paste, but I want every new thing we do to have a special feel of its own.
In 2013, he was named one of Business Insider’s “Most Innovative people Under 40”. That same year, the Daily Mail UK called him the “most feted pastry chef in the world”. In 2013, Dominique was nominated a finalist for the “Outstanding Pastry Chef” award by the James Beard Foundation. He was named one of the “Top 10 Pastry Chefs in the United States” by Dessert Professional magazine in 2009. And in 2010, Dominique was subsequently chosen by Time Out New York as one of the city’s “Top Ten Pastry Chefs You Need to Know”.
It is also the first pastry to have been so in demand, it sells of up to 20x its retail price on the black market. TIME Magazine named it one of the 25 Best Inventions of 2013. The Chef’s various other inventions, including his Frozen S’more, Magic Soufflé, Cookie Shot, and Waffle Affogato — all of which have fast become popular treats with international fame. The New York Post proclaimed Chef Ansel the “Willy Wonka of NYC” in 2013 quoting Bon Appétit editor Christine Mulhke who stated that: “Dominique is definitely the top pastry chef in New York”, noting his solid French basis and unstoppable imagination.
Prior to starting his own business, Dominique is well-known in New York as the executive pastry chef at Daniel, Daniel Boulud’s flagship French restaurant. During his six years there (the longest tenure of any pastry chef at Daniel), Dominique was part of the team that led the restaurant to receive its first 4-star New York Times Rating, 3 Michelin stars, and James Beard’s Outstanding Restaurant of the Year Award in 2010. Chef Ansel also spent seven years at the venerable French bakery Fauchon, where he was in charge of international expansion. He has helped Fauchon set up shops around the world, including Russia, Egypt, and Kuwait.
These days, the chef is often noted for his support of various charities, including the fight to end hunger with Food Bank for New York City. In 2013, he appeared on the CNN’s Nightly News to launch a series of charitable campaigns that increased Food Bank search engine awareness by 56% and raised more than $10K of proceeds. Growing up in a poor family in the north of France, the Chef’s story and passion for food and desire to turn that passion for good has inspired a personal visit from the First Lady of France and a call from President François Hollande himself.
Chef Ansel’s first cookbook DOMINIQUE ANSEL: The Secret Recipes (working title) published by Simon & Schuster will be released in October of 2014.