Updated: Jun 24
First and unique female chef in America awarded three Michelin stars, Dominique is a Climate change activist and a strong believer in sustainable development and responsible gastronomy
Photo by Kelsey McClellan
You probably wouldn’t believe it if I told you that Dominique Crenn has never gone to culinary school. Her talent and pugnacity have brought her to the top of her profession as she was rewarded with the highest recognition offered by the Michelin Guide in 2018. French-born entrepreneur and owner of 3 restaurants in San Francisco as well as being a co-author of several books, Dominique is an inspirational leader.
A climate change activist, she owns a farm in Sonoma and she is a strong believer in sustainable development and responsible gastronomy. She's also a champion of gender equality in a male-dominated industry.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, needless to say she’s a fighter. Dominique is the kind of person that reminds you that the world would probably be in better shape if it had more pugnacious figures like her.
I feel so grateful that my path crossed hers and that I was able to have this inspirational talk with her during the Online Summit organized by French Founders to discuss the post-crisis rebound.
In this article she’s sharing her passion and convictions. We are honored to welcome Dominique to Chefs for Impact!
By Dominique Crenn as told to Chefs for Impact
What actions have you implemented since the lockdown?
“We have been fortunate enough to begin cooking for the community. We created the Crenn Kits, family meals that people can come and pick up from Atelier Crenn's front door. We are feeding our neighborhood and people in need.”
How do you see the post-coronavirus restaurant being like?
“The world has changed. It's not going to ever go back to how it was before and I'm okay with that. Safety and health are top priorities right now, it's not about luxury and over-the-top hospitality. It's about creating an environment where people feel that they can enjoy their meal but also feel protected. At Atelier Crenn, like the rest of the world, we are watching the news, we're listening to our leaders, we're listening to scientists and we're waiting to see what the new protocol is going to be. We would love to be a place of celebration once more, a place where you come for your birthday, your anniversary, or just to celebrate friendship and love. But we want to make sure the time is right. Changes will have to be made, everywhere and for every business. But we've been so quick to adapt right now so I know we'll adapt again.
Clients and employees will have their temperature taken along with total transparency on food origin and cleaning etc. We’ll also create an app to access the interactive menu, where people will be able to ask questions. In the end we are going to be able to engage even more with our community and that’s what hospitality is all about.”
What are your best practices for a more sustainable gastronomy?
“It’s time to wake up and it’s been the time to wake up for a long time. The planet has been in a crisis for a while and climate change is a big deal. We have to think about what matters and who we are as humans. It’s all about HUMANITY and taking ACTIONS, we have to start to rebuild TOGETHER.
o Eat local, seasonal, organic and no pesticides: stop eating avocados or tomatos when it isn’t the season
o Think Community: work with your community, with farmers who are dying to go back to work, work with the artisans that make plates, involve everyone around. Think local. You have to feel the discomfort to find the new comfort. We have to think in terms of community at large, from the farm to the craft industry, passing through the whole food chain to make THE difference.
o Be conscious: Let’s not live in a society where we don’t really care and where you can have what you want whenever you want without thinking about the consequences. We have become a society of instant need; we became entitled to have things. It has to STOP. It’s about changing behavior and being more thoughtful. Everything we do, needs to have a purpose. Collective consciousness is going to be the key to get out of it.
o End factory farming: my restaurants are now meat-free, I’m not a vegan but I wanted to take a stand on the factory farming. This industry is cruel and it also takes advantage of the undocumented immigrants’ situation in the US. We have to stop this.
o Be an activist and take actions for change: buying and eating is an act of activism. Let’s do our part.
Now it’s time to take actions. As a Chef I’m calling all the Chefs all over the world, I don’t care if you have a few Michelin stars, I don’t care if you’re doing street food, I’m calling everyone that’s dealing with food. PLEASE rethink your menu, work with your local community, your farmers; the nature is beautiful out there, go see what you have access to. Chefs, be CONSCIOUS.
As humans we are guests on this earth, as much as animals and as much as plants. We have to commune with the planet as much as the planet is communing with us.”
What is the future of Gastronomy?
“The restaurant industry is never going to be the same again... and in many ways, that's a good thing. People are learning to create dishes that comfort others. Creating beautiful works of art on the plate is wonderful, but right now people need something that feeds their soul. We're also thinking of people's health. We've decided to create dishes that are healthy and full of beautiful produce that is going to help their immune system as well. I think this is the future. Thinking of people's health, thinking of sustainable vegetables, beans, grains... we have to create dishes to keep our bodies and planet in equilibrium.”
As there is a collective awareness for change, do you see here an opportunity for Chefs to educate even more?
“I think one of the beautiful things that has happened here is that people are cooking so much from home, either for themselves,for their families or for their roommates. So it's not that chefs are going to educate anyone,... we're simply able to share our passion with people now, to show them how beautiful, soothing, exciting and thought-provoking cooking can be. Lots of chefs are cooking on Instagram or sending their home-cooking recipes to websites and magazines. I talked to a journalist the other day about making a grilled cheese sandwich! So it's about sharing recipes and techniques that anyone can use right now. It's becoming more democratic. But at the same time, we chefs are able to show people at home things that they've never thought about before…: how to make their kitchen waste-free, how to compost, how to preserve and pickle things to last longer, how to use every part of the fish or vegetable, how to buy seasonably. Projects in the kitchen that people didn't have time for before, and now they do.”
A Grocery Store Inside A Restaurant? Perhaps The New Reality?
“Yes! You know in France there are ‘Epiceries’ everywhere. At one of my restaurants, Petit Crenn, we sell local products, food to go, we do wine tasting in that same spirit of the French épicerie. This period of uncertainty is also time for creativity and for me it’s great because I love that! So my team and I are actually very excited about the new opportunities ahead. Obviously, we want to make sure that fine dining doesn’t die also.
And, I’m going to call out all of the supermarkets out there. They need to support the farmers, who need to have their produce in stores. It’s going to take a village but I think we, the people, can do it. We have the power to do this. For sure.”
What is your favorite seasonal local product?
“Few things make me as happy as tomato season in California. But that's not yet, that's later on in the summer....
Springtime for me means making delicious dishes with peas, for example. But I also love radishes. A delicious radish, really high-quality butter, beautiful sea salt. It's so French! Add some slices of good, homemade bread and you have a meal.”
LE MOT DE LA FIN
"When the lockdown is over let’s not go back to normal. We have to really understand the experience we’re having through this lockdown and we must make some changes with ourselves and the way that we are looking at LIFE. That’s going to be the key for changing the world to a better one. Care about humanity, about yourselves in a way that doesn't take everything for granted. It’s about doing things with care and consciousness." - Dominique Crenn
Photo by @JordanWise
Learn more about Atelier Crenn Dining group and Dominique’s philosophy: https://www.ateliercrenn.com/