“Food is life and my kitchen is like this: life on the plate.” That is the motto of the chef Dominique Crenn (Versailles, 56 years old), awarded by The World’s 50 Best as Icon of gastronomy. This new award, which José Andrés received in 2019, recognizes the trajectory of an influential person, a model for his colleagues. In 2016 she was declared the World’s Best Cook by the 50 Best. But she, self-taught in the kitchen, says: “I do not believe in perfection, but in evolution.”
Crenn, of Moroccan origin, was born in France, but his professional career is linked to the United States, to the city of San Francisco, where he has cemented his fighter and vitalist personality, defender of sustainability and healthy food, of roots in the environment, of the rights of women, hospitality workers and the LGTBI community. She is the author of the books Atelier Crenn. Sabo metamorphosisr y Rebel Chef. In search of what matters. She has given talks at Harvard, at TED, is part of the international advisory council of the Basque Culinary Center and is very combative, as well as funny, on her social networks.
With Atelier Crenn, a showcase for her “culinary poetics” concept, she has managed to be the first female chef with a two-star restaurant in the US and then the first with three, brilliance she has maintained since 2018. At Atelier Crenn she doesn’t serve meat (just like than in his local Petit Crenn, now focused on food for the needy). Her modern craft menus feature seafood and vegetables from her Sonoma, California farm, Blue Bell Farm. In Antwerp, the city where the gala of the best restaurants in the world was held, Dominique Crenn received his award between ovations and showed, accompanied by his partner, the actress Maria Bello, his contagious sympathy and a strength that has made him overcome with optimism a breast cancer.
Question. In 2019 he had a hard time when he was diagnosed with the disease. How has your life changed?
Answer. Wow! It has changed me in many ways. Some days I think I died and was reborn. I feel very transformed. I no longer take anything for granted. Before cancer I felt invincible and never thought about slowing down my pace or what it might mean if one day I died. I was on top all the time. It went from hovering like a hummingbird to sleeping; nothing in between. Now I take things slower, I know how to stop and I spend time with Max, my dog, with my partner or just with myself. I try not to go into overdrive and make every moment one to enjoy. And I like. I think I hear more, see more, and feel more. Life is no longer a race but a walk.
P. Has stability with your partner influenced this desire for calm?
R. My partner is wonderful. She is strong, she is creative and smart, and she is beautiful. It pushes me along paths that make me look inside myself in a way that I had not considered before. It makes me grow and is teaching me to get involved in a different way. We both want to live an extraordinary life and we are making efforts side by side to build that life together.
P. You received the award for the best cook in the world, which still stands today. Do women cooks still need gender awards?
R. My first answer is no. However, as long as there is no real equality between men and women, we continue to need a specific category not only to open our own space, but also to draw attention and to provoke a debate on the situation of inequality and see everything that still needs to be done. to change it. Maybe it would be necessary to consider why not create an award for the best chef man? That would bring up issues of discussion and why we all have to conform to a predominantly male regulation.
P. His autobiographical book is titled Rebel Chef Do you have to be a rebel to be successful?
R. Not everyone has to rebel to be successful if they follow the the status quo or if no effort is required. I had to create spaces where I could be and find my way into places where others would not allow me to be there. So I have had to be what society calls a rebel. And I think I could call this attitude other ways: disruptive, questioning, pushing, asking, asking, demanding, requiring, reimagining … All these words work to make conventional society look at itself. Of course, when you talk to the editors of the book they don’t want to title it with 10 words. That is why we are looking for a term that encompasses all these meanings and efforts. Remember that I am mestizo, an immigrant gay French woman with no traditional culinary training working in a field dominated by heterosexual white men trained in the culinary arts. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, would I have found a place in that space if I had not rebelled?
P. It is clear that the rebellion has served him, and he does not stop fighting. She is a social activist cook. In 50 Best they have precisely highlighted “their leadership, humanity, inspiration and tireless campaign against injustices inside and outside the hospitality industry.”
R. The community feeds those who feed it. I am very happy to hear that I inspire others. To inspire is to breathe life in and the idea that I breathe life into other people makes me feel that what I do is worthwhile. And at the same time I feel that I breathe life all the time. My community is my source to do everything I do. My partner, my girls, my team, my extended family, my clients, and those who surround me and make me who I am.
P. During the pandemic, it has served the needy vegetables-based meals and eliminated meat from its restaurants. And one of his complaints has been against the system of the intensive meat industry. Does this have to change?
R. The meat issue has always been an issue to avoid for many chefs. I don’t think there is any chef who likes meat factories; However, meat has always been part of the gastronomic activity and we have had little time to stop and think about where our meat products came from. Chefs like Alice Waters began to consider a kitchen based on vegetables years ago and now this plant commitment has extended to eliminate meat from the menus. But now the restaurant clientele is also becoming more aware of the reality of intensive livestock farming, of industrial farms, and is aware of the health effects of a diet based mainly on meat. The clients themselves ask us chefs to prepare a different meal. This allows us to work less with animals and be very creative with non-meat foods. I love this not only because of the challenge, but because it intensifies our creativity when preparing vegetables to a high level. When you use meat in some way you support the industry and I don’t want to work with that anguish. I live with an animal that I adore, my dog Maximus, and it is very hard for me not to see that soulful soul in cows, pigs, chickens, ducks … I think a great change is coming on this meat front and we will work with companies that strive to produce without animal abuse.