The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Chef Dominique Ansel—described as both “the most feted pastry chef in the world” and a “culinary Van Gogh”—opened the Dominique Ansel Bakery Japan in Ginza’s Mitsukoshi department store on March 29 of this year.

Named by Business Insider as one of its Most Innovative People Under 40, French-born Ansel opened his first shop in New York in 2011 and was quickly recognized for his innovation and creativity in the pastry world.

Perhaps his most famous contribution to the genre is the Cronut, a croissant-doughnut hybrid that was unveiled at Ansel’s New York bakery in 2013 and was lauded by Time magazine as one of the best inventions of the year.

Ansel has a bakery in London and opened his first Japan outlet in Tokyo’s Omotesando district in June 2015.

The Journal talked to Ansel about the challenges and inspirations presented by the Japanese market.

Why did you choose Japan for your newest outlet?
Japan is somewhere that has always been inspiring to me—the level of dedication and respect that people have for food and for food traditions is unlike anywhere else. I’ve always been amazed by the attention to detail and the level of craftsmanship in the food here, how there are people who spend decades of their lives perfecting a single thing.

How much time did you spend researching Japan? What were your conclusions?
Japan is somewhere that’s been on my mind for years—a dream of mine—and I always hoped that someday we would get there. The Omotesando shop was our very first international location, and we did quite of lot of research and spent a lot of time planning before it all came to life. The culture, the food scene, local tastes, learning how to work with all new ingredients, even the flour and butter are so different than what we’re used to in New York. There are so many bakeries in Japan, but I wanted to create a next-generation bakery, one that celebrates the new generation of chefs and pushes forward with creativity, rather than model it after the more old-school French-style bakeries that are quite common in Japan.

For us, Omotesando is our SoHo, a really beautiful neighborhood where we greet our neighbors each day, and also people from all over Japan and around the world. We’re on a quieter street, just off the main road, and the shop is within its own standalone building—an entire three-story shop with a bakery on the main level, seated café on the second, and our kitchens on the third.

What have been the biggest challenges opening in Tokyo?
Just being far away from the team, and 12 or 13 hours ahead, was something we quickly had to adapt to. I always want to be connected to our team, so we make sure to speak in the early mornings and in the evenings every day so we can keep on moving.

What are some of the joys of working here?
Our team is incredible. Most of our team has been with us since day one. That’s what matters most in the end—that you surround yourself with a group of people who are as passionate and dedicated about what we do as you are, and have the talent and skill to maintain quality. And the produce and quality of ingredients in Japan is unlike any other. That Hokkaido milk! And all the fruits and vegetables. I’ve tried so many new kinds of citrus alone that we just don’t even have access to in the United States. It really helps us to get creative when it comes to developing new recipes and ideas.

Why do you enjoy your job so much?
It’s a chance for me to express myself and to tell a story through food, and it challenges me to continue creating and pushing forward. And, at the end of the day, it’s about creating something that makes people happy. When I see someone eating one of our pastries—with a smile on their face—it makes all of this worth it.

In what ways are the products you make here different?
What’s important for us, in each city that we open in, is that it’s not just a simple cut-and-paste. It’s not just a carbon copy or a focus on one product. We take care in developing a unique menu and a space that really speaks to that place. And while we do have a few signature items from New York on our menus in Omotesando and Ginza, the majority of the menus are dedicated to each location, with new creations that aren’t available anywhere else, inspired by local ingredients and traditions—items like our Square Watermelon Cake at Ginza, with pistachio raspberry ganache and watermelon lime gelée.

In what ways are Japanese and US consumers different?
I think in many ways, our guests in Japan and in the United States are actually quite similar—they are curious, just like I am, and always wondering and anticipating what’s next. That really challenges us and inspires us. As for their tastes, we dialed back on the sweetness levels in our recipes for Japan and, in doing that, it led us to rethink our recipes in the United States and reduce sugar levels there, too.

Are you utilizing local flavors and ingredients?
More than 40 percent of our Omotesando menu is dedicated to items created just for the shop, inspired by local ingredients and traditions, like our Mr. Roboto Melonpan, filled with custard, or our Oden Buche de Noel, which we made during the holidays. It’s been about two years since we opened in Japan, and we’ve learned that our guests are really excited about these exclusive-to-Japan creations inspired by Japan and Japanese ingredients. So, for the new Ginza shop, more than half of the menu is not available anywhere else. A few of my favorites are the Pull-Apart Blossom Cookie, made of rose honey tuile filled with lychee cream, and our Black Kokuto Sugar DKA [Dominique’s Kouign Amann]—a version of our classic DKA, a flaky caramelized croissant—but with kokuto sugar from Okinawa for that extra depth and richness in flavor. It’s delicious.

What Japanese ingredients do you particularly enjoy working with?
The milk and butter! And all the fresh produce that you don’t have access to in the United States—incredibly fragrant and flavorful fruits. In the beginning, it was interesting to learn about all the intricacies of the dairy and the flour in Japan, how we had to adjust certain recipes to account for changes in fat content in the milk or how the flour is aged, for example.

Do you have plans for another outlet in Japan in the future?
Not at the moment, since we just opened the shop in Ginza. We will be opening our first restaurant this fall, in Los Angeles, so I am excited about that.

Julian Ryall is Tokyo correspondent for The Daily Telegraph