Eater’s column Drawn & Ordered reveals the gorgeous dishes on Ansel’s hotly anticipated tasting menu.
In May, acclaimed pastry chef/Cronut king Dominique Ansel opened his new New York City bakery, Dominique Ansel Kitchen, and crowds eagerly lined up, as per usual, for his newfound takes on beignets (dusted with matcha), brownies (topped with torched sage), and croissants (alternately almond or garlic). But upstairs, Ansel has been working away at his hotly anticipated dessert tasting counter, an eight-seat, multi-course experience called Unlimited Possibilities (or U.P. for short). "To me, it's very important that people have an emotional connection with the food," Ansel says of U.P.'s kickoff eight-course menu. "Something they remember, something that you attach to, something that reminds you of place, or people." Appropriately, that inaugural menu is deemed "First Memories Last Forever," tapping into the most emotional and nostalgic moments of a diner's life. Ansel's "First" plays with memories of the diner's first words, first job, and first wedding dance, moments actualized on the plate with everything from smoked toffee and lychee to sweet corn and (of course) chocolate.
"This is going to be fun, because we're going to tell the whole story by ourselves."
U.P. marks Ansel's return to plated desserts for the first time in five years, dating back to his time in the Daniel kitchen. "When you work in a restaurant, at dessert, you're the end — you tell the last part of the story," he says. U.P., which will change its menu bi-annually, "is going to be fun, because we're going to tell the whole story by ourselves." And diners have proved to want more in-depth stories than "that time I stood in line for a Cronut." Tickets for the first services — scheduled for July 17 to 19 — went online in late May, and promptly sold out in minutes. Ansel releases tickets for services seven weeks in advance, with users hopping onto Nick Kokonas's Tock platform quickly snap them up each time. "I'm looking forward to see people interacting with the dishes, to see people engaging in conversation and really having a good time," Ansel says. "I just want people to have... a really memorable time."
Here now, a look at the first four courses on Ansel's "First" menu, interpreted by cut-paper artist Jayme McGowan.
First Word: To "start the conversation," Ansel will present each guest with their own first word, previously culled via email, playfully spelled out in vanilla meringues. (Ansel's own first word? "Oui," or yes, in French.) The dish itself is a take on the classic French "floating island," subbing in a sweet pea anglaise for the vanilla custard, then layering it with rice milk. Ansel further winks at the infant stage of everyone's life with the dish's sweet peas and sections of carrot cake. "Peas and carrots is what we feed babies — and the texture of that, with the creamy and silky milk, reminds me of the milk we used to drink when we were babies," Ansel says.
First Kiss: Here, Ansel describes a youthful first kiss, one that emphasizes "the emotional connection, the physical contact with the cheek." To play with textures, each "kiss" is served in custom-made bowls of varying sizes and textures: For ladies, it's a textured bowl to represent the "sometimes a bit scratchy" stubble on male cheeks, while guys are served a smooth bowl. Ansel remains coy about the contents within, but according to an early menu, it'll involve raspberry, mint, and vanilla cream.
First Time Living on Your Own: The playful "Living on Your Own" features a facsimile for every college kid's go-to meal — ramen — with ribboned crepes for noodles and a sweet corn puree standing in for poached egg. At 19 years old, the recently moved-out Ansel ate "not ramen, but pasta," he laughs. "I was eating pasta every day: carbonata, tomato sauce, some garlic. Always a different flavor every day, but I remember eating pasta [straight] from the pan that I was cooking it in."
For Ansel, the challenge was to mimic that memory of standing and eating over the stove, without resorting to actual pasta as an ingredient. "Crepes are something that I love, something sweet that mimics the shape of the pasta," he says. "It's sweet, it's slightly buttery, we add a little bit of lemon in there. It's a fun way to present it." The dish is served in a tiny pan, like the one Ansel would make pasta in, and is topped off with smoked toffee bits for texture.
First Heartbreak: To accurately represent the idea of heartbreak, Ansel did his research. "I asked a lot of people around me what first heartbreak was like," he says, resulting in responses from "eating ice cream and being sad" to angry to "going out and drinking." As a result, "First Heartbreak" is based on a classic baked Alaska, traditionally a meringue that's lit ablaze with alcohol. Here, the base is a chocolate-dipped rocky road ice cream (symbolism!) with petals of paper-thin meringue to create the shape of a flower. The flower is then lit on fire to represent the relationship gone wrong. "It's something that starts off very beautiful, like love — something very pure and beautiful — and ends up a little more broken when it catches on fire," Ansel says. "It's a very interactive dish. It's very cool to watch, and it's very delicious too."