By Dawn Watson
Dominique Ansel is more than a successful and talented pastry chef. He’s a true innovator.
Not satisfied to rest on his considerable laurels, the inventor of the Cronut™–a croissant and doughnut hybrid that Time magazine named one of the “25 Best Inventions” of 2013 after the chef began serving it at his namesake Spring Street bakery in Manhattan that year—is at it again. Since baking up the in-demand dessert masterpiece, the 2014 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef is on a new mission: to change the way Americans view desserts—from the actual foods themselves to the ways in which they are prepared and served.
East Enders will not only get a chance to hear the famed chef talk about his love of sweet treats, they’ll also get their hands on one of his famous Cronuts™ when he sits down with legendary food writer Florence Fabricant on Sunday, August 30, at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Appropriately, the foodie duo will meet up to dish on desserts for the final talk in this year’s four-part “Stirring the Pot: Conversations with Culinary Celebrities” series.
Ms. Fabricant, who selected the chef for the series, says that she’s excited to talk with Mr. Ansel about his innovative approach to a meal’s final course and how he’s been at the forefront of recent dessert eating trends.
“The Cronut™ is not the only wild piece of imagination to come from him,” says the East Hampton-based cookbook author and New York Times food critic.
“This should a very exciting discussion,” says Ms. Fabricant, who got her start in newspaper writing for The East Hampton Star. “He’s got a unique perspective and very strong views.”
The conversation will most likely focus on Chef Ansel’s food portmanteaus—culinary mashups such as the Frozen S’more, Magic Soufflé, Cookie Shot and Waffle Affogato, as well as a few more straightforward morsels like his made-to-order Madeleines. The chef says that he hopes that his personal history, and how it has shaped his approach to dessert service, will also be included in the discussion.
“I remember going to the bakery with my mom and grandmother three or four times a day in France,” Mr. Ansel says, explaining that the frequent trips were made in order to get the freshest bread hot out of the oven. “This type of eating, with time treated as an element in the recipe, has always guided what I’ve done.”
“Desserts and pastries taste best when they are made fresh to order,” he adds. “It’s technically very difficult to pull off, but it’s worth it.”
And now the time has come to present desserts made à la minute, the former executive pastry chef at Daniel Boulud’s award-winning French restaurant Daniel and author of “Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes” reports. Citing the “coffee revolution” as a jumping-off point, Mr. Ansel says that America is ready for made-to-order desserts.
“People will wait for a good coffee, a beautiful latte for example, for five to 10, even 15 minutes,” he says. “Who doesn’t prefer something made fresh to order, just for them.”
Taking the concept to the next level, the chef recently opened up his second bakery, Dominique Ansel Kitchen, in the West Village. There, 70 percent of the menu is made, finished or assembled to order. Even more radically, the second floor of the more formal dining space houses Dominique Ansel Kitchen, U.P. (short for “unlimited possibilities”), an after-hours tasting menu that launched just a month ago. There, an eight-course fine dining menu of plated desserts, which will change every few months, is served on select days to an eight-seat table of guests.
The opening menu, which Mr. Ansel named “First,” was created in celebration of some of the most memorable moments in a person’s life. The beginning four selections on the menu include: First Word, a sweet pea, rice milk, gin, carrot cake and yogurt meringue; First Kiss, which contains raspberry, roasted peanut water, cream soda pearls and fresh mint; First Time Living on Your Own; a concoction of sweet corn, crepes, smoked toffee, lemon zest, anise; and First Heartbreak, which is comprised of bergamot, cocoa nibs, marshmallow, bitter almond and chocolate pain de gene. The final four courses are comprised of: First Job, a coffee, malt, nougat, cardamom and praliné feulletine dish; First Fine Dining Experience, which features a dark chocolate, black currant, red wine, brown butter, puff pastry and crème fraîche
dessert; First Dance, which contains strawberries, mascarpone, and elderflower; and finally, The Next First, an delicacy created with cherry, sake lees and lychee.
Crafting the menu presented the renowned pastry chef with the unique opportunity to tell a story from beginning to end, he says.
“It’s eight plates of memories and their connections, as told with food,” says chef Ansel. “And here, we’re able to tell a story that ties them all together, which isn’t normally a possibility when it comes to dessert.”
This year’s “Stirring the Pot” series ender with Florence Fabricant and chef Dominique Ansel will be held at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Sunday, August 30, at 11 a.m. A VIP reception is planned beforehand at 10 a.m. General admission for the talk is $15. Tickets to the talk and reception are $75, with discounts given to members for both. For reservations and additional information, visit www.guildhall.org.