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Join us as we sit down for a yummy interview with renowned pastry chef Dominique Ansel, whose Tokyo bakery just celebrated its first anniversary!

You know we at RocketNews24 love all things sweet and tasty, and naturally, it was big news for us when New York-based Dominique Ansel Bakery came to Tokyo last year in June. We would finally be able to taste their Cronut® pastries that everyone seemed to be talking about!

Well, time certainly flies! Chef Dominique was recently in Japan to celebrate his Tokyo bakery’s first anniversary, and we were fortunate enough to have the chance to interview the talented chef, who was the winner in 2014 of the James Beard Award for “Outstanding Pastry Chef” and whose croissant-doughnut hybrid Cronut® pastry was named one of the 25 Best Inventions of 2013 by TIME Magazine.

DA Cronuts 2

We asked the master pastry chef about himself and his interests, and here’s what we heard from him:

RocketNews24 (RN24): Since there’s already been quite a lot written about your pastries and the Cronut®, we thought we’d start with some questions about yourself. Could you tell us a little bit about where you’re from ?

Dominique Ansel (DA): Well, Beauvais, where I’m from, is a small town in France. My father worked in a factory there and my mother stayed at home with four kids. When I was young, I didn’t have much opportunity to go to school. So early on, at the age of 16, I found a job at a restaurant. I was a chef there for two years, in an apprenticeship, working there and going to school at the same time. After that I did the same thing at a bakery for a year. After three years of apprenticeship, I went to do my military service in French Guiana in South America. I was there for a year, and when I came back, I bought a small car with my savings and drove to Paris.

At the time, I didn’t know anyone and didn’t know where to go. I just had printed copies of my resume, and I would stop in front of every bakery I saw in Paris, drop off one of my resumes and drive away. Eventually, after two weeks, I got 10 job offers. I started working at Peltier, one of the oldest pastry shops in Paris at that time, although it’s since closed. I stayed there for a year. After that, I joined the team at Fauchon, where I worked for almost seven years.

RN24: I understand you’ve worked in different parts of the world, including Russia, Kuwait, and Egypt. Were there any places in particular that left a strong impression on you?

DA: I think all of them. Not so much the food, but more the impact of the different cultures — the way people live, eat and work. It was a big learning experience for me. I found myself in places where I thought I’d never be, with people I never imagined I would be with. You learn so much about the people there and at the same time about yourself too, about how flexible you can be adapting yourself to new cultures.

RN24: Was there a particular reason you decided to settle in New York and eventually open shop there?

DA: I got a call from Daniel Boulud, the owner of Daniel, who asked me if I wanted to come to New York and be the pastry chef at his restaurant. At that time, I actually had another job offer to come work in Tokyo, which was very exciting because I was always attracted to Japanese culture. But I told myself that I should learn English first. I stayed with Daniel for almost 6 years, and while I was there we got our third Michelin star and also four stars with the New York Times. It was a great time of accomplishment and success for me, and I decided to open my own shop. New York is one of my favorite cities in the world. There’s so much food, culture, history, so much of everything … so many inspirations, and so many wonderful and talented people come together from all over the world. It’s a place that’s very dear to me.

▼ Another one of Chef Dominique’s signature creations, the Cookie Shot™:

DA cookie shot 2

RN24: And later, you opened your first overseas shop in Tokyo. You’ve said that you’ve always been interested in Japan, but how did that come about?

DA: Well, initially, I was approached by a few people from Japan. At the time, I didn’t want to take things too quickly. I wanted to make sure we found the right partners and that the people understood the Bakery, what we’re trying to accomplish, because I think we’re a unique and different kind of bakery. I also thought it was important to understand the culture here — what the people eat and why they eat that way. I was actually at the Tsukiji Market a few days ago with one of our suppliers. We looked around the stands with all the vegetables and fruits. That was very exciting.

RN24: Did you get to see the tuna auction?

DA: No, we went to the vegetable and fruit market, so we didn’t see that. But I got to drive one of the carts in the market. That was a first time experience for me.

▼ Chef Dominique having a grand time on wheels at the Tsukiji Market:

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Driving a Mighty Car in #Tsukiji Market? ✔️

A post shared by dominiqueansel (@dominiqueansel) on

DA (continued): And I got some beautiful vegetables and fruits there including some really nice sweet corn. Actually, just from yesterday, we started selling our Caramel Sweet Corn soft serve ice cream with corn jam. And we also have another ice cream flavor, Amazake (a sweet fermented rice drink) with fresh grated young ginger, Maldon sea salt, and sansho (Japanese pepper) leaves. Every time I come to Japan, I love seeing new things, tasting new foods, visiting new chefs.

▼ We tried the Caramel Sweet Corn soft serve ice cream with corn jam, and it was amazing — like feasting on the pure sweetness of corn!

DA Sweet Corn Ice

RN24: You mentioned that you’re a unique bakery. What would you say makes your pastries and creations unique?

DA: Well, since we’ve opened, we’ve created over 100 pastries just for our Tokyo shop in one year. And we keep on changing, making new things. We try to understand the local culture and tradition and to merge it with not just the French techniques but also some of our New York attitude and to not limit ourselves to what we already know but going beyond that to create new things.

▼ Yes, the bakery certainly has offered its share of baked deliciousness!

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RN24: You’ve told us about your visit to the market. Are there any ingredients you’re interested in at the moment?

DA: I’m super-excited about the sweet corn. And the sansho leaves too. Actually, I love Japanese food and eat it all the time in New York; there are some really talented Japanese chefs in the city. I had the sansho leaves once in a savory dish, and it was very interesting, which made me want to do something with it like the soft serve ice cream.

RN24: And I understand you’ll be opening a new shop in London. Do you have any plans for your London shop that you can share with our readers at this time?

DA: Not so much at this time. We’ll be opening there in September.We’re still in the process of developing the menu. We have our general manager and chef in New York for training right now. It will be a beautiful, charming place in Belgravia. It’s going to be exciting, because London is a little bit like New York and also Tokyo. It’s a city where the food and also the cultural mix is important, and the quality really matters. So I’m looking forward to having more inspirations and coming up with new foods.

▼ Yes, Cronuts® in London, too!

DA Cronuts

RN24: Do you have a favorite travel destination?

DA: Yes, Tokyo! I love coming here. I’ve come here many, many times, but I never get tired of it. There’s so much for me to see and do. And every trip, there’s something new, something better, more connection with the customers and local chefs and with the culture and ingredients, and I really love it. The more I come to Tokyo, the closer I feel to the city and Japanese culture.

▼ The Tokyo shop in Omotesando:

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RN24: You have a cafe on the second floor here. Is there any item on the menu that you particularly recommend?

DA: From the savory menu, the Tomato and Watermelon Gazpacho we’re serving now is really nice.

▼ The Tomato and Watermelon Gazpacho: we naturally had to try the chef’s recommendation. We thought the salty taste of the soup set off the complex flavors of the different vegetables in it really well.

DA Tomato adn WatermelonGazpacho

RN24: To wrap things up, do you have any comments or message for our readers?

DA: Well, we’ve been open here now for a year, and I’m super, super proud of the team we’ve built here. They work really hard every day, and they care so much. 99 percent of the team from the opening is still here. It’s great to get to know them and interact with them more and more. It’s like a family, and that’s very important to me — to have a family in Tokyo, not just a business, and being able to come back to faces I know and also to have a shop that changes and grows with our customers. I think a bakery is a neighborhood business. It shouldn’t be just a shop with a name; it should have a life, a real identity. And after a year, I’m very glad that I feel we’re getting closer to our customers. That means a lot to me.

RN24: Thank you so much, Chef Dominique, for your time today, and again, congratulations on your first anniversary in Tokyo.

DA: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

[Click the “Next” button below to see some of the delicious creations the Dominique Ansel Bakery had produced over the last year.]