Chef Dominique Ansel Gets Candid About How His Childhood Inspired His Work In Food Insecurity - Exclusive

Food aficionados may recognize Chef Dominique Ansel as the creator of the Cronut®. But when he's not concocting new flavors of the donut-and-croissant mashup, Ansel is making a difference in his community as a City Harvest Food council member. New York's oldest and biggest food rescue organization seeks to combat the food insecurity epidemic in the city, which has only gotten worse during the pandemic. And now that school is almost out for the summer, many kids will lose access to the lunch programs that help feed kids in school.

On May 21, Dominique Ansel Bakery donated 10% of Cronut® sales to the City Harvest Share Lunch Fight Hunger program that helps provide families facing food insecurity with food for the summer. During an exclusive interview with Mashed, Ansel opened up about how his childhood inspired his work as a City Harvest Food council member and why he thinks it's essential to give back.

Lending a helping hand comes from his own experiences

Ansel shared with Mashed the story of his own childhood as he recalled, "I worked in a small town in France. My dad was a factory worker, and we didn't have much growing up. I was the last of four kids. My grandma lived with me, my cousin lived with me, with a dog [and] cats — the entire family was living in the same house." However, the pay structure is different in France, which made it even more difficult to feed the large family. 

Ansel added, "In France, you get paid once a month. The end of the month was difficult for my family to put food in their home. I do remember many of those days [when] we didn't have much except bread and scraps growing up." As Ansel began working as a chef, the importance of food became clearer. "It was hard for me to understand how food was essential [and] important [in] my life. I started working in the kitchen, and only when I got to New York and actually launched Cronut®, I started remembering all these things that, growing up, it's not obvious [that I haven't] always had food."

People who reach success through adversity are often inspired to give back to those who need help, and Ansel is no different. "It's been a mission of mine to always help bring awareness [about] people who need food, even in a city like New York where there's a lot going on. There [are] a lot of restaurants. There [are] always people that need," he said. "I started that even before the Cronut®. When we launched the Cronut®, we raised over $100,000 for charities to fight against hunger." 

Taking initiative starts in one's own community

Ansel has some ideas on how people can take the initiative and give back to their own cities, too. "Awareness [was] the first step for me, talking about issues about what we, in New York, can do in their own space and how together, [we can be] even stronger. That's why [this] was one of the reasons [I joined] City Harvest because I can [make] the lunch and there [were] people like us to communicate and talk about what we do and why we do it," he explained. "The best way is always reaching out to groups like City Harvest. They have the resources, they have the communication, [and] they have the means of gathering people."

On his work as a City Harvest Food council member, Ansel also said, "It's [a] good step to see what we can do as a community of chefs — people that are here to help [and] to [spread] the message of people being in need [and to] help [them]. Also, to not forget we have a bigger mission than being chefs and people."

The Share Lunch Fight Hunger campaign will run until June 3, and donations can be made here.