The Woman Behind Tribeca's Beloved Neighborhood Bakery, Duane Park Patisserie
The Daily Meal recently had the fantastic opportunity to chat with one of the most accomplished pastry chefs (and chef de cuisines) in New York City.
For those of you that haven’t seen Madeline Lanciani on Food Network’s Chopped (which is how I first found out about her), she is the owner and executive pastry chef at Duane Park Patisserie in TriBeCa. Lanciani began her career as the first female chef ever hired at the renown Plaza Hotel in New York City. After getting kitchen experience in many top-notch restaurants in the city, she decided to open Patisserie Lanciani in Greenwich Village.
Since 1992, Duane Park Patisserie, and more specifically Lanciani’s beautiful cakes and other glorious sweets, has been featured in countless publications including The New York Times, Modern Bride, and Martha Stewart Living. As mentioned earlier, Lanciani competed on Chopped and fought her way to becoming the Chopped Champion, winning the “Sweet Surprises” episode of the Food Network show.
The Daily Meal: After you got hired as the first female chef ever at the Plaza Hotel, did you have a plan as to where you wanted to be 10, 15, or 20 years? Or did you trust your gut, continue to work hard, and roll with the punches?
Chef Lanciani: I have always set goals for myself, whether it be hourly, daily, short term, or long term. My original goal was to open a restaurant when I felt ready to undertake the task. During my stay at the Plaza Hotel, I married the then pastry chef Joe Lanciani.
I thought we would open a restaurant and I would be responsible for savory and he would do desserts. I began research on launching a new restaurant and discovered that “mortality rate” of new restaurants in New York City was about 90%, but that the mortality rate of bakeries and patisseries was about 10%.
Since we were planning to use our own very limited resources (we were each children of immigrants) I decided that I would become a pastry chef and that we would open a pastry shop. We did just that in October 1977: Patisserie Lanciani. People lined up down the street to buy our handmade croissant, which we still to this day make. We were the “Domonique Anselm” of our generation! Goals are so important but so is adaptability.
What's something people would be surprised to know about wedding cake baking and decorating? Looks like it would be quite an arduous process.
Exactly that! For me, each specialty cake, wedding cake, tiered cake, or sculpted cake are all “commission pieces.” Each one a unique work of art. Like “performance art,” each piece is a once only experience, both visually and gastronomically.
It sounds like a cliché, but I still put my heart and soul into every special order. I make each as if it was for my own family (very tough audience). But, because it’s food, I think many people lose sight of the fact that custom-made or custom-designed cakes and pastries involve the same process as custom made clothes, shoes, and other works of art.
At what point of your career did you feel like you had “made it?”
I keep striving— there is always another goal in my sights.
I'm a big Chopped fan, can you tell me about a few things you liked and didn't like about being on the show?
I liked winning! I’m still very competitive. That said, I didn’t like the push to create “tension” amongst the competitors— even though I understand that makes for great viewing.
What's your advice for young kids who aspire to be someone like you, a renowned pastry chef?
Be prepared to work really, really, really hard. As you are learning and perfecting your craft, keep your eyes open, your brain engaged, and your mouth shut. The learning process is not about you.
Search for your “niche,” what do you do best, and where the best market is for that/ those product(s).
You can be wonderfully successful without having a reality TV show!