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.
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.
The successful head chef isnt one for labels and this can be seen through her versatile culinary creations that she produces atAtelier Crenn. The open space that the restaurant occupies celebrates bothart and cooking. 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”.
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.
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.
Photography byHelge Kirchberger Photography / Red BullHangar-7