Dominique Crenn calls for communication and creativity to replace silence and fear

William Drew - 09/10/2018

The high-profile chef and campaigner took to the stage at #50BestTalks in her home city of San Francisco to demand a more ‘ethical kitchen’. Under the event’s overall theme ‘Voices for Change: championing a diverse future’, French-born Crenn sought to take the inclusion debate beyond gender and encourage everyone to discover their own voice.

Dominique Crenn could never be described as your average chef. Putting aside her consummate skill in the kitchen – her two-Michelin starred Atelier Crenn in San Francisco delivers one of the finest dining experiences in a city rightly lauded for its concentration of outstanding eateries – Crenn provides a compelling voice for change in the restaurant industry and beyond.

Each day, the French chef-restaurateur reminds her team that their attitude is ultimately more important than their aptitude: “It’s not how good you are, it’s what you give to this world that will define who you are as a human. If we can do something that inspires others to rise then we can climb higher together,” she adds.

Crenn believes that we must all realise that we are part of a historical chain and need to pass on knowledge and passion to others, and that any individual should be given a chance to lead their own authentic life and share their gifts with the world.

“Humanity is the ultimate community. It encompasses the entire globe – stretching beyond Europe, Asia and North America," she says. "A restaurant no longer needs to be in a major city in order to make an impact globally. We need to look further than the countrysides and metropoles that we know and encourage those who would dare to dream, no matter where they are in the world, to encourage an ethical kitchen anywhere and everywhere."

Crenn was raised and trained in France, but her creative and cultural identity have been shaped by San Francisco, where she now has two restaurants, a bar and her own farm. “Leading an ethical kitchen has nothing to do with the food you cook. We must acknowledge who we are, where we come from, and know strongly what we believe in. With this strong foundation, we can begin the process of building a culture that enables creativity and innovation – and this is the greatest city in the world for creativity and innovation,” she says of her adopted home.

Turning specifically to how the culinary sector can become a safer and more positive place to work, Crenn calls on industry leaders to breed a diverse culture of respect in kitchens and dining rooms, replacing the old-fashioned “militaristic monoculture” that bred fear and silence.

“Our industry is about looking after others, about humanity. Leading an ethical kitchen means that we are not afraid to communicate: our employees must be seen, must be heard and must not feel like a number. Only then can we create a safe space where problems are addressed when they arise, not once they are spilled all over the table or the tabloids.”

Such a process may be painful and even scary, acknowledges Crenn. “Like in a relationship, it’s easy to run away, but [it’s better to] work on it. We don’t want to cover up, or silence those who speak up. We must encourage everyone to have their own voice.”

Watch Chef Crenn's full speech at #50BestTalks: Voices for Change, presented by Miele:

Stay tuned for more videos from Gaggan Anand, Virgilio Martínez, Daniela Soto-Innes, Enrique Olvera and Lara Gilmore at #50BestTalks in San Francisco. Follow on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube for more videos, photos and interviews.