“Women can kick ass, too!” You don’t need to understand this phrase to know what Dominique Crenn is talking about. She is, after all, a prime example of this. She was the first female chef in the USA to be awarded two Michelin stars. At her San Francisco restaurant, Atelier Crenn, the native Frenchwoman celebrates modern haute cuisine that is artistically casual, yet scientifically precise, and completely without contradiction.
Her often untamed hair, casual attire and tattooed forearms would not look out of place on a poster depicting a rock star. With her perfect appearance and lashings of charisma, she outshines many a Hollywood actress. An encounter with Dominique Crenn evokes a number of associations, however very few people meeting her for the first time would guess that she is a successful head chef.
Dominique Crenn doesn’t like being labelled anyway. She is, after all, not “just” a chef. She is also a handywoman, a scientist and above all an artist. And it’s not by chance that her restaurant is named Atelier Crenn; it’s just as versatile as she is. An open space in which art and cooking are celebrated. A place where, with the help of her small team, she is able to breathe life into her vision of modern, artisan, sustainable and seasonal haute cuisine.
You will not find any conventional menus in Dominique Crenn’s restaurant. She prefers to describe her “tasting menus” using a self-penned poem – a line for each course.
The dishes, which she arranges on the plate in a manner reminiscent of a splendid still life, have been given names such as “Walk in the Forest” and “The Sea”.
As far as I’m concerned, food must come from withinIt’s all about transparency, authenticity and the message that you want to convey to your guests.
For that reason, very little meat is included on the menus on ethical grounds. Instead, she delights in using seafood and vegetables. The sophisticated kitchen is almost as open and unconventional as Dominique Crenn herself – here her team handles the ingredients with a level of precision usually only found in scientific laboratories. As far as the creation of new dishes is concerned, Crenn has made a conscious decision to do away with boundaries for both herself and her team of chefs. Flavours and techniques are combined at will, with the sole aim of providing guests with a new taste sensation that exceeds their every expectation.
This results in the creation of culinary works of art such as the “trout marmitako”, Crenn’s unusual take on a classic Basque dish, which is made with fish that has been dried for precisely three days and a compote made using heirloom tomatoes that have been skinned and then dehydrated for 24 hours in order to achieve a more intense flavour. The two main ingredients are combined with kombu seaweed, dried parsley and thin slices of garlic potato, which have also been dehydrated.
Although we have already established that Crenn doesn’t like being labelled, you can’t help but make the connection between these ingenious creations and molecular gastronomy. Crenn doesn’t dispute this, but she remarks:
We like to try out new things, but we don’t manipulate things without then putting the actual product on the plate. If you can taste mushroom, then you are eating mushrooms. They may be dried or processed in another way, but they are still mushrooms
Born and raised in France, Dominique Crenn describes herself as a self-taught chef. Her father, who died prematurely, was a French politician, painter and well-respected restaurant critic. It’s not just her artistic streak that she gets from her father, she also learnt to appreciate the subtle nuances and unique flavours of high-quality ingredients as a result of their trips together to the best restaurants in Europe.
Crenn began her formal chef training following her move to San Francisco in the late 1980s. During this time she worked under Jeremiah Tower and Mark Franz at the Stars restaurant, amongst others. In 1997, Crenn moved to Indonesia for a year, weaving culinary tales in the kitchen of the International Hotel in Jakarta in her position as the country’s first female Executive Chef. After returning to the USA, she spent eight years working as the Executive Chef at the Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach and as the Opening Chef at the Abode Restaurant & Lounge in Santa Monica. Once back in San Francisco, Crenn took over as head chef at the Luce restaurant within the Intercontinental Hotel, which was where she was awarded her first Michelin star in 2009.
Her strong desire to finally make her own, deeply personal project a reality ultimately led to the opening of the Atelier Crenn in 2011. A decision that was to catapult the name Dominique Crenn into the upper echelons of American gastronomy. Just one year after opening her restaurant, Crenn became the first woman in the USA to be awarded two Michelin stars for her work. Crenn has also attracted a great deal of attention, both at home and abroad, as a result of her forays into television, not least her victory on the TV cookery show The Iron Chef.
In March 2016, Dominique Crenn is at last returning to Europe, where she will take over the reins in the kitchen of the Restaurant Ikarus for a month as a guest chef at Hangar-7 in Salzburg.
ServusTV: Culinary Heights at Ikarus on ServusTV
Each month at Salzburg’s two Michelin-starred Restaurant Ikarus, a different top international chef creates the menu. For this globally unique concept, Hangar-7 executive chef Martin Klein visits the cream of the crop, takes a look behind the scenes of haute cuisine, and is let in on some exciting culinary secrets. “Culinary Heights at Ikarus” offers a unique glimpse into the world of high-end cuisine and provides an interesting portrait of each guest chef, their culinary philosophy, and the food culture of their country.