DB Bistro Moderne
55 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036
North Carolina native Ashley Brauze grew up surrounded by simple, satisfying comfort foods, and her first foray in the industry was a job rolling bagels Bruegger’s Bagel Shop. But a culinary school degree from Johnson & Wales in Charleston, South Carolina, and a revelatory trip to New York City changed all that. As a tourist, Brauze dined at Daniel Boulud’s Restaurant Daniel, and she instantly fell in love with the world of fine-dining.
She packed her bags and moved to the city, returning to Daniel in 2005. This time around she wasn’t Michelin three-star dining—instead Brauze was getting a world-class pastry education crafting petits fours under Pastry Chef Jean François Bonnet. In 2007, Brauze and her husband, fellow Daniel alum Chad Brauze, were both invited to work at Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli in Spain, where Brauze worked alongside Pastry Chef Albert Adrià on dishes for his celebrated cookbook, Natura. Upon returning to New York City, the couple spent a year cooking at Per Se.
Having worked in top pastry kitchens on both sides of the Atlantic, Brauze gained top-notch skills and experience that she brought back to the Boulud empire with a role at Café Boulud with Raphael Haasz. Today, she is the pastry chef at DB Bistro Moderne, where she consistently creates dessert menu that blend the restaurant’s bistro ethos with her own sophisticated elegance and creativity.
Why: I was first introduced to them when I was hired at Restaurant Daniel. Chef Daniel Boulud dedicates countless hours of his energy to supporting this cause. It also happens to be a charity that is close to my heart since my grandmother receives assistance from a Meals-on-Wheels Association on a daily basis.
About: Citymeals-on-Wheels raises private funds to ensure no homebound elderly New Yorker will ever go a day without food or human company.
Interview with Pastry Chef Ashley Brauze of Db Bistro Moderne – New York, NY
Dan Catinella: How did you get into cooking?
Ashley Brauze: I graduated from high school in 1999 and enrolled in 2001 at Johnson & Wales in Charleston, where I earned my associates degree in pastry between 2002 and 2003.
DC: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
AB: The Inn at Little Washington, Daniel, El Bulli, Per Se, Café Boulud, and DB Bistro Moderne.
DC: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with and without a culinary school background?
AB: It believe that culinary school can provide a good entrance for people interested in a culinary career. I don’t think it’s necessarily meant for everyone—that’s something only a chef can determine for himself or herself. Before culinary school, I believe the most important thing is getting into a restaurant’s kitchen. Whether you’re washing dishes or standing in a corner, you need to see what’s going on. The externs that do the best for us have a strong desire to learn and don’t mind doing the small stuff.
DC: Who are some of your mentors? What have you learned from them?
AB: Working with Dominique Ansel was a real privilege. He gives you a lot of one on one and time. He’s a good mentor in that he’s watching and critiquing but not screaming when you screw up. He makes sure you understand the technique.
DC: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen? What sort of answer are you looking for?
AB: We ask the externs what they like the most about pastry. This allows me to understand and see what they envision for themselves. If they envision a restaurant or a bakery, the attitudes will vary, but we allow certain freedoms here.
DC: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
AB: Accept that it’s an exhausting job that requires you to constantly be learning, going out to dinner, looking around, and getting outside of the city.
DC: What ingredient that you like do you feel is underappreciated or under utilized? Why?
AB: I think we all go through different phases where we love one ingredient more than another. Last year it was juniper; recently it is Tonka bean.
DC: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or borrowed and used in an unusual way?
AB: El Bulli used meringues for different shapes, textures, and flavors. They have a strawberry meringue that is very light that uses egg white powder and gelatin. It is dried at a low temperature and has less sugar. It’s almost like a Styrofoam texture.
DC: Define “American” cuisine. What does it mean to you?
AB: It varies by region. In New York, the emphasis is on locally sourced products that match a variety of techniques. Where I’m from, it’s a little more Southern, a little more down home.
DC: Where do you like to go for culinary travel? Why?
AB: Spain. I miss it. I miss the freshness of the seafood.
DC: What are your favorite restaurants—off the beaten path—in your city? What is your favorite dish there? What are your favorite after hour places and bars?
AB: Danji, but it’s not really off the beaten path anymore. Maybe the steak tartare is one. Takashi on Hudson Street—it’s like a Japanese grill restaurant.
DC: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
AB: I like flavors people are accustomed to, but I also like things that are visually stimulating—i.e. something they are not anticipating with maybe a new flavor combination that can offer a new perspective without making things too weird.
DC: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
AB: I’ve done a few C-CAP events and just recently was a judge at International Culinary Center graduation for the final product evaluation.
DC: What are some of your favorite food-related charities?
AB: I like to support City Meals on Wheels. It’s a great organization. My grandmother and I used to serve meals together and now she receives their meals. It’s really amazing to see how things go full circle and how much influence programs can have.
DC: What does success mean for you?
AB: I think whenever I feel successful, it comes down to my team and how I reach out and inspire people—not just in the dining room but in the kitchen. Being a chef is about being a leader and making everyone feel inspired. It’s a good challenge.