Header images, clockwise from top left: Dominique Crenn; Atelier Crenn's dining room (image: Mika Takeuchi); bonbons; The Sea; Pates de fruits; Beef carpaccio; Fish and Chips
Recently crowned The World’s Best Female Chef 2016, French-born Dominique Crenn owns the super-refined Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, as well as its more casual sibling, Petit Crenn. Here she talks about winning the award, her roots, her philosophy and her desire to change the world, one vegetable at a time.
It’s humbling when people recognise what you have done. It’s an affirmation that you should keep heading towards the place you want to go to. This award also provides a platform to be able to discuss issues that matter. I want to be a part of a generation changing the way we are thinking and eating. Our community of chefs and farmers can change the world for the better!
I started to write poetry when I was four years old. Words matter to me, they are very powerful. Words and food come together naturally, and each dish has to have a story – so that is what ‘Poetic Culinaria’ is about. I never understood those menus where it just says ‘sea bass’.
I love France very much, but I was uncomfortable with the way its society always looks for perfection. I wanted to be different, to grow, to be myself and make mistakes, so that’s why I left. San Francisco is unique in how it welcomes diversity and new ways of thinking.
The fact that I was adopted when I was very young has given me a different outlook on the world. My parents came from Brittany, and they gave me all the tools to be who I am today. But I also wanted to understand the blood that was inside me. Every Sunday at the market with my mother, I would head straight to the spice stall run by an Algerian guy. I was so attracted to that and I wonder if it was because of my lineage.
In 2009, I had an accident and came close to losing my life. I realised I needed to do something that spoke of me and to my heart – I didn’t want to cook food dictated by someone else. Atelier Crenn is an homage to my dad, who was a politician but also an artist (as well as a terrible cook!) I wanted to bring his mentality to the forefront of the restaurant; to bring different people together.
Food is the core of society. You can taste someone’s food and know something about what their society is about.
Petit Crenn was a chance to celebrate the women in my life – my mum and my grandmother, their cooking and the place where they grew up. Brittany has an amazing history, it used to be its own country and it’s very Celtic. Not many people talk about it, but it has the best seafood in the world – lobster, oyster, abalone, clams, turbot…
I love the fact that you guys [at 50 Best] have brought South America to prominence in the gastronomic world. The food there is incredible – in Colombia, Brazil, Peru, Mexico – but nobody was talking about it a few years ago.
The idea of not having meat [at Petit Crenn] was quite a strong political stand. I was very angry about farming in the US, how they treat animals and the way meat is produced. Vegetables are the rock stars, but they are all sourced locally – only the cider and the butter come from Brittany itself!
I wake up every morning, have my wonderful coffee and chocolate croissant, and I can’t wait to get to work with my team, who inspire me every day.