Six years ago, Daniel Alvarez fried the first batch of cronuts. Developed by Dominique Ansel at his small bakery in Soho, where Alvarez had been working as chef de partie for under a year, the cronut and its ensuing sensation became Alvarez’s fast-tracked education in the daily demands of bakery life.
“Don’t get me wrong because I’ll get in trouble with Dominique,” he joked, pointing to the fact that the recipe itself wasn’t his — just the task of getting them prepped and ready to sell every day. “We didn’t think anything of it. ‘Oh, cool, we’re adding another thing to our menu.’” By the next day, lines started to form around the block, everyone wanting a taste of a trend that launched a thousand imitations.
Alvarez calls his time at Dominique Ansel Bakery “probably one of the best and hardest jobs I’ve had so far,” adding that he learned “everything” from Ansel. “He taught me how to laminate croissants and kouign amann, how to pipe eclairs and pate a choux, how to temper.”
Having grown up in his parents’ Mexican-American restaurant outside of New York City, Alvarez was no stranger to the pressures of the restaurant world. When he was a kid, his parents — in a Bob’s Burger-ian move — used to tell him that the little tasks that kept the restaurant going were actually fun games. “I literally grew up under the register counter,” he said. When they sold the restaurant to his uncle, Alvarez “hired himself” at age 13 to start working there. “I said to him, ‘Hey, I’m going to start washing dishes.’” When the teenage go-getter asked what time he should come in for his shift the next day, his family was resistant, knowing firsthand how hard the restaurant business could be. Alvarez insisted — after all, he wanted to do teenage things and those teenage things required a little extra pocket cash.
During a summer job in high school, he learned to really cook, thinking that he’d translate what now amassed to years of experience into a savory position at a restaurant. But, like the cronut phenomenon years later, something Alvarez had never expected happened. At Johnson & Wales University, he learned pastry in his first years, and he fell so hard, he never looked back.
”Savory feels more chaotic, while pastry is a structured symphony of chaos,” he said of the surprise transition. “I see my savory background as an advantage, because in pastry people always say you can’t modify things, but I take that as a challenge.” Before he could showcase his dynamic capabilities, he studied the rules, working an internship at Jean Georges in New York. In his year and a half at the restaurant, he learned structure, internalizing the strict rulebook of fine dining.
From there, he went to Dominique Ansel Bakery, and then into a pastry sous chef role at Union Square Hospitality Group’s Gramercy Tavern (he was manning the station with one of his mentors, Miro Uskokovic, when Pete Wells, the restaurant critic for The New York Times, walked in — and later wrote a three-star review with glowing mention of the pastry program).
Months later, he moved into the role of opening pastry chef for Gramercy Tavern’s sister restaurants Union Square Cafe and Daily Provisions, and now, he prides himself in being a mentor to others, encouraging his staff to ask him questions, to get knowledge and experience out of him, to be curious about every decision they make on the line. “Setting that mentality for my cooks is super important to me.”
And what about hopes for the future? Alvarez wants to affirm the need for pastry chefs in the industry. “We are a dying breed,” he said. “Pastry is always the first one to get cut. I see that as a challenge for me — to make my desserts wanted.”