Earlier this year I went to one of Dominique Ansel’s bakery’s in London. For those who don’t know his name, you definitely know what he’s famous for; introducing us to craze that is the Cronut.
I was pretty excited in the lead up to visiting this shop because I am a big fan of Ansel. One of the quotes in his book that I keep in the front of my mind is, “time is an ingredient”. I love his recipes, and more importantly, that it seems (as least via social media) that he’s a fun-loving kind of guy, who works hard but doesn’t rage.
When we arrived, I didn’t need too much time to decide what I wanted. The Cronut speciality that day was rose flavoure, so that was item #1. Followed by one cookie shot, a ‘DKA’ (Dominique’s Kouign Amann) and a Welsh Rarebit Croissant. I had no idea what that was, but the description underneath read, “Cheddar béchamel with whole grain mustard and fontina’. So I was ready to party.
The first thing I got into was the cookie shot- and it was pretty fantastic. Photo below for reference:
The idea is simple. Cookies and milk make for super fun times, always. Ansel very cleverly made a slight change in how we would normally consume these two products by making a long, hollow, tube-like cookie and filling it with vanilla-infused milk. It’s a relatively simple yet effective idea, but it’s fun because:
- Everyone likes cookies and milk (you’re a strange one if you don’t)
- You’re doing a shot! But it’s non-alcoholic! My dream.
- It makes for lots of Likes on the Socials. I smirked to myself thinking of all the people getting the staff to take Boomerang after Boomerang after Slow-mo videos of them having their cookie shots. Or, you could get your Instagram husband to video you…but I wouldn’t know what that term means…
Aaand then it all turned into sad times.
The Cronut was next. The pastry was great; standard, crunchy, golden-baked, flaky croissant that had been fried. But the filling was way, way too sweet. I’m not sure if that’s because I don’t like my desserts overly sweet, but from what I’ve heard from others, they thought the same thing.
We tried the Welsh Rarebit Croissant next. This one wasn’t a croissant so much as exactly like a Cronut but larger. It looked so good! Pastry with a cheesy baked lid on top. My every wish come true. The pastry itself- you just read the Cronut description above because there was no difference, at least to me, between the two products. The filling was, and there is no other way to put this, creamy, bitter mustard. Take from that what you will.
Last up, Dominque’s Kouign Amann. A Kouign Amann is a pastry that is generally made and laminated in a similar way to croissant dough. It has layers of butter and sugar folded through, and as it bakes, it caramelises, giving you a crusty, caramelly outer shell, with a puff pastry/croissant hybrid interior. It couldn’t have been sitting out that long as we were in the store at 9am, but for some reason, ours was as hard as the proverbial brick, and strangely, simultaneously chewy. And the pastry; you guessed it- tasted exactly the same as the Cronut and Welsh Rarebit Croissant.
So, unfortunately, of the 4 things we purchased, 3 tasted as though the pastry was quite literally, the same recipe, with different fillings and finishes. If the viennoiserie (puff, croissant, kouign amann- ie flaky dough pastry) recipes they use in Ansel’s kitchens are different, so be it, but there was definitely no discernible difference. It’s disappointing to say the least, given that this is a famous brand, a bakery with shops in England, America and Japan that’s led by a chef who carries the title for World’s Best Pastry Chef 2016.
And as an additional note, their front-of-house staff members were sullen, arrogant and 3 seconds away from rolling their eyes at us. Smile, guys. People are travelling to visit your store because they have heard good things and they’re excited. You’re a representation of your boss and the brand that he is building, so as the face of the store, you’re building that brand too and you need to keep that excitement going. You’re allowed to have bad days; we all have those days where we can’t stand the sight of customers. Go ahead and talk to customers about how it’s been hard to wake up, or that things went wrong in the kitchen this morning, or that you had a bunch of rude customers. But never, ever displace those feelings onto a new customer. I could add a bunch of jokes in here to lighten the mood, but below par customer service, especially when other clients who have visited the same store have corroborated it, makes me grumpy.
The last thing I wanted to make a comment on (lots of comments to make today, it would appear) is something I’ve been discussing quite a bit with a wonderful friend that I made here. She’s a pastry chef too (we’re talking nek level pastry chef here). She pointed out how frustrating it is that people hardly ever highlight the negative experiences that they have had when they try desserts, when they post on social media. I guess this follows through also for savoury food, but we generally keep our food-based discussions to the sweet side.
Similar to the idea that everyone’s life on Facebook or Instagram is a highlight’s reel and can’t always be sunshine, is that it cannot possibly be the case that every single thing that we try is something that we enjoy. So you either don’t post about it (which I’m guilty of), or you lie, and say that it was #nomnomnom. It feeds into a weird cycle, which in my mind goes like this when someone posts something that they didn’t really enjoy:
“This is a famous place headed up by a famous chef OR I want to make people envious OR I will seem loony or arrogant if I say something negative. I don’t want to create any waves and I want this to appear like an overall positive experience. I will just say that I liked it”
THEN someone else may come along next and have a negative experience too, but they’ve seen those previous positive comments and reviews. They may have a similar thought process to others that have eaten at this place. And by these powers combined, the store gets another rave review. It’s not to say that everyone is having negative experiences and walking out unhappy but pretending that all is well. Rather, it’s the idea that we all have personal experiences, and it’s impossible that each of these individual experiences with a brand is the same.
Like I said earlier, I’m guilty of this whole, “highlights reel” thing too. I went to Dominque Ansel in March, and while I posted about the cookie shot and how I loved it, I also posted the Cronut photo, which we all now know that I didn’t love. What’s more, I held onto this blog post because I didn’t want to say anything bad about it. Anyway, I’ve written it now, and I’m sweating up a storm because pastry talk flusters me while also making me hungry, so I’m off to do what I do best; sit and eat.