In conversation with Dominique Crenn
For the last 20 years the image of a chef has been transformed—if before they were akin to new rockstars reaching a celebrity status, current shift shows that they are becoming the pioneers of positive change, with some of them undertaking important steps in order to address the food industry’s most relevant issues including mental health, gender equality, sustainability and waste.
At the 15th edition of The International Chefs Congress Identitá Golose in Milan, we had a chance to meet on stage Dominique Crenn, the chef and owner of the three Michelin star Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, who passionately addressed these issues.
The nature of work in the kitchen and strive for perfection often comes with a sacrifice of personal life for long working hours, adding stress and often alcohol to get through it. The issues associated with this kind of lifestyle and its effects on the mental health, and what can be done to set new standards, are currently being discussed a lot in the media.
Chef Crenn takes active steps to address and prevent these issues by providing her cooks with guidance and support through various meetings with HR, company trips, yoga sessions and sport, in an effort to «create a space where everyone feels safe and has a voice». Being originally from France, chef Crenn also highlighted the pressing issue of plastic pollution and small efforts that each of us can take, “If you buy a croissant, don’t put it in a plastic bag—it stays in the ground for hundreds of years”.
By achieving three Michelin stars for Atelier Crenn, Chef Crenn became the first woman in US to receive such recognition. Beyond that, she uses her voice to actively promote innovation, sustainability, and equality—by participating in numerous panels and summits.
Her name equally represents the highest culinary professionalism and impactful industry activism.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
ON SUCCESS, PASSION AND INSPIRATION
How do you manage to keep up and succeed in all these roles you have undertaken?
D.C.: I think that in everything you do in life, you have to be grounded; to balance everything, as well as surround yourself with people who inspire you. I wake up every morning with the feeling of love for what I do, so that’s why it is successful: it comes from within. My energy comes from my love to humanity, importance of taking care of the next generation and planet and will to do things better.
You mentioned before that you are curious in life and passionate to find new inspirations, so what is next thing you are willing to discover?
D.C.: There are obviously a lot of things, and now I’m very interested in Africa; its nature, culture, cuisine, but above all people—because cooking comes with the people. Maybe the Moon also.
How do you see the future of fine dining in terms of new trends, such as meatless menus?
D.C.: What is fine dining? You can cook in the street and it will be fine dining. The concept shifts when people take more responsibility in what they are doing—not simply following the rules because you have to, but start to make things that really matter (editor's note: e.g. preparing from locally grown ingredients and paying attention to seasonality).
In my restaurant we don’t have meat, fish yes, but I believe in widespread fine dining with just vegetables; not going to the extreme with it, but being conscious and if you’re using meat—knowing where it comes from and making sure it is sustainable.
…Questions inspired by Proust
What is the the ultimate luxury for you?
D.C.: Looking at the faces of children and seeing a smile on their faces.
Gustatorial thanks Identita Golose and Chef Dominique Crenn, for the opportunity for this interview.
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