Carmen Eksteen - Proving Dreams Do Come True

Young South African to work for World's Best Pastry Chef

April_2016_Cronut_2_Burnt_Vanilla_Caramel__photo_by_Dominique_Ansel_Bakery.jpg

Twenty-three year old Carmen Eksteen, an alumni chef from The Private Hotel School in Stellenbosch has celebrated the new year with the tremendously exciting news that she will soon be winging her way to New York to work for world renowned pastry chef Dominique Ansel.

Ansel (43) is a French-born pastry chef and owner of Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City. Since its opening in November 2011, the chef's eponymous bakery has become known for many signature creations including the Cronut, Cookie Shot, Frozen S'mores and many other pastries. He is also the chef/owner of Dominique Ansel Kitchen in New York, Dominique Ansel Bakery Japan in Tokyo, Dominique Ansel Bakery London, Dominique Ansel Bakery Los Angeles and 189 by Dominique Ansel, also in LA.

In April 2017, Ansel was named the World's Best Pastry Chef by the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards, making him the youngest and only US-based chef to be awarded the honour.

So it's no wonder that Eksteen is beside herself with excitement at the prospect of working for the man.

We managed to get her to sit still long enough to ask her some questions before she jets off to the Big Apple in a few days time.

Did you always have a passion for baking?

From a young age, I had a huge sweet tooth and never wanted to eat my food. Having a passion for baking and, especially pastry, is a understatement. I took consumer studies at school and from then on I just knew that I wanted to be a pastry chef. I can't imagine doing anything else. Pastry is not just my job but my hobby as well.

Who are the people who have inspired you?

Definitely Dominique Ansel.

What course did you do at The Private Hotel School?

Culinary art specialisation

What have you been doing since you graduated?

In 2015, after graduating from The Private Hotel School, I started my internship at The Tasting Room in Franschhoek where I worked for a year. I learned so much from the head chef there Gerald van der Wald. In 2016 I moved to a bakery in Stellenbosch called The Birdcage, learning how to bake cakes and pastries. And last year I did a three month internship at La Creuzette in France where I had the most amazing experience.

So how did your position with Dominique Ansell's Bakery come about?

Dominique Ansel has always been my pastry icon. When I was working at La Creuzette in France I sent my CV to their bakery in New York. A week before I was due to come back to SA, I got a email from Dominique's Executive Pastry chef asking if they could have a chat with me. Imagine my excitement and sense of disbelief when they phoned to find out more about me. A week after the call they offered me a 12 month contract to work for them as a pastry chef.

How are you feeling?

There is no word that can describe how excited I am to go and work for my pastry icon.

Will you be taking any SA-inspired recipes with you to try out on New Yorkers?

Yes, most definitely. The traditional South African melk tart will be one of them.

What are your favourite pastries?

Oh definitely macaroons!

Your favourite kitchen tool?

A standing mixer

Are there any other chefs besides Dominique that you follow and whom you would love to meet and work with?

I would love to meet and learn from Australian pastry chef Adriano Zumbo

What do you think are the hottest food trends for 2018?

I think some of the trends are buying and using local ingredients, eating healthily, replacing proteins for plant-based proteins and foraging

Who are the three people who you would like to serve your pastries too?

Dominque Ansel, Adriano Zumbo and Pierre Herme

Is there anything else you would like to add before you head off to New York?

The distance between your dreams and reality is called actions. Step out of your comfort zone, nothing usually grows there.

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