Dominique Crenn: "Cooking is an Act of Vulnerability"
Chef Dominique Crenn is on a journey. Her upbringing in Paris and Versailles gave her a love of fine food, but her academic studies in economics and international business prepared her for a career in the cut and thrust world of top-end restaurants.
She arrived in San Francisco in 1988, and worked in some of its most famous kitchens before leaving for Jakarta, where she became Indonesia’s first female executive chef. Within a few years of her return to San Francisco, she earned Michelin stars for her artistic cuisine at Luce restaurant, before opening Atelier Crenn in 2011, and Petit Crenn just last year.
A regular TED Talk speaker, she has inspired many a female chef, not to mention plenty of male ones, and was recemtly named the World’s Best Female Chef in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Soon she will act as a mentor for the USA candidate at the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016 competition, where another intriguing journey will begin.
How does it feel to be named the World’s Best Female Chef?
It is a great honour to be chosen as the World’s Best Female Chef 2016 by my peers and the people I’ve had the pleasure to cook for. I've been inspired by many of the past winners of this award and so it’s a great pleasure to join their ranks and to hopefully motivate cooks around the world to work hard, be creative and achieve great things. I am proud to share this award with my chef family, the teams at Atelier Crenn and Petit Crenn, without whom this accolade would not be possible.
What do you mean by the term ‘poetic culinaria’?
Life is a poem, cooking and feeding people is an act of vulnerability. An expression of yourself to share with others.
What’s your definition of success?
The opportunity to stay in my craft, and by doing so being able to engage with colleagues, offer mentorship to those coming up, and most importantly to inspire others in any craft they choose.
In a male dominated industry, how can more women be encouraged to enter the profession, and why is that important?
Like any industry, women have a harder time to succeed. I can only speak for what I did, which was work very, very hard, be clear about my goals, try and forge mentoring relationships with other women in the field, and channel frustration around inequities toward our craft.
Why is it important to have women in the field?
We are 51% of the world's population and our voices balance the often male-dominated monologue. And, just as different ingredients bring out various flavours in other accompanying ingredients, men and women chefs bring out better elements in one another. We need one another.
Who are the role models for female chefs today, and who are your role models?
My grandmother and my mother. [There are] so many role models, for chefs not just female chefs.
How important is artistic expression in your work?
It's not how important – it is. My work is my artistic expression.
Recently you’ve been devoting time to improving food for babies and children. Can you tell us a bit more about that, and why it is important for chefs to give something back to society?
Food in the US for children is the lowest level of food. I don’t understand why our most loved treasure, our children, our future, are fed so poorly. Either children go hungry, or they eat soda and hot dogs. I don’t mean to undermine the pressures of parents, hence I want to be part of making quality food available. I want to interrupt the myth that only bad food is easy. We must care for our children on every level. I do not think only chefs need to give back, rather I think when any of us have the opportunity to pay it forward, we must.
You’ve competed against other chefs, notably in Iron Chef America. What did you take away from that experience?
That was fun. I took away a lot. I learned that I have a competitive spirit. I learned that I could compete on a larger stage and that I do well under pressure. I also learned that, as chefs, we shouldn’t get caught up in the glamor element of our work. It’s good for me to remember that I am still a cook.