‘Grace, artistry’ = 3 Michelin stars
Crenn becomes first female chef in U.S. to attain coveted level
Chef Dominique Crenn is officially the crème de la crème.
Bay Area diners and critics have long believed that Crenn’s artistry at Atelier Crenn put her among the ranks of the world’s top chefs. On Thursday, the Michelin Guide made that official: She is the first female chef in the United States to earn three Michelin stars with her restaurant staff.
Make that four stars. Crenn’s newest venture, a wine bar called Bar Crenn, also won a Michelin star.
“Congratulations to my amazing team,” Crenn posted on Instagram, along with footage of her and her staff screaming in jublilation upon receiving the news.
It was a “unanimous decision” by Michelin inspectors to elevate Atelier Crenn to the coveted three- star level, Gwendal Poullennec, Michelin’s international director, said Thursday morning. “The menu displays a balance of grace, artistry, technical ability and taste.”
Although Michelin stars are awarded to the entire restaurant team and not to individual chefs, the news about Crenn is “very inspiring,” he said. She becomes only the sixth woman worldwide to ever achieve this distinction.
“It sends a very posi-
tive message,” Poullennec said. “We hope it will lead to more women operating their own restaurants” and choosing the culinary field as a career.
Crenn’s success capped a big day for Bay Area restaurants and chefs. When these Academy Awards of the fine- dining world were announced, five restaurants — including a new one in Palo Alto — won their first Michelin star, and a Wine Country restaurant was elevated from two to three stars.
All told, 57 Bay Area restaurants received Michelin Guide stars, the highest accolade in the culinary world. It’s the most stars ever for this region.
And Poullennec believes that number will rise in the coming years, noting that the Bay Area has the desirable combination of excellent produce and highly skilled chefs.
“You have plenty of young local talent,” he said. “The story’s not over.”
Among the other headlines in the Michelin news announced Thursday:
• New star in Palo Alto: On the Peninsula, Protégé — a restaurant launched by alumni of Thomas Keller’s three-star French Laundry in the Napa Valley — made an impressive debut, receiving a star just months after presenting its “new American” cuisine to Palo Alto. Master sommelier Dennis Kelly and executive chef Anthony Secviar, the co- owners, have taken a blended approach to this endeavor, with a prix fixe menu in the high- end dining room and a la carte offerings in the restaurant’s lounge and bar.
“The Palo Alto team uses technique and a level of finesse to prepare consistently excellent meals, while the dining experience remains casual and approachable,” the Michelin inspectors said.
Protégé’s star gives the 200 block of California Av- enue a total of three Michelin stars. Baumé, chef Bruno Chemel’s two- star restaurant, sits just across the street.
• Adega loses star: San Jose’s first one-star restaurant, Adega, lost the star it acquired in 2017 and retained in 2018. This familyrun venture in the city’s Little Portugal neighborhood, with chefs David Costa and Jessica Carreira at the helm, was only the second Portuguese restaurant in the United States to be so honored.
“Removing a star is always an extremely difficult decision,” Poullennec said, and especially so in the case of this “charming Portuguese restaurant.” But after multiple visits, he said, “the Michelin inspectors felt it was no longer up to global one-star standards.”
However, Poullennec said, “The Michelin Guide is always very reactive. We will continue to follow (Adega) over the next year.”
• Other losses: Coi in San Francisco dropped a notch, from three stars to two, af- ter a change in chef and menu direction. And Terrapin Creek in Bodega Bay lost its star because the Michelin inspectors thought the food lacked its previous “spark and quality,” Poullennec said.
• Another “three” in Wine Country: Besides Atelier Crenn, the other newcomer to the three- star ranks was Single-Thread in Healdsburg. This unusual farm- restaurant- inn endeavor by chef Kyle Connaughton and farmer-wife Katina Connaughton made news last year by jumping onto the list at the two-star level. This year, Michelin called it a “powerhouse project,” thanks to that local produce and “exceptionally refined cuisine.”
• Success begets success: Two of this year’s one-star newcomers are helmed by chefs who cut their teeth at other Michelin restaurants. At Nico in San Francisco’s Financial District, the Paris-trained Nicolas Delaroque blends French technique with California ingredients in a bistro set- ting. He previously worked with Crenn and Manresa’s David Kinch. He met his chef de cuisine, Reina Talanoa, while the two were working at Manresa. Across town in the SoMa neighborhood, chef Christopher Bleidorn’s experience at Atelier Crenn and Saison informs the menu at Birdsong, a restaurant with Northwest-inspired cuisine.
• Bay Area’s top stars still shine: The highest-rated restaurants in the South Bay, East Bay and on the Peninsula retained their star status levels in the 2018 guide, including David Kinch’s three-star Manresa in Los Gatos, James Syhabout’s two- star Commis in Oakland and Bruno Chemel’s two-star Baumé in Palo Alto.
• Seven of Silicon Valley’s one- star restaurants also retained their stars: Chez TJ ( Mountain View), Madera ( Menlo Park), Plumed Horse (Saratoga), Rasa ( Burlingame), Sushi Yoshizumi (San Mateo), the Village Pub ( Woodside) and Wakuriya (San Mateo).
• Veteran chef’s solo venture: Also new to the onestar list is Madcap in Marin County’s San Anselmo. It’s the first solo venture from chef Ron Siegel, a Bay Area veteran whose résumé spans three decades of top Bay Area restaurants, including Aqua, Charles Nob Hill, the French Laundry, the Ritz- Carlton and Michael Mina. Still, he may be best known as the first American chef to beat an “Iron Chef” on the original show. His menu, not surprisingly, combines American, Japanese and French influences.
• Take that, New York: The number of threestar awards gives the Bay Area bragging rights yet again. Last year, the region bested New York City, long seen as its rival in the dining world, with seven of the top awards vs. five for New York restaurants. This year, New York held steady at five while the Bay Area increased its count to eight.
Dominique Crenn’s success capped big day for Bay Area chefs.