Acclaimed cake-maker Dominique Ansel on teaming up with the iconic Scottish distillery, and his penchant for innovation.
More than perhaps any other food, cake brings sense of spectacle and ceremony to any occasion. We all have our favourites — cakes that evoke nostalgic memories, cakes that mark moments of celebration, cakes that turn everything around when we treat ourselves after a long week at work. Our favourite flavours are always personal, and whether we’re feeling experimental after watching one too many episodes of The Great British Bake Off or revamping cherished family recipes, we’ll never be short of opportunities to get creative and share new experiences over a slice.
Championing this spirit of celebration and innovation in all that they do, renowned whisky brand Glenmorangie is merging two worlds with their limited edition range, Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake. For their Director of Whisky Creation, Dr Bill Lumsden — whose visionary approach has seen him affectionately nicknamed the ‘Willy Wonka of whisky’ — this world is wondrous and whimsical, reimagining whisky as a drink, much like cake, to be enjoyed in imaginative and experimental new ways.
The bright, copper-coloured elixir itself wouldn’t look out of place in an exotic bakery or the Mad Hatter’s tea party, and with fruity flavours and notes of honey and white chocolate, it tastes just as exquisite and beguiling as it looks. To mark the launch of the range, Glenmorangie has teamed up with acclaimed cake-maker Dominique Ansel. Also putting innovation and fun at the forefront of his work, Ansel is most famous for inventing the iconic Cronut®, and has now dreamt up a new take on the classic pineapple boat cake designed to accompany a dreamy Old Fashioned pineapple cocktail by mixologist Jeremy Le Blanche. As one of a collection of cake-cocktail pairings created by the brand, Glenmorangie’s ‘CakeTail’ concoctions draw from their best-loved whiskies — A Tale of Cake, The Original, The Quinta Ruban, and The Lasanta. Both by creating novel, immersive sensory moments and encouraging us to get involved with recipes available to try on the brand’s social channels, Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake — like all occasions elevated by cake — is a collaboration centred on experience, creativity and celebration.
Between getting busy recreating all four ‘CakeTail’s at home, we spoke to Ansel about what drew him to the unconventional venture, his penchant for innovation, and the fantastical world of Glenmorangie in all it’s splendour.
What was your relationship with whisky before this partnership with Glenmorangie?
Before I was not a whisky drinker and I honestly didn’t know much about it at all. I obviously love food, I love wine, but never really got into whisky. I’ve definitely learned a lot from meeting Dr. Bill from Glenmorangie about how to enjoy whisky, how to look at whisky, how to smell whisky before you actually drink it. A lot of people don’t know much about whisky because they think it’s a simple drink. It’s actually very complex, it even could be as complex as wine. Whisky is very visual. It’s very much about flavours and taste and it’s something I didn’t know about before. I was excited about the opportunity to learn about it and enjoy all the different whiskies from Glenmorangie because of this partnership.
How did this partnership between you and Glenmorangie come about, considering you weren’t involved with whisky beforehand?
Dr. Bill came to New York, so we had a chance to meet in person. When he visited, he told me about the brand, about Glenmorangie, about what they do and how they do it. I was instantly fascinated and got along with Dr. Bill very well off the bat. He’s a creative and also a scientist who loves food and flavours. We started exchanging details about each of our crafts, which led to us deciding to develop this product, ‘A Tale of Cake’ by Glenmorangie, to showcase and introduce people to Glenmorangie in a new way with these specific whiskies. I think it was natural for me to do a collaboration with Dr. Bill and Glenmorangie because I love working with other artists and people from different industries.
How did you end up with the flavours of the cake and whisky?
I think the whisky and cake are very complimentary. I’ve always used alcohol in desserts. We had a lot of conversations with Dr. Bill about what flavours we wanted to highlight, and decided to showcase pineapple because he was inspired to create a new whisky by a pineapple cake that his daughter had made for him. I think alcohol often enhances the flavours of fruits and pastries. That made it easy to create something for this project. The cake I made has caramelised pineapple, with some brown sugar and spices and glaze with a little bit of whisky. A lot of my recipes already called for whisky, because it’s a flavour enhancement and a great addition. I definitely thought more about showcasing the whisky with this recipe and I’m really happy with how it turned out.
Do you think this collaboration will help change the audience of who’s drinking whisky?
Yes, of course. For a lot of people, whisky is a strong, manly drink. For me and for Glenmorangie, it doesn’t always have to be. I think that it’s all about education and I learned a lot myself working with Dr. Bill on the project about how the whisky is made and all the complexity behind it. Learning about what you eat, what you drink, and how it’s made makes you appreciate and understand it more. Whisky has a reputation, but I think there’s so many more beautiful ways of enjoying whisky than most people think. This collaboration between myself and Glenmorangie allowed me to work with pastries, with fruits, with pineapple to compliment this new whisky. Hopefully what we’ve created shows people a different way to appreciate whisky besides the classic big glass of whisky with ice in it.
What is your philosophy on innovation in regards to creating as a chef?
You can always be creative in so many different ways. Creativity doesn’t have to be something that is so unusual. Sometimes it can be as simple as reimagining some really classic things — for me, usually flavours — to create something new. Creativity is an art, a form of expression and it’s different for everyone. When it comes to creativity, I’ve always tried to be approachable. Approachable in the sense that I want to create dishes with some crazy spices, with weird textures and try to make something unique that no one’s ever done before. But I’ll also give you something you can relate to, that you’re familiar with, something that is just simply tasty. I think it’s a different approach to creativity, but it was definitely part of my work with Glenmorangie for ‘A Tale of Cake’ thinking about how the flavours and pairing worked together, which is what made the project so exciting for me.
In the age of ‘food-stagrams’ and social media in general, how important do you think the visual culture of food and drink has become the industry? Is it now just as important to make food that looks as good as it tastes?
I think that even though social media is very important in the food and beverage industry nowadays, it’s not everything. Social media is very important because it’s a platform of expression, an opportunity for people to showcase what they do, who they are as people and it’s a faster way of interacting with people. It’s a great tool when you know how to use it, but you cannot overdo it. I’ve heard of people creating dishes just for social media photos and throwing it away without eating it. It’s an extreme way to interact with food visually. As a chef, my priority is still to make good food because that is when you let people share experiences with others — through eating, not taking pictures.
What is your professional recommendation on what to pair with a glass of the new ‘A Tale of Cake’ whisky by Glenmorangie?
Well, it has to be the cake I created together with Dr. Bill, designed to pair with this whisky specifically. It’s a twist on a pineapple boat cake. I wanted to showcase the pineapple flavour and the other fruits in the cake to show people a different way of eating cake with whisky. Hopefully, they will appreciate the whisky and the cake more and their flavours by pairing them together.