Dominique Ansel is synonymous with creativity and innovation. And pastries. This past Thursday, the pastry chef behind the world-famous Cronut took time off from the kitchen and spent the afternoon in NYU Stern’s Tisch Hall. The event was hosted by Stern’s Entrepreneurial Exchange Group (EEG) and attracted over 60 students.
Seven minutes past the starting time, amid lots of excitement, Dominique Ansel made a casual entrance into the room with two bright orange bags from his eponymous bakery. The bags were filled with his famous Cookie Shot creation (a chocolate-lined cookie shot glass with a tiny bottle of vanilla milk), which were to be given to lucky students who arrived early to the event.
Ansel’s presence was somewhat unassuming. As soon as he took off his coat, phones were out and selfies ensued. Ansel remained courteous, soft-spoken and accommodating.
Ansel dived right into his humble beginnings as a young and bright-eyed apprentice at local bakeries. Eventually, he made his way into the kitchen of the prestigious Fauchon Bakery in Paris, where he worked his way up from a seasonal staff member to the head of overseas expansion. Seven years later, itching for a change of scenery, he became the executive pastry chef at world-renown restaurateur and chef Daniel Boulud’s eponymous New York restaurant, Daniel. He held his position until 2011, when he decided to open up his own bakery to showcase his innovation.
Ansel told the story of his first paycheck at Fauchon Bakery. Though he was still struggling to make ends meet at the time, he wanted to buy a white shirt–not just any white shirt, it was a “really nice” shirt—one that he would wear only for special occasions. Years passed and Ansel still never wore this shirt until one day, he found the perfect occasion. However, by that time, the shirt had grown far too small and was utterly useless for his body. This, he described, is the exact mentality one should not have when it comes to ideas.
“We live in an age where you can make anything possible. If you have an idea, just go for it. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity, because the perfect opportunity is now.”
Dominique Ansel’s passion for pastries and baking is unparalleled. He highlighted the growing shift in the customer mentality that truly values great quality food. That is what I appreciated most about Ansel’s talk. He talked about food in the way I like to talk about food. Food is so much more than mere sustenance – it’s a passion, a lifestyle and cultural capital. He embodies everything it means to be a dedicated chef, whose passion for making the best quality food really shows.
When asked the final question of, “How do you know that what you’re doing is right?” there was an awkward silence throughout the entire room. Dominique put his hand on his heart and replied, in a serene, untroubled tone, “I just know.”
And for those wondering how the Cookie Shot was, well, it was magical. The milk (whole milk I presume), was creamy and rich but its literal shot size did not make me feel sick afterwards. The cookie was moist with the perfect chocolate chip-to-dough ratio. The best part, though, was not having to wait in a ridiculous line at the bakery during “after school” hours. Ain’t nobody got time for that.