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Leading the charge

Name

Dominique Ansel

Idea

The croissant doughnut hybrid aptly named the Cronut™ and a new concept for bakeries - Dominique Ansel Kitchen

Born in and trademarked to the Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York on May 10 2013, it's more than likely that you've heard about the Cronut™. International headlines have praised the idea and marvelled at the creativity of Chef Dominique Ansel whilst numerous copies have popped up in bakeries everywhere.

On an average day at Dominique Ansel Bakery queues begin at 6am and a Black Market has emerged for those who don't have time or capacity to join the line for their golden ticket. The New York Magazine reported that one man was offering Cronuts™ for sexual favours, making the entrepreneurs on website Craigslist offering professional line waiters at $80 per Cronut™ seem completely rational. Indeed, a shortage was recently responsible for delaying a marriage proposal because it was deemed the perfect ring. I agree.

But like any good creative, Dominique Ansel is not one to rest on his laurels and he has continued to delight the public with new surprises. His new venture is the Dominique Ansel Kitchen where pastries and desserts will be a made-to-order for customers, right in front of their eyes. We had a chat to Dominique about the Cronut™ and the ideas behind his new project.

The world has gone mad for the Cronut™. Can you tell us how the idea came about?

Every week we have Manager's meeting and I like to bring snacks for everyone to try. It's my little focus group. The team were requesting doughnuts, but coming from France, I wasn't very familiar with the recipe.

I kept saying 'I'm French, I don't really eat doughnuts' then one day I thought it would be fun to take inspiration from a very French item, the croissant. The actual dough we use today isn't croissant dough; it is a laminated dough based on a recipe that took me a while to develop.

On the website for Dominique Ansel Bakery, the Cronut™ is described as the pastry hybrid of a doughnut and a croissant that took two months and ten recipes to perfect. Did you have a specific flavour or texture that you were aiming for?

I wanted it to be crispy on the outside like a doughnut, and layered on the inside like a croissant. The inside has to be soft, but still maintain the distinct layers. Also, I like to test to see how texture changes over time. When you first fry something, it can be crispy, but it may not last for a while. How things change over a span a few hours is also important. The Cronut™ has a 6-8 hour shelf life.

How much of this process is creative and how much of it is scientific?

As a chef, after a while of cooking everyday with food, you can understand how to alter a recipe depending on what results you want. It's not exactly science, it's more experience. As far as being creative, I think that's a lifestyle, not just a part of the job.

In Australia, our bakeries are full of imposter Cronuts™. Does the impersonation bother you? There is a saying that copying is the highest form of flattery, but in business that's not really true!

Sometimes it is very flattering - when you inspire someone to think different or to try something new - I'm always very humbled by it. Sometimes it's less flattering - when people create a poor quality imitation and try to trick customers with confusion - that's less cool.

Are there any other hybrid treats that we should know about?

(Laughs) I always like to add little twists to creations. It's not really about hybrids, it's about personal touch. Hopefully nothing is impossible.

Can you tell me about the idea behind your new project - Dominique Ansel Kitchen?

When you work in the kitchen for as long as I have, you taste a lot of things just as they are fresh made. And it ALWAYS tastes better. With certain items it makes more of a difference than others. I've always wondered why we can't offer that same 'a la minute' feeling to a bakery and present items that are finished, assembled, or baked to order. If people will wait for a few minutes for a fresh cup of espresso, and for their sandwich to be toasted - why won't they wait for a good pastry? It's the next step.

It's a whole new menu at the Kitchen. And what's amazing is that we're not just working now on creating the next pastry, but creating the next model of bakeries. Very excited to share it with everyone soon.

In many ways, you've 'made it'. What is it that drives you to keep pushing the bar creatively with the work that you do?

Well, at the end of the day, we are currently still a one shop bakery. I'm there everyday and it's the same hard work. We never take anything for granted here. And I think if we can do something that makes people happy, we will try our best at it. Don't let the creation kill the creativity. Don't disappoint the people who supported you.

How do you manage change and developments across your team, and your brand?

I think the best brands in the world are genuine. You can't fake something you're not. For us, it's about looking forward, being creative, and working hard at it daily. We are slowly growing as a team, but I'm very grateful for the people in ours. They are hugely talented and above all passionate.

Interviewed by
Alice Bradshaw

Photography by
Thomas Schauer, Dominique Ansel Bakery

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