Ansel’s most famous confections read like a kid’s wildest sugar-filled fantasies: the ‘Cronut’ is a portmanteau pastry made of croissant dough that’s deep fried, filled and iced; the ‘chocolate-chip cookie shot’ is a cookie dough baked in the shape of a shot glass, baked, sealed inside with chocolate and served filled with milk; and the ‘frozen s’more’ is ice cream covered with chocolate wafter chips enrobed in a blowtorched frozen marshmallow, served atop a wood-smoked tree branch.
Ansel’s unique approach to baking and sugarcraft sets him apart from other chefs, and his inventions consistently prove incredibly popular with customers. People queued for hours in the early morning to buy Cronuts when they were first released, even though only a limited amount were made each day.
‘I opened my first bakery in New York about six years ago, and I’ve had the chance to develop my craft by doing what I love all around the world, which allowed me to open a shop in London in 2016,’ the chef said.
Ansel didn’t come to baking via culinary school, instead he paved his own by working in restaurant kitchens. ‘My dad used to work in a factory, so when I was young I didn’t have that many options to go to school,’ he said. ‘I decided to find a job and work in a restaurant. That’s how I got into cooking and eventually baking.’
While his rivals must be drooling to know how he comes up with his ideas, Ansel’s creation process is a closely guarded secret. He said: ‘Each and every creation has a different process of development, and some of them are shorter than others. Creating the frozen s’mores took only three or four weeks, whereas it took me a full three months to finalise the construction and baking of the Cronut. It’s pastry science, so I really have to go deep into it and look at all the ingredients and all the techniques you could be using.’
He loves the different preferences of his customers in the US, the UK and Japan and each store cooks up something a little different for its local customers. In Japan, they’re mad for the frozen s’more, whereas in London the ‘banoffee paella’ (a banoffee pie cooked upside down in a paella pan which caramelises the bananas) is popular.
Ansel said: ‘Connecting with our customers is very important to me. There’s no point in creating food simply to be good or to beautiful, it has to be meaningful as well. You want to eat food that you remember, after all.’
His London outlet has recently starting serving afternoon tea, with the menu following the concept of a seed growing and blossoming into a flower. The ‘seed’ part of the menu is wild mushrooms, confit garlic, pumpkin seed and squid ink choux, and the ‘flower’ portion is a delicate-sounding brown butter financier, raspberry jam and rose vanilla ganache.
Ansel said: ‘We wanted to start a tradition of our own here at the bakery planting the seeds for our first take on afternoon tea. For us, creativity – no matter if you’re a chef, an artist, a musician, or in any field – stems from having strong foundations.
‘We evolved that idea into a menu that starts from the ground up and is presented in a fresh and modern way. I’m excited to see it grow and come to life.’