Busying himself behind the counter at Flex Donuts, a pop-up shop in Grand Central Station, Zac Young pipes chocolate peanut butter filling into freshly fried donuts. Young is working alone this mid-February morning at his latest venture, but maintains a gleaming smile as he dunks donuts into a bowl of granulated sugar. He sees a friend and leans over the counter to kiss him on the cheek, brushing his sugary hands on his pink and purple plaid pajama pants. “I have a collection of pajamas just for work,” he says, ending with a laugh. A woman approaches:

“Are you from ‘Unique Sweets?’”

Young leans in, grinning. “Yes, that’s me!”

“I recognized your voice!” the fan says, clapping her hands together.

Young returns to his work. “When I did ‘Top Chef’ I had absolutely no idea that I would actually get recognized,” he says, recalling his television debut on the show’s pastry spin-off, “Top Chef: Just Desserts.”  As the fan heads off to catch her train, Young confesses, his smile now gone: “I hate the customer service aspect,” he says. “I don’t have the patience to deal with people.” A pastry chef by training and profession, he’d much rather remain in the kitchen than out front.

Life for Young has been a blur since the debut of Bravo’s reality television show “Top Chef: Just Desserts” in 2010, which brought him unexpected fame. Though already known in the pastry industry for his creative and quirky desserts, Young soon discovered that his new found fame meant getting recognized on the street by strangers, cutting the line at New York City clubs and flying across the country for special appearances for popular food festivals. The fame also means that he’s working harder than ever. While putting in 75 hours weekly as executive pastry chef at Flex Mussels he is also filming new episodes the Cooking Channel’s “Unique Sweets,” a show that explores the creative concoctions of pastry chefs across America. Despite all the publicity, Young says that he works hard to keep his ego in check, making time for his close friends and an occasional night out on the town. His continued popularity hasn’t gone to his head – at least not entirely.

Young is very self-aware, with a winning personality and charming smile. But a contagious laugh can only get you so far. When Young signed up for “Top Chef,” he was trying to prove to himself that he had the pure talent to succeed when positioned against other well-known pastry professionals. “People liked me in the industry,” he said, “But I didn’t know if they liked me because I’m wacky and kind of out there, or because they liked my cooking.” And though he was eliminated from the competition on the second-to-last episode, Young believes he achieved his goal.

Baking wasn’t always his passion. Originally from Portland, Maine, 22-year-old Young, armed with a musical theater degree, headed to New York City and landed a job working in the wig department at Radio City Music Hall. Growing up in a vegan household, Young wasn’t exposed to many of the sweet after-dinner delights that accompany most meals. He did however have one guilty pleasure: “I was really into eating cookies,” he said. So he thought he’d give baking a try. “Instead of following the recipe I started making changes and through that I had some resounding failures,” he said. But after toying with his new creations, Young finally produced classic treats with exciting twists – like peanut butter and chocolate-covered pretzel cookies. “I liked the chemistry of the recipes; you can only push your recipe so far,” he said.

His obsession became so extreme that Young was staying up till the early morning hours baking treats that he shared with his coworkers the next day. When a friend asked to buy a batch of his cookies Young realized he could make a career out of baking. Leaving Radio City behind in 2004, Young went to culinary school and learned the classic elements of the art of pastry.

While he’s garnered a reputation as a skilled and creative pastry chef, Young tries not to take himself too seriously. Cracking eggs in his small workspace in the Flex Mussels kitchen on the Upper West Side, Young laughs with the other cooks asking for plastic wrap in Spanish, offering a “gracias” and shining grin to the Latino chef.

Flex Mussels is known for two things: seafood and dessert. Though Young is not always at the restaurants, his name is on every dessert plate that leaves the kitchen, so quality is important. “There’s a higher expectation when you are high profile,” Young said. “If I walk into the kitchen and something is wrong I get frustrated.”

A self-described control freak, Young must abdicate a lot of responsibility to others as he juggles his various projects. Maintaining a nearly 3,000-follower Twitter page and developing his first cookbook keeps him busy outside the kitchen, but no matter his current preoccupations, Young never loses sight of what made him famous: his talent. “I’m known for doing my job, and I’d prefer it that way,” he said. “But on the flipside, I need to rely on this fan base for my next projects.”

Reality television fame may be the key to Young’s continued success post “Top Chef: Just Desserts.” Deborah Jerymn, professor and author of “Understanding Reality Television” explains that fans of reality TV are drawn to the shows for various reasons. “They may be curious about ‘normal’ people, but they may also be curious about ‘others,’” she said. “ [and] the opportunity to take a peek at people who have different values, cultures, lifestyles from themselves.” For this reason, food-loving fans are drawn to shows like “Top Chef” because they want to know more about the daily lives of professional chefs and to watch them in action under stressful circumstances.

Young is quick to point out that being well known does have its drawbacks. While he is happy that he draws crowds to Flex Mussels because of his talents behind a mixing bowl, Young prefers to stay in the kitchen when working. “It is a bit stressful when people come to the restaurant and ask to see me,” he said. “I’m not on the menu. You can’t order me. I can’t be brought out to the table. I’m working.” And yet he still makes numerous nightly trips to the dining room to take pictures with “Top Chef” fans and greet other high-profile guests like friend and “Top Chef: Just Desserts” judge Gale Gand.

At midday, Young left the donut shop in Grand Central Station and made his way to Flex Mussels. Coincidentally, his first task was to prepare yet another a batch of donuts, totaling over 1,000 for the day. Young leaves the restaurant at 12:30 in the morning. His day started 16 hours earlier and tomorrow will prove to be just as long. For better or worse, Young’s life has changed in many ways since “Top Chef: Just Desserts.” Young has learned that with fame comes added pressure, but the satisfaction of being center stage may in fact be worth the 75 hour work weeks.