On Friday, November 9th, 2018, I got the chance to meet one of my all-time food idols: Dominique Ansel. The chef, in town to celebrate the first anniversary of opening his Los Angeles store, spent about an hour talking about his experiences and answering students' questions through the workshop hosted by Spoon UCLA.

From that brief one hour encounter, here are 8 things I learned about him that I want to share with you.

1. Humble beginnings 

He grew up as the youngest of four kids in a housing project back in France. None of his family had any restaurant background: his father was a factory worker, his brother did maintenance work, and his sister worked in an office. This is why at first, his family didn't understand why he wanted to be a chef.

2. Scariest thing he's ever done? Opening his first store

Dominique said that opening his first bakery is the most terrifying thing he's ever done. He risked everything: leaving a comfortable position as a chef in a Michelin-star restaurant, putting all of his savings into the bakery, and starting from zero again, which included working 18-20 hours a day and taking out the trash by himself every night. 

3. Try the D.K.A.!

Rachel Lee

I asked Dominique what is the most underrated food item in his bakery that he thinks everyone should try. His answer? The D.K.A. (Dominique's Kouign Amann). He said that though he's very well-aware that the D.K.A. is not at all underrated (in fact, it's the best seller across all of his stores), everyone should try the D.K.A. because it's so good. He even told us that not many people believe him when he says that he always eats a D.K.A. in the morning.

4. Best late night food: steamed rice with fried eggs and soy sauce

I read once that if you want to know what foods are actually great, ask a chef what he would make for himself in the middle of the night after a long day of work. So, I asked Dominique, and he swiftly answered, "I think, simple food. Something warm, something quick: sunny side up or any fried egg, with some rice and some soy sauce." I have to say, most of us nodded in agreement with him. So the next time your friends made fun of your arroz con huevo frito, know that even the World's Best Pastry Chef loves to eat that dish.

5. What keeps him humble? His team

When I asked Dominique on how he stays so humble despite the limelight, he sternly answered, "People don't know that I have an amazing team working with me." He credits his team a lot on his success and told us that his team often challenges him to create new and better things. He further added, "When I present a dish, they criticize it like you'll never imagine! But I'm open to it. I don't ever think that I'm the best in everything I do. I think my team has a voice, to talk about what we do and what we create, and they're a big part of the creations as well."

Mad props for this guy and his team.

6. "Not to be afraid"

When one of the students asked Dominique what advice he would give his younger self, his answer is simple yet profound: to not be afraid. He also adds that the way you react to things is very important. "Try to be calm, collected, but still seek new opportunities along the way," he said.

7. If he's not doing what he does now, he wants to be in the arts industry

Considering his genius creations, it's a no-brainer that he said if he wasn't a pastry chef, he would do something with art. "I love art, design, and just being creative," the Cronut king said.

8. His L.A. store is special

Vaibhav Aggarwal

The store is special because of a few things: it's the biggest store he has so far, it has his first full-service restaurant, and it features some creations made exclusively for this location, including Paris-LA and the Avocado Toast Ice Cream Sandwich. In fact, more than 30% of the menu is comprised of these new creations!

Thank you Dominique for sharing your story with us, and happy one-year anniversary to Dominique Ansel L.A.!