Interview with Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis of Le Bernadin – New York, NY

September 2008

Antoinette Bruno: What is your philosophy on pastry?
Michael Laiskonis: I just want to make people happy. I’m continually learning new ways of doing this using texture to bridge the gap between science and artistry. I think the curiosity comes from my savory side.

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 brûlées.

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 manager

AB: Who is your pastry hero?
ML: Pierre Hermé 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?
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.