The Culinary Spirit of Chef Dominique Crenn

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Chef Dominque Crenn at her restaurant Atelier Crenn (Image credit: Flickr/City Foodsters)

DOMINIQUE CRENN, known for her San Francisco restaurants Atelier Crenn (which has received two coveted Michelin stars) and Petit Crenn, is the World’s Best Female Chef 2016 — as decided by San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

In conversation with Lady Clever, Crenn explains why it should be best “female” chef, and not just simply “chef.” Women “still have a lot of work to do,” she says, pointing out how the media likes to “create separation” because the general belief is that gender is going to sell (i.e. tough male chefs with lots of tattoos). Dominique calls attention to the fact that many of the editors at publications interested in food are actually women. But at the end of the day, she just wants to “cook with people — it doesn’t matter if man or woman.”

Growing up in and experiencing the tastes and sounds of Brittany, France, as well as others parts of Europe, Dominique went on to build her career in California. After a stint as an executive chef in Jakarta in the late ’90s, she returned to Southern California. She later went back to San Francisco, where she eventually opened Atelier Crenn in 2011, and a few years later, the laid-back, seafood focused Petit Crenn.

With a couple of great restaurants under her belt, plenty of awards, and high-profile media exposure thanks to her involvement with television shows like Iron Chef and Chef’s Table (Netflix), Crenn has definitely spent her fair share of time in the cooking world’s spotlight. But no matter how much attention she gets, she still holds to her core beliefs. What people eat and how they treat food, and how they think about farms and nature in general, all play a big part in defining the character of a nation, she points out. Outside of California, which she jokes is in many ways “a country to itself,” Chef Crenn has been noticing more and more “creativity and care” when it comes to food — from cities like Charleston and Nashville to Dallas and beyond. It’s a trend that seems to hearten her.

As far as the program Chef’s Table is concerned, she says the show is about “more than just food.” The gorgeous photography and deeper stories really affect her. During her episode, which debuted in the second season, she was surprised at how she was able to explore her past relationship with her father. The experience gave her some closure, and also allowed her to “celebrate who he was as a person.”

Although Crenn has proven that she’s very media savvy, she isn’t a big fan of so-called  “foodie bloggers” plying their craft on social media and elsewhere. While everyone is entitled to an opinion, she thinks people (amateur food critics) need to be sensitive to little restaurants trying to succeed. “It’s hard seeing a business going out of business because of a [bad] review,” she explains.

When asked about a typical day in her life, Crenn laughs, and says there’s no such thing. One thing she does enjoy is heading to the famer’s market early, watching people set up their stalls, and talking to them about their lives, or their weekends. And when it comes to guilty food pleasure, she says she used to dig In-N-Out Burger, but now can sometimes really go for a baguette with heaps of butter and melted cheese. Eating with her hands, and letting the cheese drip all over is “so intimate,” she says, and “reminds you of how you grew up.”

Food, and life, and eating right — from the basics to the gourmet: these are the things that feed Dominique Crenn’s spirit. It’s that spirit that, in turn, allows her to create such wonderful, interesting dishes for people to enjoy.

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