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Interview: Dominique Ansel, the chef behind the cronut

Did you ever think the cronut was going to be so successful? “Nobody could think that something would go that viral. It’s some­thing that people like, it’s something that people understand, it’s something that people want to talk about. More than any­thing, it’s something that people can visual­ise. They understand the concept, they can imagine it and they can taste it before they even see it. When the cronut line first started [outside the New York bakery], we thought, ‘It’s not our problem, we’re not open yet!’ But then we realised that we had to go out, these are our cus­tomers, and they’re our best customers if they’ve been waiting for two hours. So we started going out to service them and talk to them and now it’s a big culture – people come on the cronut birthday to celebrate, the line sings happy birthday. People sing happy birthday to a pastry, people send flowers to a pastry … That’s amazing.”

Dominique Ansel’s Secret Recipes from the World Famous New York Bakery

Are you still going after people who infringe on the cronut trademark? “We have to – legally. When we first came up with the cronut, our lawyer told us, ‘You have to trademark this immediately.’ She said, if we don’t, someone else will trademark it and forbid us to do this. So we did it and then she said, ‘Now you have to defend it; if you don’t defend it you can’t keep it.’ We are required by law to defend ourselves. It’s great to inspire people to do new things, to think differently. But when people are copying what you do, they’re tricking their own customers and this is where it goes wrong. If someone is producing it in a million supermarkets and they think I made it there’s some pretty negative associations – it’s connected to my name. People might think that’s my product. It’s not – it’s not made from my recipe, it’s not my product, I don’t want anything to do with it.”

You’ve opened in Tokyo and a London branch is in the offing – will there be a Dominique Ansel empire? “I don’t want to open 100 shops, some­thing I can’t control. I want to be authentic, to be true and close to the people.”

How do you run your kitchen? “The way I run the kitchen is different, it’s not French, it’s not American, it’s very structured. For example, nobody is allowed to swear – ever – in the kitchen, which is so not French. I hate people swearing, I hate people losing their temper and I hate peo­ple being moody and grumpy. If there’s an issue, address it right away, then move on. When I was growing up in kitchens I was abused ver­bally and physically and I was treated like less than nothing. I don’t want anyone to feel like that. People who work in the kitchen need to be treated respectfully. They have to learn, they have to be produc­tive and they have to grow with the team. In Japan, our chefs are very quiet and I’m pushing them to talk more with the team. You can’t just give someone a recipe and ask them to do it. You have to show them, this is the way to do it. You have to share your knowledge.”

How the cronut craze spread to Hong Kong

Wouldn’t it have been easier to continue to do it the way it’s always been done? “You said yourself, it’s easy – but I don’t do easy. I’ve had tough training back in France, really, really tough. But I also met some great people. I remember when it was hard and why it was hard. I remember when it was great and why – it’s because of the people. People who took the time to show me, to teach me how to love what I was doing. I used to go to work with a knot in my stomach, being so scared, so worried. And I used to go to work and be super-excited, I would go in early and be smiling. I want people who work for me to feel the same, be happy and excited to be here, and be willing to work hard.”

So how do you invent the next big thing? “We created the cronut and it went viral, then we invented the frozen s’mores and that went viral, we launched the cookie shot, it went viral. It’s not about creating the next big thing, it’s about doing something that people understand – you have to create emotional connection.”

Article source: http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/food-drink/article/2011831/interview-dominique-ansel-chef-behind-cronut