Dominique Ansel Goes Beyond Cronuts at SoBeWFF

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The South Beach Wine & Food Festival arrives February 19 through 22 with more than 75 events, tastings, parties, seminars, and dinners. The bash, which benefits Florida International University's dining and tourism programs, brings thousands of fans and celebrity chefs to Miami.

Even though Dominique Ansel is only 37 years old, he has had an illustrious career spanning decades. The chef and owner of Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City has worked at Paris' famed Fauchon and for legendary chef Daniel Boulud. But he's best known for his culinary sensation, the cronut.

In 2013, he introduced this croissant-doughnut hybrid at his intimate bake shop and was deluged by fans. The buttery, flaky pastry was named one of Time magazine's best inventions that year -- right along with the artificial pancreas and Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo.

See also: From Burger Bash to Meatopia: SoBeWFF's Biggest Attractions

Though others might spend time trying to capitalize on this lightning-in-a-bottle invention, Ansel has been busy with other projects. He just announced a second New York City location and plans to expand to Tokyo.

New Times spoke with the pastry master about how he came to be known as a modern day Willy Wonka and what inspires him.

New Times: Food & Wine called you a confectionery van Gogh. What do you think that means?

Dominique Ansel: Of course I'm not van Gogh, but I believe in creativity and innovation when it comes to food. Pastry is art, but also scientific, so both worlds have to meet at some point. Sometimes I think of ideas that are scientifically impossible. I have a magic soufflé that never collapses. I worked months to perfect this technique.

Some say the cronut made you an overnight success.

People often talk about overnight success, but I have over 20 years in the kitchen. It's hard work every day, and it's about trying different things and always striving to do better. We change the menu every six to eight weeks. I like to make new things, and I like to keep myself and my staff excited about the food. The cronut is a beautiful creation, but I don't want it to kill my creativity. That's why I decided to not just focus on it. This is what I've been doing since I opened the shop.

Others have imitated the cronut. Don't you think imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?

I'm a chef and I spent my whole life creating things. You can say that imitation is a form of flattery, and I think it's nice when you use something as inspiration and create your own thing from there. But when you blatantly copy and confuse people with a product that's not what it's supposed to be, that's cheating people and tricking them. I think there are a lot of people who try to jump on trends.

Do you know when something will be a real hit, and do you feel pressure to make the next "it" dessert?

We're always working on between five and ten new ideas in the kitchen at the same time, but I don't decide what the next popular item will be -- the customers decide. I make food that connects with people emotionally, and I don't decide what they like. I don't have any marketing team of ten people, and I don't have a strategy. I try to be good, tasty, clever, and innovative. The rest happens by itself.

Where do you get your inspiration for your creations?

Inspiration comes from a lot of different places. I can be inspired by travel, dining out, or even looking at a fashion show. One time I was at a farmers' market and decided to share with people what the color purple tasted like. I want people to have a childhood memory or a unique and very special experience. Last winter I got sick just as I was working on a new menu. I couldn't taste anything, so I realized I had to work a different way. I decided that instead of focusing on flavor first, I would work on texture and appearance. That forced me to look at things differently. I remember dreaming of pastries, then waking up, going into the kitchen, and making those dreams happen.

What can we look forward to at the Death by Chocolate party you'll host at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival?

I invited some of my favorite New York pastry chefs to join me in Miami, like Christina Tosi from Momofuku Milk Bar. The name, "Death by Chocolate," says it all. I can't tell you what I am making for the party, but I can say I will be creating something new just for the festival. Every time I do an event, I try to create something completely new.

Death by Chocolate: A Dessert Party, hosted by Dominique Ansel: Saturday, February 21, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. poolside at the National Hotel, 1677 Collins Ave., Miami Beach. Tickets cost $125.

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