LE BERNARDIN | New York
Michael Laiskonis excels in revitalizing classic desserts by experimenting
with contrasting textures, temperatures, and unexpected ingredients
in a quest for new flavor sensations. When he was young, Laiskonis
was always interested in both science and art; contemporary desserts
are a blend of both and, to his mind, they also have an architectural
A native of Michigan, Laiskonis initially trained
in visual arts at Wayne State University and, without a formal culinary
degree, started baking professionally while a college student working
in a friend’s bakery. While there, he logged 16 hours a day
turning out all their breads, cakes, pastries and savories. He moved
on to serve as Pastry Chef and Sous Chef under Rick Halberg at Emily’s
in Northville, Michigan, before going to work at the critically
acclaimed Tribute in 1997. At Tribute he started
as a line cook before assuming the role of Pastry Chef, a position
he held for five years until coming to Le Bernardin in 2004. Laiskonis’
training and work experience – divided between the pastry
and savory realms – is a primary influence in his culinary
Now in New York at Le Bernardin, 33-year-old Laiskonis
has found an ideal venue where he can express his interests in the
arts, architecture and science through the alchemy of his innovative
dessert-making. Executive Chef and Co-Owner Eric Ripert says of
his Executive Pastry Chef, “Michael’s sensibilities
perfectly complement the Le Bernardin style of light, inventive,
In addition to being named a Rising Star by StarChefs.com, Laiskonis
is the recipient of Bon Appétit magazine’s
2004 American Food & Entertaining Award and was twice named
one of the “10 Best Pastry Chefs in America” (2002,
2003) by Pastry Art and Design. In 2005, he contributed to Le
Bernardin’s four-star review by Frank Bruni in The
New York Times.
AB: Do you recommend culinary
training to young cooks?
ML: Absolutely! I couldn’t
afford it unfortunately, and I’m very jealous of people who
are able to go to culinary school.
AB: Which of
the restaurants you’ve worked in as a pastry chef have been
the most influential?
ML: Emily’s was the first
formative experience for me, a very low-tech, single oven kitchen
with only three feet of counter space. But it was at Tribute’s
amazing culinary la-la land that I really found my voice.
AB: What pastry
tool can’t you live without?
ML: I love my egg topper, which
I use to remove the tops of eggs in one clean cut. When I first
bought it, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with
it. But I was inspired by Alain Passard’s famous egg dish
at Arpege and loved the contrast between the warm yolk and the cold
crème. I knew then that I wanted to use my egg topper for
my crème brulees.
AB: What are
your top three tips for dessert success?
1. Taste as much as possible.
2. Be inquisitive and always experiment
3. Learn how to work well with other people so you can be a good
AB: Who is your
ML: Pierre Herme really led
the current generation of haute patissiers. But the underexposed
Philippe Conticini is another of my heroes and has published some
excellent, inspiring pastry books.
AB: What are
your favorite desserts?
ML: I really enjoy eating a
classic combination of fruit and chocolate. Sometimes the simplest
desserts can be the most comforting. For example, at Chez Panisse
in Berkeley, I had a bowl of unpeeled tangerines and dates that
was just perfect. I do enjoy more complex desserts every now and
then, but usually I tend to go for the simpler ones..
AB: What trends
do you see emerging in the pastry arts?
ML: I think there will be a
continued emphasis on ingredients, with pastry chefs becoming more
of a part of the green market movement. I am interested to see how,
further down the line, this will translate to fine dining.
AB: Where do
you see yourself in 5 years? And in 10 years?
ML: My original goal was to
get to New York. I had no idea I’d enter at the top, but here
I am! I am interested in working in retail pastry, or perhaps opening
a dessert only restaurant. Lately, I’ve also been thinking
about trying my hand at teaching.
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