Chef “Scottish” Francis Legge seems made for TV. His wide smile, hearty laugh and panache for explaining the idiosyncrasies of food items make a perfect recipe for “reality TV contestant.” It’s no wonder he’s appeared on both “MasterChef” and “Chopped,” and is working on a new show called “The Sticky History” about the individual histories of certain foods. But if his brushes with fame have taught him anything, it’s that one particular food will always be a huge part of his life: doughnuts.
Crowned the “Doughnut King” by legend Gordon Ramsay himself, Legge has been focused on creating the best fried dough desserts possible since his time on “MasterChef” ended four years ago. He catered private events, worked at Gossip Coffee in Astoria, Queens for the past three years, and was recently asked to join new doughnut shop Sugar & Water in the same neighborhood, which officially opened last month. There, he’s been exercising his creativity in the kitchen with new mouthwatering flavors and teaching customers about the complex doughnut-making process.
“It’s such a great spot… I felt very drawn to this space,” he said of joining the Sugar & Water team. “It was the right place at the right time with the right people, creating the right doughnuts.”
Legge’s connection to doughnuts actually began when he was a child in Scotland. His family owned a nursery in The Highlands that boasted acres of orchards and fresh fruits and vegetables year-round, making culinary education natural.
“My grandmother would always teach me everything about fruits and vegetables, and about pastry making,” he said. “She was the one who taught me our version of a doughnut which is just a fried ball of dough covered in powdered sugar.
“She truly taught me everything from a choux pastry to chocolate truffles to everything in between. It was the most incredible upbringing.”
But Legge didn’t have culinary aspirations just yet. Instead, when he finished school he followed acting ambitions to Paris, where he performed for a few years before packing up and heading to NYC. Legge spent most of his time in New York working as a photographer and music video director, until he ended up auditioning for FOX’s “MasterChef.”
On a whim after watching the show one night, Legge’s wife began filling out applications for the competition. He was called back for a few auditions and before he knew it, he was being flown to Hollywood with the 21 other season 5 contestants, out of 40,000 auditioners that year.
“I went on as the ‘molecular gastronomist,’ so I was doing all modernist cuisine — making spaghetti out of liquids and caviar out of balsamic vinegar,” he said. “I love experimenting with all these toys and gadgets in the kitchen.”
Then, in a twist of fate, there was a “doughnut challenge” during the fourth episode of the season, and Legge channeled the lessons his grandmother taught him years ago. He made his soon-to-be-famous “Prosciutto Guinness” doughnut — currently available at Sugar & Water — which was deemed “absolutely delicious” by Ramsay. He won the challenge, and the rest was history.
Legge also made a TV appearance on the most recent season of Food Network’s “Chopped” with guest judge Martha Stewart — an episode which was doughnut-themed. He calls his TV experiences “an absolute honor.”
“It’s so amazing to have these opportunities to be immersed on those sets with those chefs and just learn from them,” he said. “It’s truly incredible.”
As for meeting idols Ramsay and Stewart, Legge says, “it’s like hanging out with the gods — the culinary gods.”
Legge loves experimenting in the kitchen and pushing the boundaries of flavor. He said he can be inspired by anything, “from national days to David Bowie dying.” He loves keeping up with pop culture, seeing what chefs are making on cooking shows and, particularly with doughnuts, enjoys mixing the savory and the sweet. Besides the Prosciutto Guinness masterpiece, he’s made ketchup doughnuts, BLT doughnuts, and chicken and waffle doughnuts (using fried chicken skin instead of the actual meat).
As for the growing craft doughnut scene in NYC, Legge says he tries not to taste too many other doughnuts or see what other shops are making. He wants to keep his own ideas close and not be too affected by outside influence. Still, he says he loves the creativity of the current market and even does his own take on Dominique Ansel’s “Cronut” at Sugar & Water, which they call the “dossant,” though it’s made by a completely different process.
For the future, Legge is looking forward to expanding his business ventures in Astoria, all revolving around food, and of course, will be continuing his love of TV with “The Sticky History.” The first season will focus on — you guessed it — the history of doughnuts.