Dominique Crenn does not just sit back and watch events unfold. She participates in ways that are unique and singular. In April, she kicked off an Instagram campaign with the hashtags #chefsforunity and #unitybread, calling upon chefs all over the world to break bread on 11 May as a global event to raise money for relief in Ukraine. Within days, many of the culinary world’s luminaries lined up in solidarity.
Diagnosed with and healing from breast cancer, Crenn lives with her fiancé, actress Maria Bello, in a farm in Sonoma with their seven-year-old daughters. The farm’s produce is used in her restaurants.
Crenn spoke to us about her passions and preoccupations.
How can restaurants be sustainable?
All restaurants can be sustainable if they really want to be. Last year, Atelier Crenn was certified as plastic free. That means that we removed all single use plastics from the restaurant. We use no plastic, we turn our food waste into compost at our own farm, and we use local and sustainable produce, fish and seafood. It is not easy to do but if you want to make a difference in the world, it’s time to make time.
What are your future plans?
My plan is to work with a purpose. I will pursue projects that make a difference in the world. Everything I do must be positive and give back to the planet in some way. I just try to make a small, positive difference in the world. I know that if I give back, I get the most. I am not working to make myself a success but to lift others up.
Tell us about your partnership with Upside Foods?
I am working together with Upside Foods to provide guidance for their product development of cultured meat. Their first product is chicken breast that is made completely from animal cells but is done without killing any animals. It is the future of food and of the planet. I am so honoured to work with them and to be the first to serve the product as soon as it’s approved by the US Food & Drug Administration.
Why did you decide to partner with them?
I have always been a proponent of sustainable food. The practices of the meat industry and factory farming are destroying our planet. We shouldn’t be living this way. We need to protect our planet and all the living things on it. We will save billions of animals as well as the environment if we make the move to cultured meat.
What do you love about being a chef?
I love to be a chef because it allows me to be an artist and it gives me the ability to speak to people using food as the vehicle. The possibilities are endless - you can use delicious ingredients and flavours in any way you please and in any combination. It just gives me such joy to create food as art.
What challenges do chefs face in today’s world?
It has always been difficult to be a chef - the hours are long and the work is hard and relentless. Today’s world of convenience makes it even harder because a lot of people don’t understand what it takes to run a restaurant. The margins are small, staffing is difficult, and the pandemic destroyed a lot of small businesses. I feel for all of those that were affected by the pandemic- we are still feeling the impact.
How can chefs and restaurants balance sustainability with taste?
Local produce, fish, and seafood is so delicious. You don’t have to look far to find sustainable ingredients around you. Connect with your local farmer or fisherman - they are the ones with so much knowledge to share.
Do we need to feel guilty about eating meat? How can we tread lightly on this earth?
No, I don’t think anyone should feel guilty about the choices that they make - those are their own. But I hope people take time to know where their meat is coming from, how it was raised and slaughtered. Those animals are living creatures and they deserve a healthy and fruitful life as well as a dignified death. Meat can be part of your diet but please take time to understand where it comes from and its impact on this planet and your body.
What is the pleasure of living on a farm? How does it influence your cooking?
Living on my farm is the most amazing thing in the world. I wake up every morning and I walk through the rows and rows of produce. I listen to the birds and bees as they wake up with the sunrise. I feed my chickens every morning and gather their fresh eggs; every night, I tuck them into their henhouse. To be so close to nature is truly a gift and reminds me that we need to give back to mother earth. This influences my cooking by allowing me to focus on hyperlocal and delicious produce.
What do you do for fun?
Oh, I love to spend time with my family - my fiancé and my two little girls who are turning eight years old soon. I just like to enjoy all of them.
What are your influences?
My girls are my biggest influence. They are so curious and aware of everything around them. I need to leave this earth a better place for them.