Kerstin Kühn: On Dominique Crenn named world's best female chef

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th May 2016

In her latest feature, LA-based food writer Kerstin Kühn takes a look at Dominique Crenn being named best female chef by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Dominique CrennDominique Crenn, the chef behind the two-Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant Atelier Crenn, has been named best female chef by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. She is the first US chef to have won the award, with previous winners including Hélène Darroze, Helena Rizzo, Nadia Santini, Anne-Sophie Pic and Elena Arzak.

Crenn has become synonymous with her innovative and deeply personal style of modernist cuisine, which showcases her unique creative style and vision of fine-French food. Her artistic menus bring together the Bay Area’s farm-to-table ethos and contemporary cooking techniques.

In an interview with Dominique Crenn not long ago, I asked her what being a successful woman in a very male-dominated industry meant to her. She replied saying she was unsure why there weren’t more female chefs cooking at her level. “There are some amazingly talented female chefs in this country, who are much better cooks than me,” she said. “But I don’t know why they haven’t gone the way I have gone.” She added that chefs of a certain status have a responsibility to encourage women in the kitchen. “But I have to be careful, because I don’t want to be drawn into the gender bias. I don’t want people to look at me as female or male; I just want them to appreciate what I do.”

Growing up in France, Crenn credits her parents with instilling in her a keen interest in food from a young age. Her father, a prominent politician, took her to some of Europe’s finest restaurants, while her mother introduced her to rustic home cooking. She moved to the USA in 1988 to follow her dream of becoming a chef away from the ‘old school’ ways of French kitchens and trained at the Stars restaurant under legendary San Francisco chef Jeremiah Tower, whom she credits with making her the chef she is today.

Beef CarpaccioFollowing stints at some of the city’s top restaurants, Crenn moved to Indonesia and made culinary history by becoming the country’s first-ever female executive chef at the InterContinental Hotel in Jakarta, where she headed up an all-female brigade. However, her stay was cut short by the country’s political unrest and she returned to the USA in 1998, working in Southern California for almost a decade, before settling in San Francisco in 2007 to head up Luce at the InterContinental Hotel, where she gained her first Michelin star in 2009. In 2011, she decided to go out on her own and opened Atelier Crenn. In 2013 she yet again made culinary history by becoming the first woman in the US to win two Michelin stars.

A homage to her late father and modelled on the studio he painted in, the restaurant is a workshop of the culinary arts, a modest, homely space where diners come to share the chef’s personal creative expression. The restaurant is small and intimate, seating just 40 people, with a formal yet relaxed atmosphere, no tablecloths and an open door into the kitchen. Crenn’s cuisine, entitled Poetic Culinaria as her menus are written like poems, brings together the ethos of farm-to-table cooking with international influences inspired by her travels, and modernist cooking methods. Her food is highly artistic and speaks of memory, place and emotion.

Last year, Crenn not only published her first cookbook Metamorphosis of Taste, but also branched out to open a second restaurant in San Francisco called Petit Crenn. Inspired by the home cooking of Brittany and an ode to her mother and grandmother, it is a homely restaurant that serves a family-style five-course menu of vegetables and seafood.

Crenn’s devotion to her beliefs on sustainability has seen her serve on many panels and boards with local and nationally acclaimed sustainable food activists and participates in special events such as ‘Outstanding in the Field’ and Share Our Strength’s ‘Taste of the Nation’. She is also the founder and driving force behind ‘A Movable Feast’, a series of dinners honouring CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) that pairs prominent local chefs with produce from a single farm.

Commenting on winning the best female chef award, Crenn said: “It is a great honor 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.”

KKerstin_Kuhnerstin Kühn is a freelance food and travel writer, specialising in restaurant and chef stories. The former restaurant editor of Caterer and Hotelkeeper, she relocated from London to Los Angeles in 2013, where she lives on the city’s trendy East Side.

With a vast network of chefs from around the world, Kerstin has profiled the likes of Michel Roux, Heston Blumenthal, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, the Roca brothers and Massimo Bottura. She is a regular contributor to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, FOUR Magazine, M&C Report and Spinney’s Food, and also writes her own blog, La Goulue. You can follow Kerstin on Twitter @LaGoulue_

>>>Read more of Kerstin's blogs here.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th May 2016

Kerstin Kühn: On Dominique Crenn named world's best female chef