Chef Dominique Crenn Talks About Her Dialogue Dinners, Book Project and Guy Savoy

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Dominique Crenn. Photo: Molly DeCoudreaux
Dominique Crenn. Photo: Molly DeCoudreaux

Chef Dominique Crenn is just back from a trip to the Omnivore Food Festival in Paris, where she was one of the few Michelin-starred female chefs asked to participate. She is full of inspiration and ideas, and launching a special dialogue dinner for two nights this month at her Atelier Crenn restaurant on March 28 and March 29. This dialogue dinner series kicks-off with a two-night “conversation” between Chef Crenn and Miles Watson of Pure Berlin. Crenn and Watson will take turns composing courses (five from each side) and will collaborate on the final eleventh course. Like Atelier Crenn’s “fiercely modern” French cookery, Pure Berlin is a restaurant and culinary design studio with firm German roots, but fresh gastronomic sensibilities. Tickets are $300, including coursed wine pairings (reduced price of $200 for non-drinking guests); no vegetarian option available.

pure Berlin image courtesy of Atelier Crenn
Pure Berlin image courtesy of Atelier Crenn

Crenn is a native of France and received Michelin stars at Luce in 2010 and 2011. Esquire awarded her Chef of the Year in 2008 and she won Iron Chef America in 2010. Before opening her own restaurant, Crenn worked at Luce, and in Jakarta and Los Angeles. She was a protégé of Jeremiah Tower at the vaunted Stars Restaurant in San Francisco early in her career. Crenn lives in the Duboce Park neighborhood and spoke with Bay Area Bites via phone. She was on her way to eat at Heirloom Café for the first time, after finding the wait line at Mission Chinese Food to be too long.

Why do a dialogue dinner with another chef?
Many times with chefs, it can be all about the ego (laughs). I want to get away from there. I’m starting this dialogue because I want to collaborate with other chefs. I love what we’re doing as chefs, and go online to learn from my peers at Chef’s Talk. With Miles, he’s trying to show people that there’s really something good about German food beyond heavy stuff, like sauerkraut and sausage. It’s his heritage, and he can use a modernist’s touch to the courses. I gave him the freedom to express himself and be what he is. There’s a story on the plate and the menu’s also going to be the story. I want it to be like this: “Tell me who you are, and where you’ve been.” We both cook with local produce but I’ll email him so that he knows what we have in season here. So far, we’ve been in touch via email and I first met him online at Chef’s Talk. I was supposed to meet him at the Omnivore Festival but it didn’t work out.


I’m also talking to John Fraser of Dovetail, the Tippling Club’s Ryan Clift and In De Wulf’s Kobe Desramaults. Right now, I am tentatively scheduled to do a dialogue dinner in June with Carlo Miriarchi of Roberta's Pizza in New York.

What’s going on with your book?
I know Anthony Myint and he comes to the restaurant quite often. His wife Karen Leibowitz and I are writing a book together. I’m excited. It’s going to be called Dialogue, and show the recipes and the people in my life. I’m here to celebrate the people in my life and the world that surrounds me and inspires me. The current idea is to go with a lot of pictures, writing, recipes, and drawings. It’ll be about a dialogue that is global and international.

I thought about the book a long time ago and was talking to my business partner about it before we opened Atelier Crenn. It’s important for me to be able to reach out to the culinary world, and not just San Francisco and New York. It’s important to understand what’s going on in the world and know that cooking has changed. What we put on the plate involves the produce, people, animals and soil around us.

Foie Gras Log
Foie gras “Log.” All Photos courtesy of Atelier Crenn

Ocean and Land - Wagyu Beef and Smoked Sturgeon. Photo: Atelier CrennChef Dominique Crenn prepares vegetables in the Atelier Crenn kitchen. Photo: Atelier CrennChef Dominique Crenn plating ingredients with tweezers. Photo: Atelier Crenn

What was it like meeting your culinary hero, Guy Savoy ?
A friend told him to come eat at Atelier Crenn his first time in San Francisco, and he did. I cooked for him and his girlfriend. He told me to come to his restaurant in Paris, I did and he cooked 14 courses. He treated me like I was a queen. It was so crazy. At this point I don’t care what critics say -- I cooked for Guy Savoy. I just want to cook for my customers and no one else.

What are your favorite food spots?
Commonwealth, where I sit at the bar and hang out. It’s just amazing. I love the flavors and really like the chef, Jason Fox.

My friend opened Sushirrito. There’s a special roll I order there. I don’t want to say it’s crack in my mouth because I’ve never had crack. But it’s pretty intense and just delicious.

When I went to Coi, I was blown away.

Foreign Cinema is another favorite.

I love siphon-style coffee, from Japan. I like to do meetings and see friends at Four Barrel.

What do you do when you’re not working?
We go to Marin a lot, because, my partner’s family is in Kentfield. They have a very beautiful house that’s almost French-style. There’s a wonderful hiking trail nearby. Near Mill Valley, there’s also a big great place to go foraging. We have three dogs that I take with me: Sophie the boxer, Frankie the crazy Chihuahua and Maximus, a lovely tiny dog.

This recipe, WALK IN THE FOREST is a menu staple at Atelier Crenn and changes seasonally.

Recipe: Walk in the Forest. Chef Dominique Crenn. Photo: Atelier Crenn
Chef Dominique Crenn's Recipe: Walk in the Forest. Photo: Atelier Crenn


Pine Meringue
200g sugar
50g water
125 g egg whites
Pine extract

Pumpernickel Soil
5 pieces pumpernickel bread
1 g salt
Hazelnut Praline
200 g blanched filberts
300 g blended oil
Sorrel Oil
4 bu sorrel
150 g blended oil
Foraged Mushrooms
clean wild mushrooms

Mushroom Paper
100 g mushroom puree
50 g isomalt
In a pot combine sugar and water until it reaches 121 degrees Celsius. At the same time in a KitchenAid mixer whip egg whites until medium peak. Combine syrup with the egg whites slowly, then mix at full speed until a stiff peak is formed. While mixer is going add in 7-10 drops of pine extract for flavor.
Toast pumpernickel until completely dried out. In a Robot Coupe, grind bread and salt to make a soil.
Blanch hazelnuts in oil for about 15 minutes. Spin entire contents of the pot in a Vitamix until very smooth, season with salt. Should be the consistency of a very loose peanut butter.
In a Vitamix combine sorrel and oil, then strain through a coffee filter and fine sieve for 24 hours.
Save the bits and pieces from cleaning and trimming your wild mushrooms. Put them in a pot with a little olive oil, thyme, garlic, and shallot. Deglaze with sherry vinegar.

Once mushrooms are cooked, puree in a Vitamix and and season with salt. Use this for garnish on the plate and mushroom paper.

Combine isomalt and puree and bring to a boil. Spread thinly on a sheet of acetate and dehydrate for 8 hours.
Chickpea Paper
100 g chickpea puree
50 g isomalt
Dehydrated Mushrooms
50 g isomalt
100 g water
24 ea thinly sliced wild mushrooms
Boil dried chickpeas until soft, then puree and season with salt. Combine with isomalt and bring to a boil. Spread a thin layer on acetate and dehydrate for 8 hours.

Bring isomalt and water to a boil. Dip mushrooms in solution and set on acetate. Dehydrate for 3 hours until crispy.


Chef Dominique Crenn's Recipe: Walk in the Forest. Photo: Atelier Crenn
Chef Dominique Crenn's Recipe: Walk in the Forest. Photo: Atelier Crenn