Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis, Le Bernardin, Executive Pastry Chef, New York, NY, Manhattan, Fish, Eric Ripert, Brooklyn, Queens, Washington, DC, Chicago, IL, Illinois, Detroit, MI, Michigan, Tokyo, Japan, Drinks, Food Blogs, Cookbooks, Wine, Spirits, Haus Alpenz,  Bars, Restaurants, Bakeries, Bakery, Markets, Food Stores, Purveyors, Spices


Creative Director - Institute of Culinary Education - New York, NY

Q & A


Michael Laiskonis’ recommendations for where to eat, drink and shop in New York, Brooklyn, Queens, Chicago, Michigan, Washington DC, and Tokyo.

Q & A with Chef Michael Laiskonis

Q. Since you first started at Le Bernardin, how have your pastries evolved through the years? 

A. I think my work has evolved and matured on a few different levels in the last seven years. For starters, weaving my desserts into the greater vision at Le Bernardin required an initial paring-down to essentials. I began to embrace a relative minimalism that reflected Eric Ripert’s style, at least compared to the complex, multi-component form of ‘fusion’ we were practicing at Tribute in Detroit. As I developed that stylistic voice, I also began to focus less on innovation for its own sake, but rather on continual refinement, more intense flavors and contrasting textures. And while I’ve always had an interest in the intersection of cooking and science, in recent years that interest has manifested itself less in novelty and more on understanding the basic structure and composition of our ingredients and how they function in a recipe.

Q. How far along the savory spectrum will you tread in making your pastries? Any ingredient you really want to use, but are still tweaking?

A. At this point I think I’ve pushed that envelope to its limit, while exploring the grey area between sweet and savory. We’ve certainly played around with any number of vegetables, herbs, and even proteins -- bacon and chorizo, for instance. But I’ve also been pondering the potential of other animal fats, like duck fat.

I think it’s important that dessert needs to maintain a certain degree of sweetness, however minimal. A current fascination of mine is the role of spices-- how to utilize them in new ways and to full effect, to expand their role in my desserts. There’s a whole new world out there that I’ve always taken for granted. There’s a great shop that’s recently opened on the far west end of Hell’s Kitchen, La Boîte À Epice run by Lior Lev Sercarz, who also supplies bulk spices and blends to the restaurant.

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Q. With the precision involved in being a pastry chef, do you think there is a certain personality type that fits the job better than others?

A. I like to think that food is food-- with more or less sugar or salt-- and that all cooks should approach all forms of cooking with the same set of sensibilities. But I won’t deny the fact that pastry seems to attract cooks of a similar stripe, those comfortable with a certain degree of precision and patience, as well as an autonomous spirit.

What really excites me are those chefs that are equally adept in both sweet and savory; Michel Richard of Washington DC’s Citronelle, for example, began as a pastry chef for the late Gaston Lenotre, and only later in his career opened restaurants taking control over the entire menu.

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Q. Do you have any “lowbrow” treats you like... sweets you love that might surprise us? 

A. Because I continually sample sweet stuff throughout the day, I tend to crave salty food by time I leave the restaurant at the end of the night. The funny thing is, after I’ve cooked dinner and had a chance to relax, that sweet tooth begins to emerge, somewhere around 2:00am. I’m not all that picky about what I use to satisfy this late-night urge; it might be a Snickers bar, a handful of Swedish Fish, whatever is lying around. Though they may seem at odds with the kind of desserts we do at the restaurant, I think the lowbrow treats are an important part of the whole continuum, and in some subconscious way probably serve as an influence.

Q. You have consulted with pastry shops in Japan. What do you love about creating pastries for the Japanese market? 

A. Having studied Japanese language and culture while in high school, as well my time working with Takashi Yagihashi (now chef/owner of Takashi in Chicago), it seemed at once a natural fit to take on the project. While desserts have never been a strong part of the Japanese meal structure, in recent years there has been a growing interest in Western-style pastry. Most of these shops are located within department store depachika, sprawling food courts that have to be seen to be believed. I often say that some of the most interesting ‘French’ pastry has been coming out of Japan in recent years, yet it’s all filtered through their own aesthetic and often incorporates familiar flavors like green tea, sesame, or sweetened bean paste.

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I’ve visited Japan only once, but still call upon many meals and food experiences for inspiration, from an early-morning tour of Tokyo’s awe-inspiring Tsukiji fish market to a traditional kaiseki dinner in Kyoto. Osaka, where I spent most of my time, has a particularly rich food culture.

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Photograph courtesy of Michael Laiskonis


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Advice & Tips

Pastry Tips For Home Cooks


First and foremost, the greatest tool in the kitchen is mere organization. At home, as in professional kitchens, I really think you have to create the right environment before you’re able to create great food. Taking a few minutes to plot out a recipe also prevents stress later -- which, crazy or not, I believe affects the ultimate taste of the food!

Digital Scale

If I had one mission, it would be to get a scale into every home kitchen and to one day throw out all of the old cups and tablespoons; weighing ingredients will always provide more accuracy and consistency over volume measurements. A small digital scale is invaluable, and increasingly inexpensive.


I also urge cooks of all stripes to actively seek out inspiration, and to challenge their own skills, as well as their own tastes. When confronted by something new in the market, I often buy it simply to explore the possibilities, to create a new taste reference. Kalustyan’s is a great store for such exploration. It seems no matter how often I visit, there’s always something new that I never noticed before. Creating a catalog of new flavors and ingredients greatly expands our cooking repertoire!

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Find | Books

There are so many great resources, both in print and online.

Pierre Hermé

Speaking strictly on pastry, Pierre Hermé represents the gold standard in my mind, and his expansive ph10 represents the breadth of his work and his agility with both the classics and the modern.

Johnny Iuzzini | Dessert FourPlay

It offers even novice pastry cooks a glimpse into the building blocks of stellar restaurant desserts.

Nathan Mhyvold | Modernist Cuisine

On broader culinary terms, I’m not alone in my praise and awe of Nathan Mhyvold’s epic, six-volume Modernist Cuisine.

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Find | Online Resources

Francisco Migoya | The Quenelle

A source of inspiration -- Migoya is an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, and his first two books (a third is on the way) are industry benchmarks as well!

Aki Kamozowa & Alex Talbot | Ideas In Food

In the same spirit, are the highly accessible blog and book, Ideas in Food, co-written by Aki Kamozowa and Alex Talbot.

Dave Arnold | Cooking Issues

And I love Cooking Issues from the French Culinary Institute’s Dave Arnold -- he has this uncanny ability to provide insight and answers to questions we chefs didn’t realize we had!

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New York City

Find | Stores

New York City has to be the best place to be a cook, in that no matter how exotic a cuisine or ingredient, there’s a solid chance you’ll find it here.

Upper East Side | Agata and Valentina

I’m extremely lucky to have them around the corner as my local neighborhood market.

Chinatown | Bangkok Center Grocery

I love seeking out the tiny specialists like Bangkok Center Grocery. It’s tucked away on the seldom traveled block of Mosco Street on the edge of Chinatown.

Murray Hill | JB Prince

The ultimate toy store, stocking everything from tiny sauce spoons to high-tech immersion circulators (it’s very difficult to go in without buying something)!

Upper East Side | Kitchen Arts and Letters

The esteemed Upper East Side book store; whether in or out-of-print, if it’s about food they have it or know where to get it.

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Eat | Restaurants

Off The Beaten TRack | Kebab Cafe

For a truly off-the-beaten path experience, I’d have to call out Kebab Café on Steinway in Astoria. It’s often just Ali himself in the tiny kitchen (calling it an ‘open’ kitchen would be overstating the obvious) turning out and then personally serving his unique interpretation of Egyptian cuisine. I think there is a fixed menu, but I’ve never ordered from it, preferring to just let him cook to his whim.

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For A Special Occasion | Corton & Eleven Madison Park

For a full-on dining event, it’s a close tie between these two. Both reflect exactly what I look for in both service and food- warm and comfortable atmosphere and a highly creative and fresh approach to cooking. And both restaurants certainly inspire me as a chef!

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For Dessert| Del Posto

New York City is no doubt the epicenter of pastry talent, so it’s difficult to single out any one favorite, but I’ve been keeping a close eye on my friend Brooks Headley, at Del Posto. He’s managed to marry the simple and rustic ingredient-driven philosophy of Italian cooking with high refinement and subtlety. His desserts never fail to present some small technique or ingredient in a new light.

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Patisseries & Bakeries | Francois Payard Bakery

Hands-down, it has to be Francois Payard. I was among the saddened multitudes when his UES shop closed; the newest move to Houston Street has proven worth the wait. And not only was Francois a huge early inspiration to me, I’m also proud of the fact that he is among the long line of great pastry chefs to precede me at Le Bernardin.

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Detroit, MI

Eat | Restaurants

Food You Crave | Siam Spicy

The one place I miss the most since moving to NYC is the no-frills Thai joint, Siam Spicy in Royal Oak, Michigan. There’s nothing inventive about it, just honest and boldly flavored classics.

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Drink | Bars

Brooklyn | Lady Jay’s

I’m not a huge cocktail guy, but rather I tend to lean toward a really good glass of wine or artfully crafted beer. And I tend to avoid the ultra-trendy, clubby scene in favor of a low-key, relaxed atmosphere. The one spot I wish was in my own neighborhood is Lady Jay’s in Williamsburg.

I miss Sam Mason’s work at Tailor, but until someone convinces him to get back into the kitchen, I’m more than happy to hang out at his bar. It’s everything I’d want- a simple, not-too-hip aesthetic, great music, no frills (and no TV). 

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Drink | After Dinner Drinks

I’m a huge fan of the after-dinner drink, be it herbal and complex

Liqueur | Zirbenz

Cocoa Paris-Brest

Photograph courtesy of Michael Laiskonis

I love the odd pine flavor of Zirbenz from Austria, or straight-up rocket fuel, like grappa, to burn a hole through a long marathon session 0f eating.

Sherry | Pedro Ximenez

I also love pairing desserts with all manner of sweet wines, but if I have to name a favorite, it would be the wonderfully nutty and rich Pedro Ximenez sherries from Spain (which, by the way, would pair well with the Paris-Brest -- see recipe).

Trappist Ale & Sake

I’ve been incredibly lucky to work along side our sommelier, Aldo Sohm, who never ceases to surprise me by looking past the usual suspects with his selections, not least of which have included Trappist ales and sakes.

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- Cocoa Paris-Brest


Details of Michael Laiskonis’ recommendations for where to eat, drink and shop in New York, Brooklyn, Queens, Chicago, Michigan, Washington DC, and Tokyo.

City Guides

- Manhattan City Guide: Download

- Brooklyn City Guide: Download

- Queens City Guide: Download