Dominique Crenn is a French chef, now based in San Francisco, known for her innovative French cuisine and ‘poetic’ approach to food. Crenn was the first woman in the US to be awarded three Michelin stars, having previously been the first woman in the US with two stars. She is also a committed advocate of equality in the kitchen, as well as sustainability and environmental issues.
Crenn was born in Brittany, France, in 1965, and adopted as an infant. Her mother, a cook, taught her daughter to explore a range of different cuisines, with visits to Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants in Paris, while her father, a politician and painter, inspired her with the sense of poetry that would go on to be an integral part of her culinary philosophy. He also took the young Crenn to dine at Michelin-star restaurants with his food critic friend. Summers spent on the family farm as a child also influenced Crenn’s approach to food, which takes its inspiration from seasonality and the importance of the land.
Disillusioned with the male-dominated French culinary scene, Crenn left France to pursue her culinary ambitions abroad in the late eighties, working in several US restaurants, and briefly moving to Jakarta, Indonesia, where she became that country’s first female head chef, before returning to the US in 1998.
She was awarded her first Michelin star while working as chef de cuisine of Luce restaurant in the San Francisco Intercontinental Hotel in 2009. Just two years later, Crenn set up on her own, opening her first restaurant, Atelier Crenn in the Cow Hollow neighbourhood of San Francisco. The venue was a huge success, earning Crenn two Michelin stars in 2013 - the first woman in the US ever to achieve the honour. In the 2018, Atelier Crenn’s rating was increased to three stars, making her the first female chef in the US with three Michelin stars.
Crenn has also written two books. Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste, published in 2015, is part autobiography, part recipe book. It contains beautifully-shot photographs of Crenn’s creations and discusses her philosophy on sustainability and the poetry of food.
Her second book, Rebel Chef, published in 2020, charts her journey from a determined young woman forging her own path in an unforgiving industry to one of the world’s most celebrated chefs. In this book Crenn speaks out on toxic restaurant culture, sexism, immigration, and the responsibility of restaurateurs to care for the environment.
Crenn’s activism also plays a big part in her approach to food. She is outspoken in her advocacy for a more inclusive, less aggressive kitchen environment, and is known to treat her own staff well. Her restaurants are all committed to the cause of sustainability, with ingredients sourced from her own farm, Bleu Belle Farm, and kitchen waste returning to the farm to be used as compost. As of 2019, she also made the decision to remove land-based meat from all of her menus, due to its environmental impact.
Dominique Crenn's Restaurants
Crenn is chef patron of three restaurants, Atelier Crenn, Petit Crenn and Bar Crenn, all of which are located in San Francisco. As part of Crenn’s ongoing commitment to environmental issues, all of her restaurants became pescatarian as of 2019. "Meat is insanely complicated," says Crenn "Both within the food system and the environment as a whole - and, honestly, it felt easier to just remove it from the menus all together."
Atelier Crenn is her flagship restaurant and is an homage to her late father, politician and painter, Alain Crenn. The paintings of Crenn Senior hang on the walls of the restaurant, and the menu is written as a poem from daughter to father, inspired by his teachings on art and her experiences growing up on the family farm. The restaurant features multi-course menus with seasonal dishes created using produce from Crenn’s farm, Bleu Belle Farm and dessert creations from Chef Pâtissier, Juan Contreras.
Petit Crenn is a French bistro, with a menu inspired by the food of Crenn’s childhood in Brittany. The restaurant offers a chef's tasting menu, wine pairings and an à la carte menu, with ingredients sourced from Bleu Belle Farm.
Bar Crenn is an elegant Parisian-style wine bar, replete with chandeliers and vintage couches. Located next door to Atelier Crenn, it serves classical French small plates with organic and biodynamic wine pairings.
How Many Michelin Stars does Dominique Crenn have?
Crenn currently holds a total of four Michelin stars, three for her flagship restaurant, Atelier Crenn, and one for her wine bar concept, Bar Crenn, located next door. Atelier Crenn was awarded two Michelin stars in 2013, making Crenn the first female chef in the US to earn two stars. This was upgraded to three stars in the 2019 guide and, in another first, Crenn became the first female chef in the US to earn three stars.
Bar Crenn opened in 2018, and was awarded one Michelin star in the following year’s guide, the same year that Atelier Crenn was upgraded, taking Crenn’s total number of stars from two to four. Both Atelier Crenn and Bar Crenn also hold a Michelin green star, which recognises their commitment to sustainability and the environment.
Dominique Crenn's Best Recipes
Crenn is known for her exquisitely intricate and detailed dishes. They’re great to look at, as you can see from these gorgeous photographs of some of the creations from Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste, but they can seem a little intimidating from the point of view of the home cook.
But at the heart of Crenn’s culinary style is treating simple, fresh ingredients with respect and elevating them to their full potential, and this doesn’t always involve dozens of complicated techniques. We’ve searched the web and come up with these mouthwatering original dishes from Chef Crenn that you can create in your own kitchen.
Great as a light lunch, or as finger food at a party, this simple but delicious recipe for cured salmon with creme fraiche and lemon shows you how to cure a salmon filet overnight in the refrigerator using a mixture of salt, sugar, scallions, ginger and lime. The recipe also includes instructions on how to make freshly baked pita crackers to serve, which Crenn says she makes in her home kitchen with eggs from her own chickens.
Tomato and Basil 3:0 is a recipe for the more confident home chef. It does require some trickier processes, but if you have the time and the equipment, the results are out of this world. After tasting this dish, you’ll never look at the humble tomato in the same way again.
At the other end of the scale, this hearty and warming root vegetable gratin, inspired by a visit to a food market, couldn’t be simpler to make. Earthy, nutty turnips are paired with aged cheese and fresh herbs in a delicious homage to the flavours of fall. For full details, you can watch Crenn herself preparing the dish here.
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