All photos by Liz Barclay
Have you tried a Cronut?
Whether you have or have not, chances are you’ve heard of the croissant-doughnut crossbreed that debuted at Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York a month back. It’s also likely that you have formulated an opinion on its essential worth, made judgments on the frenzy surrounding its existence, and perhaps declared yourself “over it” in a dramatic fashion. If you’re a reporter or member of the blogosphere, it’s more or less a job requirement to obsessively cover cronut news—just look at Eater’s “Cronut Mania” coverage, Bloomberg critic Ryan Sutton’s “cronut scalping” reportage, and cronut.org, a site entirely devoted to Cronuts.
The hype, like all hype—for Air Yeezys, for the Great Gatsby, for Daft Punk, et al—has far exceeded any reasonable level of interest in a thing that is the secret to the Human Genome, and let’s be honest: It’s all too easy to poke fun at the lemmings who line up for two hours each morning in Soho for the mere chance of buying some Cronuts (just two, actually, since they’ve been rationed to keep up with demand). But what’s even more disturbing than the trend-humping is the more sinister backlash to the Cronut, which has at its core two common strains of haterade: faux-populist posturing, and fooderati snobbery.
Since the pastry went viral (read that phrase twice; welcome to 2013), the anti-Cronut factions have grown louder, if not larger. Just look at Atlantic Wire’s recently published “Cronuts: A Hater’s Guide.” Or listen to The Chew’s painful one-and-a-half minute segment denouncing the worth of the Cronut. During the discussion, host Clinton Kelly struggles to pronounce the name of the bakery (making clear that he sees the thing in his hand as nothing more than a disposable novelty), Michael Symon is immediately up in arms about the pastry’s $5 price tag, and Carla Hall gets applause from the audience after proclaiming, “You can make it at home. What would it cost, 25 cents?”
The cronut is to Dominique Ansel Bakery what the haute burger is to any upscale restaurant: it is an accessible menu addition, one which the chef had fun creating.
The fact is you almost certainly can’t make it at home, and it’s this type of reactionary thinking that’s problematic: These commentators appear ignorant to the truth that Dominique Ansel is a James Beard Award-nominated pâtissier who previously worked for Pierre Hermé and Daniel Boulud, and his bakery is all about heady, French technique-driven pastry. The Soho bakery has been putting out spectacular creations since it opened in 2011, like Ansel’s immaculate kouign-amann, with its caramelized exterior and buttery insides, and the still-hot-from-the-oven madeleines, which are some of the best in NYC (P. Diddy agrees).
When I interviewed Ansel last week, he pleaded, “My team has tried to please everybody and be very sweet to customers, but people forget that we’re not a Cronut shop. We are a French bakery and our specialty is French baked items. We have almost 100 different items on the menu. And with all the beautiful pastries that we have, it’s very important for me to keep our roots.” Ansel isn’t a money-hungry schemer who wants to make a quick fortune with a highbrow-lowbrow food concept; he is a dedicated pastry chef who has a deep love and respect for his craft, and a small business owner who has worked hard to create a thriving bakery in the competitive NYC market.
To begrudge a charlatan selling a gimmick (like, say, Cronut knockoffs) is one thing, but to hate on a proven chef for crafting something that the masses are excited about is simply painful to watch. We’re lucky to live in a city packed with great chefs and food businesses, but we don’t deserve any of them if we continue to turn our backs on anyone who gets a little shine in the media. Our gastronomically enlightened lives wouldn’t be possible if no one in the food industry were making money, so why not celebrate the fact that, this time, it’s actually someone with legitimate talent who is getting the attention?
At the end of the day, the Cronut is to Dominique Ansel Bakery what the haute burger is to any upscale restaurant: it is an accessible menu addition, and one which the chef had fun creating. It doesn’t change the fact that Dominique Ansel is an honest chef with impeccable technique, whose focus is to satisfy his customers by making baked goods with precision and care. To lump the Cronut in with the likes of the doughnut breakfast sandwich and the lasagna burger and any number of gimmicky, cash-grab foodstuffs you see on Thrillist every day is disingenuous, and it unfairly negates the reputation Ansel has worked hard to build.
So I plead to the food-snobs and “arbiters of taste” out there: We know haters gonna hate, but at least educate yourself before you do. Dominique Ansel is much more than the creator of the Cronut, and begrudging him his pop-culture moment—which, of course, will pass—is as miserly as it gets.
For the record, I ate one half of a lemon-maple flavored cronut last week. It reminded me a little of an eclair and it was very good, but that’s not the point.