Meet the Chef Who Named All of Her Restaurants After Herself
And that's not even how she made history.
“I’m trying to be a good human who kicks some ass,” says French chef Dominique Crenn, whose San Francisco restaurant Atelier Crenn is the first run by a woman in the U.S. to earn three Michelin stars. Known for her commitment to innovation, sustainability, and equality in the kitchen, Crenn is a culinary powerhouse whose influence transcends beyond the kitchen. “A badass human in general is someone that is very confident of who they are and has a lot of integrity,” she says. “It's someone who fights for what is right and get things done.”
Since announcing her battle with breast cancer last May, the superstar chef has hardly skipped a beat. (She's since recovered.) Recently, she made headlines for announcing her pledge to create meatless menus in all three of her premiere restaurants: Atelier Crenn, Petit Crenn, and Bar Crenn. She will shape a similar veggie-focused menu for her highly anticipated fourth haunt, Boutique Crenn, that is set to open in San Francisco’s Salesforce Tower later this year. Her meatless initiative may seem ambitious, but the seasoned pro is energized by the prospect of leading the industry's charge towards more community-centric dining. “I'm most excited about people being more conscious about their eating habits. And I'm also excited that there is a number of young farmers that want to go back to doing things the right way,” she says. “I think the way that we're going to change is to go back to supporting community and valuing what our neighbors are doing.”
Kitchen Queen: Crenn credits her parents with sparking her interest in food back while she was growing up in France. But it wasn’t until she moved to San Francisco in 1988 that she started formal culinary training at Stars (an SF landmark that ran from the mid-‘80s to late-‘90s). When asked about what it was like to break into a notoriously male-dominated industry, Crenn acknowledges that it wasn’t always easy. But, she says, letting her skills speak for themselves turned out to be the best course of action. “I mean, when senior men see a strong woman coming in [to the kitchen] doing a better job than they're doing, they [feel insecure],” she says. “Those men need to wake up and realize that it's not about gender. It’s about sharing and understanding others.”
Star Power: “Those awards out there don't define me,” Crenn says of her Michelin stars and other accomplishments. “It's really what I do with it [that matters].” For the beloved chef, mentorship is of paramount importance. “I'm glad a young woman can look at me and say, 'Wow she did that, so I can do that,' you know? It's not about stroking my ego,” she adds. “It's really like, okay, this is amazing. I'm grateful for it. But now, I want to show others that they can do the same thing.”
Confident Roots: Crenn says her most badass advice stems from something her father used to tell her: “You need to be confident. You need to know who you are as a person and as a human,” she says. “But make sure that you go through the world with humility and respect for others. Go and kick some ass out there. Just do it.”
Kickin' it to Cancer: “I think it helped me realize what matters in life and what I want to focus on. The little stupid things don't matter anymore,” Crenn says of battling (and beating!) cancer. “I'm very much awake. Every second is such a gift.” The chef says the experience also made her realize how important it is to recruit stellar staff and seek out good people in her life. “Surround yourself with people that really care about not just you, but also the world and the things that you believe in,” she says, noting that she was very proud of her team for carrying on at the restaurant while she was going through treatment.
Despite everything, Crenn says she was still very much involved in the day-to-day life of her hot spots, even from afar. “I was definitely, very present, maybe more present than I have ever been. I was involved at home. I'd been more creative than ever, which is a good thing,” she says. “But, once again, I'm so lucky to have an amazing team that helped me to go through that stage. I can't thank them enough.”
Cooking for Change: “I've always been very sensitive about what's going on in the ocean, what's going on with the animals, what's going on [in general],” Crenn says of her hyper-focus on environmental issues. “I'm not vegetarian or anything but, [I know] how we grow things [is important].” The chef says growing up with a close cultural connection to locally sourced food in France helped inform her persistent stance on sustainability in the kitchen. “I'm just a little fish in the sea, but I want to make sure that everything we do hopefully will change people's behavior and make people understand that we have a lot of responsibilities,” she says. “Maybe we need to sacrifice things to go back to a healthier way of living. Because I mean, we are in trouble.”
Most Badass Moment: “I mean beating cancer is pretty badass,” Crenn acknowledges, adding she hopes her accomplishments inside and outside the kitchen inspire a whole new generation of badasses. “I want my legacy to be, wow she was a woman that really cared about others and dedicated her life to make sure that this world was a better world.” We'd say she's well on her way to that goal.