Chef par excellence Dominique Crenn is a woman of extraordinary calibre. Earning three Michelin stars for her restaurant, ‘Atelier Crenn’ Crenn became the first and only female chef in the US to have done so. Celebrated for her creativity, Crenn is driven by a modern vision for french cuisines. She carved a niche for herself in an industry that is gruelling, tenacious and largely ruled by men. Fiercely ambitious and deeply passionate, Dominique single-handedly brought her Projects, Atelier Crenn, Petit Crenn, Bar Crenn, to newer heights. In this blog, we explore the life of the rule breaker and norm maker, Dominique Crenn.
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Childhood and Early Life
Dominique Crenn’s life took an unusual course. As an infant, Dominique was adopted by a french couple in Brittany, France. Her father was a politician and a resistance hero, and her mother a cook who ignited her passion for cooking. In several of her interviews, Crenn revealed that her mother had an adventurous palate and introduced her to Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese restaurants across Paris. She would tag along with her father when he dined at Michelin star restaurants with his food critic friends.
Dominique Crenn had a rather traditional upbringing and found it increasingly difficult in the conservative France of the 1960s. The culinary landscape of France was aggressively male-dominated. She realized the only way to make a mark for herself was to move out of France. At the tender age of 21, she moved to San Francisco to build a career.
When Dominique Crenn first reached San Francisco, she came with very little English knowledge, no acquaintance but raging self-confidence. She approached Jeremy Towers, the celebrity chef based in San Francisco and said, “ I want to work with you. I’m french, and so I already know how to cook.” Impressed by her self-assurance and confidence, Towers hired her on the spot. From then on began her illustrious career in fine dining. Her diverse career profile includes stints at Campton Place, 2223 Market, and Yoyo Bistro at the Miyako Hotel and more, after which she took a detour to Indonesia. In her stint in Indonesia, she was appointed as the head chef for the Intercontinental Hotel in Jakarta.
Dominique Crenn then returned to America and became the executive chef for Manhattan Country Club in Los Angeles, followed by Adobe restaurant and Lounge in California before opening her own restaurant in 2011. Her restaurant, Atelier Crenn, is a homage to her father, who was an amateur painter at a small atelier or a workshop. She has hung several of his paintings in her restaurant. Her next project, Petit Crenn, was a homage to her grandmother and mother. According to Dominique Crenn, food is memory. Her restaurants are an ode to her heritage and childhood, where every dish tells a unique story from her past. In 2018 she became the first female in the USA to earn three Michelin stars for her restaurants.
In her career, Dominique Crenn was awarded the Best Female Chef in 2016 by the world’s 50 Best Restaurant award. She also appeared on a documentary film series in Netflix’s Chef’s Table, where she was featured along with her restaurants. In 2018, Crenn was honoured with the James Beard Foundation Award of Best Chef, west.
Atelier Crenn: A Project Close to Home
Dominique Crenn revealed that Atelier Crenn was a project dear to her heart because it is an ode to her father, who instilled in her the love for food. Her restaurant, Atelier Crenn, is a unique concept of poetic culinaria wherein she serves the guests with written lines of poetry describing each course on the menu. For instance, a dish of spot prawns with roe, pickled pears and sea cucumber dashi is described as ‘The sea is in me, as strange and mysterious.’ The word “Atelier” literally means a workshop or space where the designers or artists create their works. Doing justice to the name Atelier, her cuisines are nothing short of a piece of art served on a custom ware table.
Dominique Crenn’s Signature Dish
Cooking for Dominique Crenn is not just about feeding; It’s a form of personal expression. She gives a very personal touch to her dishes, meticulously plating every element to represent her cultural heritage. According to Crenn, food is about texture and technique. Crenn uses molecular gastronomy techniques such as dehydrating, fermenting, and pickling to give the dishes the right balance of flavour and texture. The dishes in the menu keep changing concerning the seasons and chosen themes, but the one constant dish in her menu is Kir Breton. Kir Breton, which is also her signature dish, is a unique twist to Kir Royale, an aperitif and amuse-bouche.
Pandemic and Battling Cancer
In 2019, Dominique Crenn was diagnosed with aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy and an intensive 8 course chemotherapy. In the midst of a crisis, she found her life’s purpose. She decided to inspire and educate a country that thrived on fast food culture. She teamed up with entrepreneur Charles Michael Yim and food and beverage veteran Miko Lorenzo. She launched VitaBowl, a premium plant-based superfood company that provides a nutritious and affordable alternative to over-processed junk. She believes food is medicine and eating is an act of activism. Through this initiative, she aims to make consumers realize that food can heal from within.
In 2020, the onslaught on Pandemic led to restaurants’ shutting and the entire industry being wiped out. Crenn decided to turn Petit Crenn into a community kitchen and supply food for free to those worst affected by the pandemic. She believes as a cook, and she has an added responsibility of fighting hunger. In an interview, she recounted a story of when she was handing food, and a homeless person came to her and said, “You’re not feeding me trash. I can taste the love in your food”. She believes food has a unique language and the power to bring people together.
Dominique Crenn’s life has not been a bed of roses. It was only through hard work and determination that she achieved a huge feat. Crenn turned every adversity into opportunity whilst simultaneously giving back to society. This was all about the gritty Dominique Crenn. We hope you enjoyed this blog, and it gave you the motivation you are looking for. For more interesting content, tune into Leverage Edu! Follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Quora.