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San Francisco Chef Dominique Crenn Makes History

Dominique Crenn

A few weeks ago, Dominique Crenn of San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn became the first female chef in the U.S. to earn two Michelin stars. She certainly gets points for creativity: The France native substitutes her own 13-line poem for the restaurant’s longer tasting menu—one course per line. (The five-course menu is equally artistic, with dishes called “The Sea’ and “Walk in a Forest.”) This weekend, Crenn will be teaching a master class at the Omnivore World Tour, taking place Nov. 9–11 in San Francisco. Here, she dishes on her big win, her restaurant bucket list, and more.

Q: How does it feel to be the first woman in the U.S. to earn two Michelin stars?
A:I’m from France and grew up with Michelin and respect it in a different way. It feels great for my team because we’re pushing for excellence every day, trying to bring the best experience to our customers, from the food to the wine to the service. I also think it’s inspiring for young women. Women can kick ass, too!

Q: What’s your take on the state of female chefs?
A: I was in Paris earlier this year for the Omnivore World Tour, where there were 60 chefs from all over the world, and just two women—myself and Anne-Sophie Pic. There are a lot of talented women, but sometimes I feel that it’s about choices. At one point in their lives, they choose family. Being a chef involves 15-hour days. It’s about finding the balance, which is hard in this industry. You could argue that there are a lot of female pastry chefs because they can come during the day and prep.

Atelier Crenn

Q:Your tasting menu includes artistic dishes called “The Sea” and “Walk in the Forest.” How do you respond to those who label your cooking “molecular gastronomy”?
A: People think it’s a trend and it’s cool, but many use the term without understanding the concept. It really refers to an understanding of the science of cooking, and when you break it down, every product you use has a molecular profile. We do try new techniques, but we’re not just manipulating things without putting the product on the plate. In our forest dish, you’re going to taste the mushroom—some of it is dried out, but it is mushroom.

Q: Why did you get involved in the Omnivore World Tour?
A: It was created by Luke Dubanchet, a former editor of the Gault Millau food guide, who felt that young cooks weren’t getting enough attention because they lacked resources or their restaurants weren’t fancy. That excited me because I understand the journey those people have to take.

Q: What are some of your most memorable meals?
A: El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. It’s owned by three brothers—a pastry chef, chef de cuisine, and sommelier. They use a lot of classic techniques in a modern way. You don’t want to leave the table after four hours. In the same week, I ate at Mugaritz, in San Sebastián, which was a totally different experience because Andoni Luis Aduriz is a purist and the flavors were not as bold. And my meal at Atera in New York was one of the best I’ve had in the U.S.

Q: What’s on your restaurant bucket list?
A: Noma. I think I’m going to go next year. I also want to go to Dom in Sao Paulo. I’ve never been to Japan, and that’s definitely a trip I want to take. A lot of people think my food is very Japanese, so I’m drawn to their culture. But I’m excited to try every mom and pop. I hope I can experience thousands and thousands of places.

Brooke Porter
Brooke Porter is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure.

 

From top: Photos by Molly DeCoudreaux and Atelier Crenn

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