The Crenn moment
Chef Dominique Crenn talks food predictions, gender cooking and underdogs.
CHEF Dominique Crenn has a bold prediction about the next big food destination. Give it a few more years, she said, and watch as the United States becomes the next Denmark.
That is, the most exciting and dynamic destination in the culinary world for dining experiences.
In recent years, the rise of New Nordic cuisine and the restaurant Noma – which had been named the world’s best restaurant four times before it shuttered in February – made Denmark the hottest dining destination in the world.
“I predict that in the next few years, America will have the best cuisine in the world,” said Crenn in a phone interview from San Francisco.
“This is such a young country, but through the years, chefs have learned new skills all over the world and come back to create an exciting cuisine, with different flavours and different approaches.”
One of America’s greatest assets, she says, is the country’s lack of culinary identity and its clean slate.
“There are no rules. And when there are no rules, that enables creativity to the highest levels.”
Male versus female cooking
Early in the conversation, it’s clear that Crenn has an aversion for rules. And a particular fondness for underdogs.
Crenn herself works in a male-dominated industry and boasts the title of highest-ranked female chef in the United States, with two Michelin stars for her San Francisco restaurant Atelier Crenn.
Last year, she was named the world’s best female chef by the same people who organise the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, a controversial title that has been criticised as sexist and condescending to female chefs.
While her first instinct was to decline, Crenn says she changed her mind after realising the award’s potential as a platform to inspire younger female chefs.
But the separate distinction given to female chefs leads to the question, “Is there a difference in the way men and women cook?”
Crenn bristles at the notion and is quick to shoot down the idea.
She recalls another article in which a restaurant critic attributed her success to cooking like a man and remembers how incensed she was at the comparison.
“That’s like saying, is there a difference in the way a male pilot and a female pilot fly a plane,” she says.
But flying a plane isn’t an artistic endeavour. Crenn reconsiders the question and wonders aloud if, men and women bring different sensibilities to cooking.
“Perhaps we bring different emotions to cooking,” she says.
“I think women are inclined to look at things with more purpose because of our sensibility. We want things to connect and come together.”
The menu at Atelier Crenn, for instance, is famously known as poetic culinaria, as each dish is accompanied by lines of her own poetry and represents memories from her childhood.
“Every dish is very connected to my own experiences. Perhaps I go deeper in the description and feeling in the dish than a male chef would. But it’s difficult to say.”
Comedy and charity in Crenn’s future
It’s a similar kind of modus operandi Crenn brings to other her other endeavors – one that values connection, purpose, and roots for the underdog.
As one of the jury members who will be choosing this year’s recipient for the Basque Culinary World Prize, Crenn makes it clear the kind of candidate she’ll be favouring, and the kind she’ll be passing over.
“I want this prize to go to someone who doesn’t have a voice. To
Among others, Crenn is working on a comedy show about life as a female chef. — Photos: AFP
Crenn’s work often symbolises ‘the conjunction of art and nature’, like in her Forest dessert.