A Chat with Chef Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn, the chef/owner of two Michelin starred Atelier Crenn of San Francisco, focuses on cuisine as a craft and the community as an inspiration.

Crenn’s parents had a strong influence on her interest and love for the culinary arts. She began her formal culinary training when she moved to San Francisco in 1988 to work at Stars, under luminaries Jeremiah Tower and Mark Franz. In 2011, Crenn opened Atelier Crenn, a deeply personal project, where her heritage and ode to “poetic culinaria” is embodied through the whimsical creations she shares with her guests. Atelier Crenn received its first Michelin Star in 2011, and its second Michelin Star in 2012. Crenn was awarded World’s Best Female Chef in 2016 by San Pellegrino’s 50 Best, and continues to be an active member of the international culinary community, to promote innovation, sustainability, and equality, through her collaboration with Basque Culinary Center, TasTAFE, and others.
At Cayman Cookout 2018, Chef Crenn sat with us for a brief chat.
CIDOT: Chef, on behalf of the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism. Welcome to the Cayman Islands. Thank you for taking the time to sit down with us and our worldwide audience. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.
What goes into putting together a such as team of special team of individuals that surrounds your talents and complements everything that you do?

DC: Well at first, it’s not easy to put the team together. It takes a long time. To make sure you are bringing in the right people that align with your philosophy. The culinary world is big and young chefs sometimes forget where they come from. When they’re getting into company they say “I’m going do this, this and this” and then egos start to fly around. I had to really, really think about the people I wanted to be associated with. It took me a few years to clean up the house. It doesn’t mean that they’re not good people it’s just they didn’t align with who we are. It must gel. And when it does, it’s a space for us to give also the opportunity of people that are working with us to be able to go. That’s why we wanted to create this place where we have one restaurant and another one, and another. But they all are in sync with each other. If there’s an opportunity for someone to come with and work with us -remember it’s not work for us, its work for us. And to be able to have a platform of where to go. Now, I have an amazing team and have been attracting also amazing people. So I’m grabbing them to become a part of the company which is amazing. I love it. I’m learning so much and I feel blessed. It’s humbling to really have the number of people from wine, to service to cooking. They’re here and they want to be part if this. It’s humbling. It’s wonderful.

CIDOT: What are some of the differences with your first restaurant Atelier Crenn and your follow-ups Petit Crenn and Bar Creen?

DC: Atelier Crenn for many years was the pillar of my best. It was a part of me that was very important. Petit Crenn was a continuation of celebrating the women in my wife -my mother and grandmother. The everyday cooking and learning. Bar Crenn is an extension to a wine bar and celebrating French gastronomy. I’m part of the story. Bar Crenn is a place to a have a beautiful glass of wine. Petit Crenn will be a place where I can think. Every restaurant has a connection of the story, of who I am.  I’m not going to open a Chinese restaurant because I don’t know anything about Chinese food. I think it’s just wonderful and there’s great chefs that can do that. For me, it needs to be connected to my childhood and my story.

CIDOT: With the advent of social media and how culinary is presented and celebrated today, has technology been a blessing or a curse to the field where food and drink is carefully photographed, tagged then shared to a worldwide audience.

DC: Technology is an amazing tool. But we have to be aware that it can be also be used in different ways and affect the activity of what we’re trying to do. I believe in balance. People want to take pictures, and I’m not against that. But if you come to Atelier Crenn, you come to have an experience. You don’t just come to take just take 3000 pictures and put on social media. Did you test it? Did you enjoy your experience? Or do you want to just say, “hey I was there” and brag. We have to be respectful and respect the time to enjoy it.

CIDOT: The Cayman Islands is widely known as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean, many of our visitors travel to enjoy the wide offerings and unique experiences our more than 200 restaurants showcase. We’re seeing more and more that culinary is not only A reason to travel but THE reason. What are some tips you might offer for those traveling to a destination specifically to experience a region’s or destination’s culinary arts?

DC: When I got to place that I don’t know, I want to learn more what’s happening, the picture and the food. Ask a lot of questions. In the Cayman Islands, I’m talking to people that work here. Try to understand where they come from and the food here. I was asking questions to the driver about the story of the Cayman Islands and how it was discovered, the natural resources and the cooking. It’s a melting pot here and influences become part of the culture.

CIDOT: The Cookout schedule is pretty robust. Will you have any time for rest & relaxtion? Do you have any plans or wishes to experience the other offerings outside of culinary in the Cayman Islands?

DC: I want to go scuba diving. I would love to go diving.  And find things to discover. The water, the nature. See the turtles. It’s a beautiful island.

CIDOT: Thank you Chef, enjoy your stay and your Cayman Cookout experience. We hope to welcome you back real soon!

DC: You’re very welcome. My pleasure.