By Nikki Ekstein
April 27, 2016
Dominique Crenn Atelier
Credit: Amanda Edwards/WireImage; Courtesy of Dominique Crenn

Every year in June, the culinary world turns its attention to the single most powerful list of restaurant rankings on the planet: the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Ahead of this year’s festivities, the World’s 50 Best team is crowning a “World’s Best Female Chef,” and the honor is going to (drumroll, please) San Francisco’s queen of vegetables, Dominique Crenn.

The honor is as much a testament to Crenn’s indisputable talent as it is a statement about women in elite gastronomy—few women helm restaurants on the World’s 50 Best list. She is set apart less by her gender than by her insatiable commitment to classic French techniques and impeccable ingredient sourcing (always local, in her book). But forces like Crenn will have a far easier time breaking through the glass ceiling with the recognition of a platform like World’s 50 Best supporting them. Kudos to World’s 50 Best, and to chef Crenn, for such successes.

To celebrate, we talked to Crenn about food, travel, and what’s next on her bucket list.

Q: If you could travel to any one city for a once-in-a-lifetime culinary deep dive, where would it be and why?

A: I’d head to Kyoto, where Kaiseki dining is at the forefront of the culinary scene. For me, it would be the best way to understand Japanese culture and experience the country’s history and craftsmanship.

Q: What’s the one restaurant you’d jump on a plane to eat at again? What made it so special?

A: L'Arpege in Paris. Alain Passard is a genius—a master who gives a life and a voice to vegetables—and his place is a very special one. Last time I went was in 2013. One of the courses I had was an outstanding garlic and carrot velouté.. The whole menu was vegetable focused and you could taste the earth. That meal really affirmed my belief that vegetables should be the rock star on the plate.

Q: Which restaurants are next on your global must-eat list?

A: Roberta Sudbrack restaurant in Rio de Janeiro, Quique Dacosta in Spain, and Maaemo in Norway. They are in three different places in the world, three different cultures and traditions, and run by three outstanding people that think before cooking and showcase their soul and heritage on the plate.

Q: If you could convene a who’s who of chefs (past and present) to celebrate your win as World’s Best Female Chef, who would you invite and why?

A: I’d invite Olivier Roellinger for his love of Brittany, the sea and the producers surrounding the land. Michel Bras for his poetic and creative approach to food. Elena Arzark and Anne-Sophie Pic, two of my favorite chefs for their vision. Christian Bau for his mind and playfulness. Julia Child for her witty sense of humor. And Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin because he wrote my favorite book, The Physiology of Taste.

Q: Do you ever travel to source ingredients? What has been your most inspiring sourcing quest?

A: I source my ingredients in the San Francisco surroundings… I am always fascinated by what the farmers bring to us. Farmers inspire me—they are in the quest, not me.

Q: You’re based in one of the most exciting food cities in the world right now. Give us your favorite local picks.

A: I love to go to Petit Crenn, Bar Tartine, Rich Table, Foreign Cinema, Nopa, State Bird Provisions, Commonwealth, and so many more.. I love San Francisco—it's such an amazing food city that has grown and changed for the last few years. In the Bay Area, we are blessed by incredible farmers and their products. Talented chefs are expressing their personal view through food; storytelling is everywhere. San Francisco’s food scene has become less about perfection that about diversity and evolution.