Dominique Ansel

Dominique Ansel



It's important to stay curious, to have an open mind and push ourselves to continue creating. We have a saying here: don't let the creation kill the creativity; that is, don't let one creation stop you from continuing to push forward. The pastry world is ever-evolving, and we are too.


JAMES BEARD FOUNDATION AWARD
EXPERIENCE
All of my life lessons have come from the kitchen. I didn't grow up with much, and then as I started working in restaurants, everything you need to know starts around a table - how you serve your guests, how you treat people with kindness and generosity, how you share what you love with people. It's part of who I am.
First and foremost, it's very important to have an open door policy, and to hear and listen to your team. And then, more than anything, our guests and our fans keep the team inspired. We have such passionate guests who constantly inspire us to keep pushing forward with our creativity. At the end of the day, when you see a guest smile when they try one of our creations, it makes it all worth it!
Each of my past experiences have influenced me in different ways, from my first apprenticeship in France where I started learning the foundations of pastry and baking, to Fauchon in Paris where over the course of almost eight years, I worked my way up from a seasonal holiday worker to leading their international expansion. It was at Fauchon where I really learned the techniques and artistry of pastry. That brought me to New York, to become executive pastry chef of Restaurant Daniel. Working with Daniel Boulud was a wonderful experience, and he instilled in me the importance of hospitality and entrepreneurship, and led me to start my own bakery here in SoHo in 2011.
People are either meant for the kitchen or they’re not. It is a passion and drive we are born with. If it’s what’s you’re meant to do, then you don’t need the inspiration to pursue your career and it’s nearly impossible to ignore it!
For us, resourcefulness, stamina, and of course, creativity are the most important skills to be successful on our team.
Personality is really key, and to have a willingness and openness to learn. A solid understanding of cooking fundamentals and pastry techniques is of course important but we look for talent that have a natural sense of hospitality. At the end of the day, even if you’re in the kitchen behind-the-scenes, you still need to be a hospitality-minded person.
Different chefs have instilled different lessons and advice, but something that has stuck with me over the years is what I learned working with Daniel Boulud, and how important hospitality is for your guests. Our guests mean everything to us, and a little goes a long way, whether it's serving hot chocolate or warm madeleines to our guests outside in line during the chilly winter months or lemonade during the summertime to cool them off.
When I was a young apprentice in France, I started out learning the savory side of things, but it wasn't until I began working with pastry that I knew it was the path I wanted to follow. Baking is a science, everything needs to be measured and precise, and I love that you can take a few simple ingredients like flour, butter, eggs, and with the right techniques and a bit of creativity, you can create almost anything.
I didn't grow up wanting to be a chef. When I was sixteen, my family couldn't afford to send me to school, so I started working in a local restaurant out of necessity to help my family pay the bills. So I suppose there wasn't really an "a-ha" moment for me; it was something I had to do to help my family, but I grew to love cooking and, of course, baking in particular.
I think it's important to stay humble and remember who you're doing it all for. We couldn't do what we do without our team and our loyal guests from over the years. We first opened the SoHo Bakery in 2011 with just 4 employees - 2 cooks, 2 baristas. We wanted to create a small neighborhood bakery serving French pastries, and I remember building much of the shop with my own hands, painting, tiling, electrocuting myself when installing the lighting. I told myself I would never become a factory (my dad worked in a factory back in France), so for us, it's about staying humble, maintaining quality, and growing steadily.
We have quite a diverse team between our BOH and FOH, from locals to cooks from all over the country and from around the world. Being here in NYC, there's so much diverse talent - everyone is pretty much from somewhere else, moving here for opportunity, so naturally that feeds into building our team.
When hiring, I look for someone who is passionate about what we do, someone excited for the opportunity to learn, and who cares about hospitality and taking care of our guests. We don't necessarily always look for candidates who have years and years of professional culinary training; while that's definitely helpful to see, it's also about having the right attitude and an eagerness to learn.
Having a general base foundation of pastry is always a great start, especially as baking is so technique-driven and there are so many categories to master, from breads to lamination to cakes and pastries, etc. So that can mean you have experience in hospitality, training from culinary school, a genuine passion for baking, or a combination of it all.
In the end, you have to know who you're baking for. If you have that hospitality mindset and it drives you to want to bake for someone or take care of guests, that's a trait that's invaluable. It's why we do what we do, to help our guests to celebrate a special birthday or anniversary, or make someone's day with a simple croissant or a slice of cake.
We change our menus regularly, every 6-8 weeks, so there's always something new that keeps us inspired and continuing to create. For our kitchen team, it's regularly having new recipes to work on and new techniques to learn; and for our FOH team, being able to share the excitement of something new with our guests - many who come back for every single launch and event we do - definitely keeps us going.
Our guests and our team inspire me to continue my path in this industry - we wouldn't be here where we are without them. Building our team and seeing our guests enjoy the pastries that we make together, guests who come visit us time and time again, it makes it all worth it.
Inspiration can come from anywhere - from traveling and experiencing different cuisines and cultures, to fashion and seeing how designers work with different fabrics and textures, art and architecture, new technology and how we can apply different technologies like 3D printing to pastry.
I couldn't do my job without my team - because nobody can do it alone - and of course, good ingredients; pastries are only as good as the ingredients you use. For example, we use Isigny St. Mère butter and Les Grands Moulins des Paris flour from France, as well as fresh ripe fruits whenever we can get them.
I still have an early edition of the Escoffier cookbook that I cherish deeply; it's fascinating to read how recipes used to be written, when cooking was less about exact measurements and following steps, and more about intuition and instinct. But more than anything, I think what's most essential is having an open mind and the willingness to work hard and learn from the team around you,
Opening our first shop has been a highlight of my career. Just nine weeks after I left Daniel, we opened our doors to our little bakery in SoHo - we painted and tiled, old friends and coworkers came to help clean and sweep, we befriended our neighbors and the local chefs in the neighborhood who have now become our family.
We have a lot of traditions in our kitchens, and one of my favorites is each Christmas, I'll make cassoulet for the team - I call it our 3-day cassoulet, because it takes about 3 days to make, and we make so much, it takes about 3 days to cook too. We bake our own sourdough to sop up all of that sauce too. It's comfort food for the team during a time when I know we've gone through an incredibly busy holiday season and we're almost to the finish line.
We take the time and energy to invest in the tools that will help increase productivity and efficiency. Over the years, as the shops got busier and we welcomed more guests, that meant our production also increased. We were able to build out our Workshop location in Flatiron to house a full production kitchen, bring on more team members, and invest in new equipment and technologies - like a depositor for evenly piped macarons and choux, and a press that helps us make tart and pie shells with much more speed. It's definitely helpful when we have to make more than a thousand apple and pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving!
There's plenty of kitchen equipment that helps with efficiency, from our ovens and mixers to blast freezers, depositors, proofers, and chocolate tempering tools, etc. From a non-kitchen perspective, our daily schedules and sales are kept organized with our scheduling apps and POS systems.
Everyone is busy these days, and everyone's time is precious, so it's important to take time for yourself. And at the same time, surround yourself with good people - family, friends, colleagues, who you know you can spend time with away from the kitchen and enjoy the time that you have.
For self-care, I spend time with my two year old son, Celian - seeing him smile makes my whole day.
Take the time you have away from the kitchen for yourself, and find something you enjoy. It could be something as simple as taking a long walk through the city by yourself, spending time with friends exploring somewhere new, or trying that new restaurant you've been eyeing.

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