Pastry Chef Dominique Ansel Shares the Most Important Lessons He's Learned from Martha
Martha Stewart has been a household name since the 1980s, so it's no surprise that her work and teachings have influenced people across the world. As part of our latest series, professional chefs, lifestyle experts, and even a few celebrities take part in What Martha Taught Me to reveal what they've learned from our founder, plus what they did to take their careers to the next level.
Perhaps you've lined up at SoHo's Dominique Ansel Bakery at the crack of dawn in hopes of tasting a famous Cronut. Or maybe you've seen Dominique Ansel's recent creations like "everything bagel and smear pavlovas" or the "haute dog" (coconut-soaked ladyfingers with raspberry, passion fruit, and coconut formed to look like a hot dog in a bun with mustard). Whatever your association with French-born pastry chef Dominique Ansel, there's no denying that he's one of the most creative contemporary culinary minds. Indeed, Ansel was named Best Pastry Chef in the US by the James Beard Awards in 2014 and World's Best Pastry Chef by the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards in 2017. In Spring 2020, Ansel will release a new cookbook called Everyone Can Bake: Simple Recipes to Master and Mix.
Recently, we chatted with Ansel about what he’s learned from Martha, the time she schooled him on pomegranates, what inspires him, and more.
Martha's career taught him to spread his own wings.
Ansel says that seeing Martha excel at building her brand across so many different fields has been a huge inspiration for his own career—and a reminder that though he loves his role as pastry chef, he doesn't have to let it pigeonhole him. Seeing her showcase her different skills on TV, he says, is something that helped shape his career. "She's not just a great cook, she's also great at crafting, home design, flowers, and plants—she has so many different skills and it's very inspiring for me," says Ansel. "I want to be a good entrepreneur, I want to be good at managing people, I want to be good at learning different skills and different crafts as well—and that's why I love Martha."
There was a time when Martha schooled him.
He may be able to dream up concoctions like frozen s'mores and zero gravity cake, but two decades into his career and Ansel says still hadn't had much experience with pomegranates. "One of my favorite memories with Martha is actually a time when I was catering an event and she was there in the kitchen," he recalls. "I cut the pomegranate and was trying to take out the seeds—I had never really worked with pomegranate—and Martha came and she's like let me show you something." She then demonstrated how to cut the pomegranate in half, flip each half upside down, and bang the back of the pomegranate with a spoon until all the seeds came out. "I was like how did I not know that?"
He draws inspiration from everywhere.
Ansel says it can be easy for chefs to get culinary tunnel vision. While there's a lot of inspiration to be had by reading cookbooks, tasting great food, and even scrolling through Instagram, Ansel goes beyond the confines of food to get his inspiration. "I think of colors, I think of textures, I look at a lot of different industries actually," he says. "I get inspired by a lot of things that are not food-related. It's important for me to go outside of the box and to see what other people do."
His own advice for bakers? Follow the recipe.
It may sound simple, but Ansel's top tip for aspiring bakers is to read through the entire recipe before you start baking. "You should have all the tools necessary and all the ingredients. There's no fast forwarding the recipe, there's no short cut, you have to be precise and you have to be meticulous," he says. Ansel suggests investing in a kitchen scale for the best, most precise baking results.