Chef Dominique Crenn Balances Michelin Status and Community Support

The culinary tour de force and Rebel Chef author on the Restaurant Act, Rethink Food NYC, what she’s eating, and pivoting during the pandemic.

As the only female chef in America to be awarded three Michelin stars, for her San Francisco–based Atelier Crenn, the French-raised culinary tour de force with a penchant for vintage Chanel and flat caps evokes the heart and soul of an artist, describing her cuisine as “poetic culinaria.” Having managed kitchens from Jakarta, Indonesia, to Manhattan Beach, Calif., before earning her first Michelin star at San Francisco’s Luce in 2009, the best-selling Rebel Chef author recently collaborated at Manresa in Los Gatos, Calif., The Farmhouse at Ojai Valley Inn, and The Montage Los Cabos, where her Casa Crenn kicks off on June 15, 2021.

When she’s not creating James Beard Award–winning dishes with colleagues, or appearing on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, Crenn is supporting charitable organizations such as José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen. This passionate and tireless humanitarian also shares her home in the Bay Area with her two children and her partner, actress Maria Bello. CSQ caught up with Crenn during the last quarter of 2020.

How are you navigating your restaurants in San Francisco during the pandemic?

My restaurants pivoted several times this past year, along with the millions of other small business owners around the world. We were closed down for both indoor and outdoor dining so we are offering takeout options.

This has certainly hit the hospitality industry hard. How have you personally pivoted during this time?

I think the key for me is to always remember what matters most—love and humanity and taking care of one another. If we don’t forget that, we will succeed.

Are you still working with Rethink Food NYC?

Petit Crenn is currently working in partnership with Rethink and Glide to provide 2,000 meals per week for the San Francisco homeless community at risk for hunger. We will continue to feed the community during the need.

What would you like to see the government do in terms of helping the restaurant industry?

I would like to see our politicians pass the Restaurants Act to give support to small businesses. We have been very patient until now, waiting for support from those who are forcing us to close our doors. We support their decisions with regard to keeping the community safe but our options are very limited right now and people need help. [Editor’s note: A significantly smaller version of the original Restaurants Act was included in the larger relief bill passed in late February by the House. As of this writing, Senate approval is still pending.] 

With today’s catch, at Montage Los Cabos. Photo: Montage Los Cabos

Do you see any silver linings for the restaurant industry post-pandemic?

I hope that we realize the importance of community and continue to support one another.

The Montage in Los Cabos is one of our favorite properties. Why did you choose this spot for the 10-year celebration of Atelier Crenn?

First of all, Los Cabos is incredible and the Montage resort is truly one of a kind. Juan Contreras, my pastry chef and business partner of 14 years, was born in Mexico. For the 10-year anniversary of Atelier Crenn, I wanted to do something different that would celebrate him and his heritage. In addition to this, I hope it’s an amazing experience for my team, and I plan to celebrate them during our time there, as well.

What do you have planned for the menu?

The menu will consist of classic Atelier dishes that are highlighted with local Mexican produce and influence. Guests can expect to receive the complete Atelier Crenn experience in a new and exciting location.

As the first female chef to earn three Michelin-stars in the U.S., do you feel a responsibility to make sure other women are recognized in your industry and can claim their seat at the table?

Of course, I want to be a voice for women everywhere and I want them to know that anything is possible if you believe in yourself. I love what Kamala Harris recently said: “I might be the first, but I won’t be the last.”

A culinary creation by Chef Dominique Crenn, at Montage Los Cabos. Photo: Montage Los Cabos

How has your upbringing in Brittany formed your professional culinary choices today?

Growing up in Brittany was amazing. My parents owned a farm so I grew up eating a lot of vegetables. And of course, Brittany is by the sea so there was amazing seafood available all the time. I think this is why I was drawn to San Francisco and California, in a way. I love having that connection to the land and the sea.

What are some of your go-to favorite meals to cook at home with your family at your organic Sonoma farm?

I love eating vegetables and they’re so good for you! I often just enjoy simple roasted vegetables and of course, I love cheese and rosé!

You bravely came forward with a breast cancer diagnosis just last year. Did this change your diet, cooking, or lifestyle habits in any way?

Oh definitely, after my diagnosis, I realized that I need to take care of my body better. Food is medicine and I really believe that. My diet is mostly vegetarian and includes some fish. I just feel better when I eat that way, and it’s better for the environment too, which is important.

When we can return to eating at restaurants, what are some of your favorite spots in Los Angeles and New York for a special meal?

My favorite restaurants are those that are owned by my friends. Eating and drinking with them, no matter what the menu, is the best. A few of my favorites [in San Francisco] are Che Fico and Saison.

In New York, I love everything at Pastis, but my favorite is to sit at the bar, eat oysters, and drink rosé. The Library at Nomad, the caviar set is amazing!

In L.A., Pizzeria Mozza for the squash and bacon pizza. Alta in West Adams—Daniel [Patterson] is my good friend so I love just visiting with him. You have to try his fried chicken and burger.


Top: Chef Dominique Crenn, at Montage Los Cabos. Photo: Montage Los Cabos.