Named the World’s Best Female Chef in 2016, she crossed the Atlantic from France to California to open her flagship restaurant, Atelier Crenn, from where she spearheads gastronomic change
Dominique Crenn still has memories that are indelibly etched in her mind of when she would accompany her father, a politician who would take his young daughter to Michelin-starred restaurants together with a family friend, a food critic for the newspaper Le Telégrame. Over comments about wines, pairings and new flavours, the young Dominique forged an exquisite palate at a very young age. Memories that she now recreates with passion at Atelier Crenn, her flagship restaurant that she opened in San Francisco in 2011, and which resulted in her being named the World’s Best Female Chef in 2016.
‘The most important thing about my cooking, the number one thing, is being able to connect with feelings, with things I remember from my life. My cuisine is made of memories. A chef must study traditions and culture, they are at the heart of innovation,’ she explains to us on the US Pacific coast, just before a new shift begins at her restaurant.
Before working in a kitchen, Crenn got a degree in Politics, Economics and International Business in Paris. She then moved to California where she fell in love with San Francisco, starting an adventure that would lead her to winning the Iron Chef competition in 2009, to being the first woman chef in the United States to obtain two Michelin stars, and to being named World’s Best Female Chef in 2016; in addition, she is a member of the judging panel of The Basque Culinary World Prize. She will also be a speaker at the next edition of Madrid Fusión. She has such a singular personality that she was even the inspiration for the character of Colette Tatou in the Disney film Ratatouille.
‘When I started out, I worked with Jeremiah Tower and Mark Franz in 1988 at the landmark restaurant, Stars. They taught me to respect ingredients, growers, fishermen, and animals as well…’ this chef confides.
One of the pillars of her cuisine, as it is with so many of her colleagues today, is sustainability. Although they don’t see it as a fad. ‘Sustainability is not a fad, if we don’t respect the planet or learn from what’s around us, learn from produce…then, who are we? A good chef must understand all that; where it is from? Who produces it? It’s fundamental and yes, it’s our future and the present, and of this planet, too,’ she affirms.
Humility and admiration
The fact that she was named the World’s Best Female Chef doesn’t faze Crenn, and she’s managed to keep her feet on the ground. This French cook talks, unhesitatingly, about the Spanish chefs she admires. ‘It really and truly was wonderful for me, especially because I admire so many people I’d like to learn from. I don’t consider myself to be the best chef. For instance, in Spain I think that Ángel León, Quique Dacosta, Elena Arzak, and Paco Morales, as well as many others, are truly great. There are so many people who I think are very good, people I love,’ she admits.
As for the future, Crenn is certain about her next steps and she has clear ideas, ‘My next step is to find out about things from all over the world, from other cultures, about other ingredients. I’m an inquisitive chef and I can’t help being like that; my cooking is imbued with influences.’