If your idea of fun is scrolling through Instagram for the latest innovations from Dominique Ansel, the supremely gifted pastry chef who is likely our generation's Antonin Carême, or booking flights to New York, London or Tokyo to experience in person Ansel's sugar palaces, then we have good news for you. The man who invented the Cronut (yes, it's trademarked), as well as a growing list of other experiments in pâtisserie — including frozen s'mores, cookie shots and, most recently, 3-D churros — is opening a shop in Los Angeles.
And not just any pastry shop. In late 2017, Ansel will open his first full-service restaurant, in conjunction with a new location of his extraordinarily popular Dominique Ansel Bakery. The as-yet-unnamed L.A. project, at an address still to be determined, will include brunch, dinner, cocktails and events, as well as the confections that have made the James Beard Award-winning pastry chef a YouTube sensation. It will be Ansel's fifth and largest project.
"Los Angeles feels like a new country," said Ansel recently, as he ate a taco on a Culver City sidewalk. Born in Beauvais, a city north of Paris, Ansel started working in kitchens at 16 ("I thought it would be easy; it was not") and spent a year in French Guyana teaching kids to cook, then still a teenager himself, as part of his military service. Back in France, he got jobs at pastry shops in Paris before eventually going to New York, where he was executive pastry chef at Daniel Boulud's Michelin-starred restaurant Daniel for six years.
"It's a different culture here," Ansel said of Los Angeles, which he says he's been scouting for three years. (In February 2014, he did a pop-up at Barneys in the Grove. Imagine a kind of flashmob, but for pastry.) "People seem more patient; they seem to give you more of a chance to express yourself."
This from a man who already expresses himself through interlocking perfect triangles of pastry, domes of pâté a choux and pull-apart, ganache-filled flower petals.
Los Angeles will allow Ansel and his team a larger space than those they have at their other locations. Ansel opened his first bakery in New York City in 2011. Dominique Ansel Kitchen opened in 2015. He opened a bakery in Tokyo in 2015 and last September, a third Dominique Ansel Bakery opened in London.
"Our kitchen in New York is the size of those four tiles," he said, pointing to the Washington Boulevard sidewalk near where Guerrilla Tacos had parked its truck. The L.A. project will also allow Ansel to expand his repertoire from the pastry kitchen to savory, sit-down menus. "I was trained as a chef; I love cooking as much as baking."
In a bakery, Ansel points out, customers leave — even if you make their madeleines to order, even if you set fire to their s'mores while they wait. "In a restaurant, you can see what happens to your food," says the man who devoted a chapter to time as an ingredient in his first cookbook.
"My whole life people have been telling me that things aren't possible," Ansel said. Now 39, the inventor of one of the most famous pastries of the contemporary world was dressed all in black on a chilly Los Angeles winter day, drinking an after-taco espresso. "What we do is hard; it takes practice, it takes discipline."
"We still love the Cronut. We keep it exciting; we've raised lots of money," he says of the charitable work he's supported through sales of the pastry. "But it's important not to rest on one creation."
Thus Los Angeles, a town that Ansel sees as a challenge, and where he can work his magic for Angelenos, who have a slightly different sense of time, and certainly appreciate special effects. If you've ever spent too much time imagining what Carême could have built in a modern studio or a back lot — or his own state-of-the-art bakery and restaurant — then imagine what Ansel can do here.