Chef Dominique Ansel on the Most Inspiring Meals of His Life

The acclaimed chef and inventor of the Cronut reflects on his favorite dining memories ahead of opening his very first savory restaurant.

Chef Dominique Ansel on the Most Inspiring Meals of His Life

Rotisserie baby chicken with black garlic rice stuffing at 189 by Dominique Ansel

Courtesy of Dominique Ansel

This November, the health-conscious people of Los Angeles will be eating way more baked goods than usual. That’s because Dominique Ansel—master baker, creator of the Cronut—has set down roots in La La Land’s outdoor Grove shopping center, with the opening of 189 by Dominique Ansel. (The name comes from the address of his original SoHo shop, which also happens to be the address at the Grove.)

His first West Coast outpost—and largest project to date—will draw lines for more than just pastries, however: The bi-level space also includes an upstairs full-service restaurant that’ll serve comfort-food dishes like a French onion soup (made with braised purple cabbage, rye bread crouton, and Gruyère and Fontina cheese) and a rotisserie baby chicken with black garlic rice stuffing (pictured above). Downstairs, the Cronuts—and Cookie Shots, and DKAs, and Frozen S’mores—await, as do only-in-L.A. goodies (which, as of press time, were still in development).

The bakery will be opening on Friday, November 10th; the upstairs restaurant is kicking off its Weekend Table brunch on Saturday, November 4th, and dinner service will begin on Saturday, November 11th.

So where does one of the world’s most creatively inclined chefs get inspiration? All over the world, it turns out. Here, Ansel reveals the meals that have stayed with him over the years, from a tiny stall in a Taipei night market to a seafood spot on the Connecticut coast.

The Quintessential French Bistro: Le Baratin in Paris, France

“This true neighborhood bistro is what you’d envision seeing in a romantic movie. Located in the 20th, it’s run by a couple—Raquel runs the kitchen and Phillippe is at the bar manning the front of the house—and the daily-changing menu is on a blackboard. We had the most incredible veal brains, gently cooked in a lemon butter sauce with chives, and soft baby potatoes on the side. They also do a beautiful slow confit leg of lamb. And for dessert, a single red wine–poached pear. It’s all so simple and so perfect.”

Life-Changing Molecular Meal: Next in Chicago

“I was fortunate enough to experience Grant Achatz’s “Trio” Menu at Next a few years back. Trio was a restaurant where Grant worked early in his career, and this menu paid tribute to that, with iconic dishes that he had created in the past—from the black truffle explosion (a single ravioli filled with liquid black truffle) to a rose and tapioca dessert served in a test tube that you suck up like a straw. We ended the meal with a cocktail at his bar Aviary—a Slingshot that was encased inside a whole ice cube. It was great to see the progression of a pioneering chef like Grant—to see how he started and how his creations were and still are groundbreaking.”

Most Memorable Bite of Beef: Gyu-ho in Kyoto, Japan

“Japan is a place where I get a lot of inspiration. They have such respect for food culture there, and it’s incredible how many chefs spend decades of their lives working to perfect one thing. The level of discipline and pure talent is amazing. In Kyoto, I went to this tiny yakiniku restaurant [a restaurant that specializes in grilled meat] tucked away from all the tourist attractions. It’s a counter, really, with about 10 or 12 seats—and it’s a real celebration of beef. A lot of the local geisha hang out there after-hours, and instead of autographs, they give out stickers with their signatures on them, so the walls are covered with these stickers. I remember walking in and the chef eying me up and down, wondering why a Westerner was there. We had the most tender raw calf liver marinated with fragrant sesame oil and salt. It tasted like soft tofu with the texture of foie gras, sweet and nutty. We bought the chef so many drinks that by the end of the evening, we were cooking for him.”

Ultimate Comfort Food: Fook Lam Moon in Hong Kong

“This is one of Hong Kong’s classic Cantonese restaurants. Years ago, I was invited there by the owners, a son and daughter who stopped practicing medicine to take over for their father. They cooked some of their off-the-menu dishes, including Beggar’s chicken, a traditional dish made of a lotus leaf–wrapped chicken that’s stuffed with sticky rice. The chicken was so juicy and tender, with the earthy aroma of the lotus leaf, and the sticky rice inside took on the flavor of the chicken. It’s one of those comforting dishes that you’ll never forget.”

Barbecue to Top All Barbecue: Franklin Barbecue in Austin

“A few years ago, I went to Austin for SXSW, where we first launched the Cookie Shot. Of course, I wanted to check out Franklin, but wasn’t able to make it. Aaron and his wife ended up bringing us some food, which was so incredibly sweet of them especially considering they had just had a baby a few weeks earlier. That brisket was expertly slow-cooked, with those pink smoke rings inside and a charred crust outside. They’ve perfected what authentic American barbecue can be. The best part? We made brisket sandwiches with the DKA, our kouign amann—the best of both worlds, I guess!”

Unforgettable Al Fresco Seafood: The Place Restaurant in Guilford, CT

“I recently visited this outdoor restaurant on the Connecticut coast for the first time, and it was such a special experience. You sit on tree stumps underneath a big-top tent and watch in awe as the chefs grill up the freshest seafood on a massive crackling wood fire. The smell of firewood burning, the briny air, lobsters and corn charring up over the flame, and the Roast Clam Special—juicy, fresh-shucked clams brushed with butter, cocktail sauce, and horseradish, brought to your table still on a blazing hot grill plate—it’s a summertime clambake at its best.”

The Best Street Food Find: Black Pepper Buns, Raohe Street Night Market in Taipei, Taiwan

“Taiwan is one of my favorite countries to visit. The food there is unlike anywhere else, and the night markets serve the most authentic, traditional food, with stalls that have been there for generations, passed down through families and oftentimes specializing in just one thing.

“In Taipei, Raohe Street Night Market is one of the oldest in the city, stretching along one long street. At the very end is a stall that serves black pepper pork buns (hu jiao bing). It’s the only thing on their menu, and it’s the single best thing to eat in the entire market. You stand in line and watch as they hand-make what looks like hundreds of buns a minute, with a marinated pork-and-spring-onion filling seasoned with lots of black pepper, inside hand-rolled dough that’s brushed with a bit of oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Then they’re stuck onto the sides of a glowing hot barrel-like tandoor oven, the dough forming a golden brown crust as the meat cooks inside. It’s served to you seconds out of the oven. I always burn my tongue on that very first bite, but it’s worth it.”

A Locavore Labor of Love: Attica in Melbourne, Australia

“Last year, I went to Australia for the first time and was blown away by every meal. At Attica, I really admire how Ben Shewry and his team are celebrating the indigenous ingredients, paying homage to what the native Aboriginals have long been cooking with. There’s a certain hunter-gatherer feel to the menu, as the first several courses are eaten by hand—from fresh abalone in its shell to foraging for tomatoes on the plate. We had beautiful ostrich egg with butternut squash, and at one point a huge Crocodile Dundee knife came out in a leather case that you used to eat the fresh abalone along with juicy ripe melon. It was such an authentic and creative way of cooking from someone who really understands the land.”

>>Next: Alton Brown on the Trip That Changed His Life

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