Before Dominique Ansel was associated with the Cronut, he did a stint at New York City’s fine-dining spot Daniel. So when he launched Dominique Ansel Kitchen in NYC in late April, he used part of the space to meld his famed pastry skills with his high-end roots.
U.P., standing for Unlimited Possibilities, is Ansel’s concept-within-a-concept that opened in July that offers a tasting menu of desserts ($85), along with an optional cocktail and wine pairing by Don Lee (formerly of Momofuku; an additional $35). “I knew I wanted to do a tasting table, but with the way the bakery is laid out, the only place we could fit a large dining table was up,” says Ansel. “So we created this [800-square-foot] table that’s suspended on cables and pulleys, so it descends into the middle of the kitchen for service.”
On weekends, for two seatings each night, Ansel’s team puts out eight courses centered on a theme that will change biannually. U.P. sells tickets by the pair on its website seven weeks out. Private bookings for the eight-seat
table are available on select weeknights for a $1,000 fee, plus food.
The goal, suggests Ansel, never was to create an experience that was too highfalutin. “We really encourage people to ask questions, take photos and just have a good time. The fine-dining experience comes from the quality of the food we’re serving and our attentiveness to service,” he says.
Dominique Ansel on his fine-dining dessert vision
Q: What was your motivation for U.P.?
Most of the time in a restaurant, dessert is the last piece of the puzzle that follows everything else, and the pastry chef has to follow the tone and direction set by the savory chef. With U.P., eight courses of only desserts, we had a chance to tell a story from the beginning.
Q: What are the challenges of having a concept within a working kitchen?
The challenge in New York is always space. During the times when we are in production, the table for U.P. is suspended on the ceiling, so we’re able to utilize the full kitchen space. It’s really about shifting around schedules to allow our team to empty out for U.P. service. And also training a team who knows how to do plated desserts, which has different considerations than the desserts you usually find at a retail bakery.
Q: What’s the first theme?
Every course traces through an important “first” memory that [people have] had somewhat in common. It’s not just about ingredients and flavors, but also the emotion and memories behind each dish.
Q: In addition to a custom-designed table the descends from the ceiling, what were some of the other extra design elements associated with U.P.?
We also worked with Christina Liu, a ceramicist based in London, to create custom dishware for several courses that really help to tell the story of each "first." One oft favorites is our First Kiss course. It's served in custom bowls that represent cheeks - either smooth or stubbly, depending who your first kiss was with!
Q: What’s next?
We just opened a shop in Tokyo in June, so I’m really excited to go back in a few weeks to spend time with the team there and work on new ideas for the fall season.