French pastry chef Dominique Ansel may always be known as the Cronut™ guy. Not that he’s complaining. “It’s a creation that’s allowed us to keep creating,” he says. The croissant-donut hybrid became a cultural phenomenon when he released it back in 2013, and Ansel’s profile and penchant for avant-garde desserts has only risen in the years since. He runs Dominique Ansel Kitchen in New York and Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York and Tokyo. He recently launched U.P. (Unlimited Possibilities), a dessert-only tasting menu available three nights a week in his Kitchen. Tickets sell out seven weeks in advance.
Ansel talked to us from Tokyo about staying creative, authentic and relevant.
Do cult hits like the Cronut stifle you as a chef?
We’re quite proud of the Cronut and are grateful that it’s given us a great fan base. We have a saying here: “Don’t let the creation kill the creativity.” It’s our way of saying that you have to use the success of one creation to create more. You shouldn’t let that one success stop you. We’ve had a chance to introduce the Frozen Smore, the Cookie Shot, and even U.P. thanks to the Cronut. It’s a creation that’s allowed us to keep creating.
How are people responding to U.P.?
It’s been so wonderful to see the reception. We have a different theme for each menu and the first theme is “First.” We wanted to use the idea of “First memories” as inspiration (i.e. first kiss, first word, first heart break, etc.) so that we could bring back fun, nostalgic flavors. We’ve had people fly in for the dinner and have celebrated many special occasions. That’s always been the best part: spending time with the guests and sharing their first memories as well.
How have New Yorkers’ expectations of pastries changed since you opened Dominique Ansel Bakery in 2011?
I think it’s ever growing. When I first wanted to open a bakery, someone told me that because I was in New York I had to do cupcakes and cheesecake. But I knew that this was a city well beyond just those two items. New Yorkers are so open-minded and passionate; it’s a great food town.
Where are your favorite places to eat in New York right now?
Of the new restaurants I’ve tried recently, I’ve been really impressed by Gabriel Kreuther and Untitled. My regular places that I go to a lot and always love are Barbuto and Soba Totto.
How do you alter your menu for your customers in Tokyo?
About 30 percent of our menu items are developed just for Japan. We’re also so very excited to work with local ingredients for the first time. We recently had an amazing kyoho grape tart and also used Okinawa smoked salt as another ingredient.
What kind of music do you listen to when you cook?
I never get to choose the soundtrack, but the team listens to a whole lot of Bob Marley right now.
How do you stay relevant in the culinary world when everyone is looking for the next new chef to talk about?
I think at the end of the day, it’s more about the entire experience that make a chef. We pay a lot of attention to hospitality and the way we treat our customers. It’s not just about the product, but also everything around it. I would say it’s important just to be authentic. You’re not going to win everyone over, but doing something honest with good quality always pulls through.
Ansel is throwing a masquerade dessert party for the New York City Wine & Food Festival. Get tickets here.
Alyson Sheppard writes about restaurants and bars for Playboy.com. Find her on Twitter: @amshep