When Chef Dominique Crenn posted on Instagram in May about her recent breast cancer diagnosis, there was an outpouring of support on social media for the industry leader from loyal fans, breast cancer survivors, and fellow chefs. Crenn, who is known for being the first female chef to win three Michelin Stars, is a beloved leader in a fine dining world known for hard-driving personalities and archaic systems. Her blend of charisma, character and incredible culinary talent has made her one of the most well-regarded (and award-winning) chefs in the country, so it’s no surprise that her recent diagnosis has her community rallying around her.
From Economist-in-Training to Award-Winning Chef
Growing up in France, Dominique Crenn, the Executive Chef and Owner of three award-winning San Francisco-based restaurants, including Atelier Crenn, Petit Crenn, and Bar Crenn, studied economics in college. And, while she always had a passion for food and cooking, it wasn’t until she moved to the States that she decided to take the plunge into the restaurant industry. She moved to San Francisco in 1988 to work at Stars restaurant under luminaries Jeremiah Tower and Mark Franz.
In 2018, thirty years after her culinary career first began, Crenn was awarded her third Michelin Star for Atelier Crenn, making her the first female in history to be the recipient of such a prestigious award. Despite being one of the most accomplished chefs in history, Crenn says her journey wasn’t without people questioning or disregarding her in the industry, but it is these very challenges that made her stronger. Ultimately, for Crenn, being a chef is a “life journey consisting of great sacrifices” contributing to a rare combination of humility and strength that has made her such a compelling force in the chef world.
Crenn’s French Influence
While Crenn has been cooking in the United States for decades, she credits her French roots for influencing her approach to dining, an experience she’s recreated in her restaurants, foregoing the fast casual trend that’s so pervasive right now.
“You need to take that time to sit down at the table and enjoy your meal, and to talk about who we are. That’s what it is about the French; that’s the way we grew up,” she says, an homage to her childhood growing up in Brittany.
The dining experience at Crenn’s restaurants consists more than just enjoying a decadent meal. With the menu at Atelier Crenn changing nightly, diners are always presented with a poem representing the evening’s theme. For Crenn, it’s about much more than just making delicious food. “I try to really look for things that make me curious and excited about that food,” Crenn says, emphasizing the importance of incorporating a story and soul behind the dining experience.
I always want to open a space where I could have that sense of home and family, not just for my guests, but also for the people on my team,” says Crenn.
If given the ability to change anything in the restaurant industry, Crenn says she would want people to be more conscious and not living by convenience:
Don’t do it because of the convenience of things; do it because you know it’s the right thing to cook, or do right now.” – Dominique Crenn
With three Michelin stars behind her belt and three restaurants that have already garnered global attention, Crenn has a plan to beat cancer and open a fourth San Francisco restaurant, a patisserie-boulangerie that will open at the Salesforce building toward the end of 2019. The new project will focus on French-inspired pastries and breads — and hopefully a riff on one of her favorite simplistic pleasures: grilled cheese.