On a sunny fall day in Manhattan, Dominique Ansel is perched on a seat at his eponymous bakery, extolling the virtues of his favorite food city. While all signs might point to Paris, the consummate Frenchman is mad for the British capital. “The food scene is so exciting right now in London,” he says enthusiastically. “It’s growing like crazy and there’s such amazing product. The dairy is really rich, like in France. The milk really tastes like milk. The butter—I think everything I make there will taste better. Everything!” Which is why the master baker decided to open his first European outpost in London’s Belgravia in September.
Born in a small town just north of Paris, Ansel started his culinary career as a seasonal worker at the venerable Parisian food emporium Fauchon and quickly rose to open branches in places like Kuwait and Russia. Upon moving to New York, he became known for turning canonical desserts topsy-turvy at Restaurant Daniel on the Upper East Side. The city was, therefore, primed for the 2011 opening of Ansel’s bakery in a tiny downtown storefront, but no one expected the frenzy that would surround one of his inaugural creations, the Cronut. His invention—a flaky croissant he crossed with a doughnut then filled with cream—was one of the first pastries to go viral on the Web, and it made Ansel famous seemingly overnight.
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For Ansel, choosing London for his latest project over the more obvious Paris made perfect sense. “Like New York, it’s a city where you can open yourself up and innovate,” he says. The surest sign that he has fallen hard for his bakery’s newest home comes in the afternoon, when he serves a proper English tea. “I wanted to embrace the tradition of tea and play with it,” he says. He has spent the past year dreaming up riffs on time-honored British classics, with reinventions such as Bakewell Biscotti (he turned the 19th-century frangipane-and-jam tart into sandwich cookies) and Banoffee Paella (the banana pie is baked upside down in a paella pan). His Welsh Rarebit Croissant, a creation that pays homage to the English sharp cheddar–and–stout version of grilled cheese, may become his next object of veneration. Or, perhaps, his Eton Mess Lunchbox, a neat container of strawberries and cream where the mess is yours to make. Shake the box, and the fragile berries, made of white chocolate, shatter, spilling their jammy red interiors. After the Rain, a cake with tiny jasmine “raindrops,” suggests the almost floral scent that follows a storm.