Archives for posts with tag: Dominique Ansel

I am not a great believer in new year resolutions. Just because we get past the 1st of Jan doesn’t connect with me thinking I have to make radical changes. I was once told that if you say DON’T do something then you are programmed to ignore the “don’t”. It is probably some management rubbish but I prefer to stay positive and think about doing rather than not doing.

But the first week of January is a great time to take stock of what is working in my life and doing more of that. For me turning fifty seemed a bigger milestone than new year and I persevere with my 50 things at 50 resolve. My friend pointed out that if I do one thing a week then I will get there but somehow that seems too regimented for me so I am going with spontaneity at the moment and not panicking just yet that I might not get to fifty. I don’t think doing more cooking is actually on the list as it is old news but I started this year wanting to continue making good foods for my body.

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I was telling my nephew and niece all about Donna Hay today as I am finding her posts and books a great day to day approach at the moment. She seems to bring sanity into the healthy arena and has such a breezy sunny way which must be partly down to her Aussie roots. My Christmas angel added her latest book to the parcels and it is already getting my cookery going. Her approach is clean, simple, tasty food with a short ingredients list and everything is pretty quick to make. It is perfect for me.

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Whilst I try to keep a healthy and balanced diet there is no doubt that I do have a sweet tooth and this is a challenge. At the end of a meal I desire a little sweet something and it seems that good ol’ Donna’s bliss balls are the perfect thing. I have tried her recipe before but didn’t like the combo of coconut oil with cacao so today I just adapted my own recipe inspired by hers. I substituted almond butter for the coconut oil and just chucked that, some soaked skin on almonds, cacao and the 4 remaining dates going soggy on my fruit bowl into a magi mix and hey presto….a professional looking treat ready in my fridge for those cravings. It’s amazing how so few ingredients can go such a long way. No wonder Donna calls them bliss. I take one to work for that 3pm lull which is especially dangerous since I sit above a kitchen full of pastry chefs making indulgent treats every day. So this way I can control my intake without feeling deprived.

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Pleased with my efforts I went off to meet a friend for her 50th birthday. She wanted tea and cake and all the usual hotel high tea events were not going to be right. So I took the opportunity to add to my 50 things at 50 and try the recently opened Dominique Ansel in London. From the getgo he was getting huge queues and has been quite the publicity monkey since being here in London but I thought the first week of Jan may be less crazy than usual.

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And yes, I get the irony! after my resolve to continue healthy eating, but in my defence I did walk there so felt I deserved a treat at the end of that. I went to his place in New York some years ago and the queues just keep on coming so when he opened in London it was just a matter of biding my time to find the right opportunity to go there. Today is a post Christmas/New Year blow out bank holiday Monday and I was right in thinking we didn’t need to queue. Still, there were none of his famous signature cronuts available at 2.30pm which was a shame. I had one at a wedding in New York a year or so ago so have had that experience but my friend hadn’t and had to opt for the DKA. Personally I think that a much nicer pastry.

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As part of his launch here, he posted on instagram some incredible creations that nodded to London and the UK, exclusives for his site here. So I went for the Paris-London: a twist on the Paris-Brest with earl grey mousse and lemon curd and can only report to be underwhelmed. In fact, I left most of it which tells you a lot. I noticed that most others were going with his made-to-order items like the cookie shot and the frozen s’mores and all taking pictures for their instagram pages.

We walked away with the feeling of the Emperor’s New Clothes. What is a down and dirty start up shop in New York which has a pace, a passion and of course actual Cronuts has been polished to within an inch of its life here in London. The designers have taken over and in the grandeur lost the experience for the customer. Fundamentally the operation does not flow. To say the service was slow is being kind. Not only was the one girl on a till impossibly slow, but we had to re-queue for another cup of tea and this took 20 minutes to order before we even stood a chance of getting it. Everything goes through one queue with one poor member of staff. My experience in New York’s tiny Soho shop just out shone this new upmarket jazzy London version. Such a shame that this talented chef has been a victim of his own success. I think I will stick to the bliss balls!

I have been to a wedding this weekend, in New York! It seems a little bit indulgent popping over to the big apple for a wedding but honestly I just knew it would be worth it.

The set of cards for the wedding

The set of cards for the wedding

From the very first save-the-date card the style was set and this young dynamic, charming pair did it wonderfully. We had three days of events to attend and each one was perfect. Whilst the happy couple are a different generation to me, they share in my interest in food, so have always been there when I needed New York recommendations and of course, joined us when we went to Blue Hill at Stone Barns for one of the best meals I have certainly ever had.

The goodie bag

The goodie bag

True to form, the food took as central a stage to the whole weekend as the stylish design. Saturday night was a ‘rehearsal dinner’ although really a chance to meet up with those who travelled into New York for the event. Food wise, it was a celebration of all their favourite eateries. Their first date was at Mile End deli so we had to of course have deli style sandwiches and pickles. Also adorning the table were a variety of Motorino pizzas to eat as the yanks do by the slice – no knives and forks here! Dessert was from the well known and somewhat iconic Zabars: black & white cookies, Babkas and Rugelach. All great reminders of Grandma’s cooking and so in keeping with the tone of the evening. And did I mention the cocktails? Designed and named by the happy couple and delicious. The evening closed with a goodie bag filled with a perfect kit of items to support any trip to NYC: a bottle of water (it is over 90 degrees after all at the mo), advil for the headache, pretzels, a momofuku cookie and a map of the subway. Great touch.

The event was held in the most wonderful building at Bryant Park where WeWork operates. This is the groom’s workplace and indicative of his unique abilities and style. It is a clever and fast growing business that is quickly expanding in London too. They pride themselves on finding great spaces to deliver unique workplaces for small businesses. Very simple and very clever.

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Waking up on Sunday I wondered just what the evening would hold based on that starting point. The event took place at The Foundry in Queens which set the tone before we started. The copper chairs and unique Chuppah adorned with Palm Springs-esque foliage set the tone for this LA born bride.

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We walked in to Champagne, funky music and these hankies which had been made from fabrics the bride had chosen on a buying trip to India. From the moment each person came down the aisle, the hankies were in full use. The wedding was short, unique, with intimate and emotional ‘vows’ and a husband and wife rabbi singing and speaking an edited but poignant service. As the groom broke the glass, we all knew it was the beginning for them of a wonderful life together.

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The food of course took centre stage after that as we moved next door and grabbed another cocktail from a newly designed menu. Canapes were classics that these guys have taught me about over the years: fried chicken on waffles, lobster rolls, bacon wrapped dates (a reminder of AOC), an oyster station and of course that devilled egg bar! And this was all before we sat down for dinner. The table placings were arranged on this board that the bride designed and created herself…yet another example of her style and taste and capability. No wonder she is flourishing at her job.

Dinner was outside under a canopy of foliage strung simply over lights and on long trestles; the style was of course sharing and the food sublime. I am told the caterer was Fig & Pig from Brooklyn but the food was all FranksnBens. Platters of heirloom tomatoes studded with mozzarella were partnered with a roasted summer fruits and burrata salad. Colourful, seasonal, delicious. Then mains were sharing again with platters of sliced steaks simply charred, vege lasagne and my favourite: creole style shrimp on grits.

Speeches followed with lots of tears, toasts and laughter and the dancing began. I don’t think the bride left the dance floor for the rest of the evening but there was one last food coup to unveil….dessert. This inimitable duo had dessert catered by the one, the only, Dominique Ansel.

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If ever there was an iconic New York pastry chef then this man is it. The queues for his bakery have been round the block since the very first cronut was announced. You still can’t get your hands on one very easily and here we were knee deep in cronut towers along with a selection of his other showstopping stars: cookie shots, meringue topped chocolate cakes, chocolate and caramel pastries, banana and hibiscus cakes….you name it he did it. Thankfully we managed to share a bite each of these delights just to try our way through it and we all agreed the cronut was still the favourite with this month’s flavour combo: earl grey tea and bergamot providing a citrussy kick to stand up to the sugary buttery pastry.

I am told the bride, groom and their ushers and bridesmaids finished the evening with tequila shots and cocktails in their penthouse room at The Wythe hotel bouncing on the bed, dancing on the concrete floor and admiring the views from the window overlooking this wonderful city. We left before that and grabbed an Uber back over to Manhattan, resplendent and full of food, frolics and fabulousness. Thanks #FranksnBens. You are the best.

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Pastry perfection from Bageriet

I was pondering the sweet treat this week because a couple of friends had posted things that brought them to my attention.

Firstly was a tweet from the lovely Daniel Karlsson at Bageriet. I met Daniel when I was working with the beautiful boys of Melrose and Morgan and was lucky enough to try a variety of Daniel’s creations as he experimented his way through seasonal delicacies in his role as pastry chef. Daniel came through the ranks of classic pastry training in Sweden and then working at Ottolenghi before his Melrose and Morgan times and has now taken the leap and gone it alone creating Bageriet in Rose Street, Covent Garden. Going back to his traditional Swedish roots, Daniel is creating classics with a twist and was recently featured on Paul Hollywood’s show demonstrating his skills. There is no doubt Daniel has the touch of an angel and I hope people find his shop and share in his talent.

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On the same day I read Daniel’s tweet, I saw another post from a friend talking about the cronut craze that has taken New York by storm. Cronuts are the creation of Dominique Ansel who is also a wonderful pastry chef. He trained at the fabulous Fauchon in Paris and found fame during his 6 year tenure at Restaurant Daniel in New York. Having opened his own place in Spring Street, Ansel was shortlisted as a finalist for the James Beard award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2013. There is no doubt that this chef is a dab hand at pastry and yet despite his long list of credentials, it is through the cronut that he has found a whole new level of fame.

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This half doughnut half croissant delicacy looks like it would induce an instant heart attack on even the most unsuspecting, and yet since its inception in May, the street of New York have seen queues forming from the very early hours simply to secure one of these now famous $5 pastries. The madness has gone beyond rational behaviour. People are sleeping overnight in the shop doorway, and queuing from 6am, there is a 2 week pre-order list which is already full and their next slot for a large order is from 1 August. The world has gone cronut crazy!!

The queue just a couple of weeks ago!

The queue just a couple of weeks ago!

Ansel has had to trademark these treats and yet there are imitators popping up all over the place… the doissant from Washington, the frissant from Vancouver and the Donut Croissant from Dunkin Donuts in the Philippines to name but a few. And then there’s the black market which is said to trade the $5 pastry for up to $40 each!

What fascinates me is how a creation from some French pastry chef in Soho, New York can become a world wide craze, and I guess the answer lies in technology. On the very night that blog Grub Street first wrote about Ansel’s new product, they received 140,000 links and it all went exponential from there. There are something like 10,000 tweets a month about this little ol’ pastry, pictures of the queues go viral and if you search google there are over 3 million hits (compared to just over 1 million if you search the man Dominique himself). What exactly is it that captured the public imagination about this that others need to emulate?

Firstly I guess it is the creativity. It has to be something original. And the marriage of two already scrummy things into something even more delicious really is ingenious. Then there’s tapping into the social network at the right point to get it to go viral. The process of queuing like a mad man is part of it so that you can be one of the few who can claim to be in the cronut club and tell their story of how they finally came to try one of these treats. Finally, you need to be as lovely as Monsieur Ansel who seems genuinely chuffed by all the support and hasn’t changed a thing as a result of the publicity. The price is the same, the process is the same and he continues to develop his shop and his product with the hope that people will keep on coming… and I am sure they will.

Cronut Crazy