Dominique Crenn is one of those rare chefs in the industry that mixes style and food in everything she does. Whether it’s donning an apron over the perfect buttoned down tee, or simply making a dish that appears more as a work of art, Crenn strives to make aesthetic just as important as the food. Even her restaurant, Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, is an homage to the world of artistry; the french word “Atelier” is defined as a workshop or studio for a designer or artist.
First training with the renowned Jeremiah Tower at Stars in San Francisco, Crenn moved on to helm the kitchens of Luce at The Intercontinental, where, under her watch, the restaurant was awarded Michelin Stars in 2010 and 2011. Now, Atelier Crenn serves as her personal playground, where Crenn has the freedom to experiment with the fresh, seasonal ingredients she puts such an emphasis on. Atelier Crenn offers either a prix fixe or tasting menu to diners. Customers can’t simply come by, they have to have a full experience. And isn’t this why we love food, because it’s an experience? There are too many reasons why we love Dominique Crenn here at The New Potato, and here are a few more…
What’s different about your food?
I do not know if “different” is the word I would use, rather personal. I derive my inspiration from times in my past and feelings that I associate with those times, those memories. I subject my creative process to sensations I had when I was young that made an impact on me, and I surrender to them over and over. Although I think a lot of chefs engage their art, themselves, this way; we all have unique pasts.
Are you constantly making changes? How so?
I am. I have inspirations coming to me at a constant rate. I have to line them up and work to let them come out in the order they come to me. I caught myself describing a dish I have been working on in my head that I hope to have out in 2013 the other day, and thought about how it is not changing, but rather adding the next part of the larger story on a constant basis. I imagine that when it’s all said and done and someone pries me out of my kitchen, I will look back and see how it was all one long story.
What we should know about French cuisine…
Oh wow…should is a funny word. I do not really know. Perhaps what you are drawn to discover. I have been learning about it since I can remember. There are three distinct ways that I learn about French cuisine. From my family, is the first. My mother would speak about her memories of what her grandmother described to her about the lineage of French cuisine. Then there were the outings we would take to fine dining establishments, at which stories through the food and in conversation with the Chefs would emerge. And then of course there are the endless cookbooks that tell so many stories. For me, the most interesting detail of French cuisine at the moment is what is alive right now. Right now there is a rich debate between tradition and the modern movement. Some feel this tension and engage it as a debate and they choose their sides and that is that. For me, I relish in all the energy surrounding the debate. A love gets born of this tension.
How do your travels, experiences and background play into your restaurant?
Perfectly. I am a mirror of my travels, experiences and background. So many see me as a French Chef, and yet some see the Japanese influences when they look closely, as I am very taken with Japanese culture and cuisine. At other angles, those who see the profound influence of the sea in my work get to know about my childhood in Brittany. Also, on occasion – in particular with some of the spice profiles I dabble in – one can feel their way into my Moroccan heritage. I think no matter what it is that any one does in their life, it is a reflecting pond of who they are – and what they have done makes that true.
Your go-to recipe when cooking outside the restaurant for family and friends…
Ah, would you believe it is chicken. I always feel most at home when I cook my mother’s Sunday Chicken. I rely heavily on lemon to make it taste as she would make it.
Can you share some menu favorites from Atelier Crenn?
I enjoy positive feedback on all dishes, however there are of course some stand-outs. I have to say that those have been “The walk in the forest” and “The interpretation of Pea Soup.”
How important is aesthetic to you?
Very but not entirely. I like to talk about the aesthetic and think about it as well, however I end up most tethered to taste. From there, all else falls into place.