INTERVIEW – The three-star French chef in San Francisco has confirmed his participation in the M6 gastronomic competition. She challenges the contestants to seafood.
At 56, Dominique Crenn is one of the most recognized chefs in the world. She is the first to receive three stars in the United States with her restaurant Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. However, the French chef has had an atypical career. As an autodidact, she flew to the United States after graduating from business school. On the spot she managed, with nerves of steel, to get hired in the kitchen by a very big name. She trained there before going to Indonesia and becoming the country’s first female chef. She returned to the United States, where she opened a restaurant that earned her recognition throughout the profession. Well known across the Atlantic – she is married to actress Maria Bello (“Emergencies”) – who sees herself more as an artist than a chef, has agreed to return to Top Chef (she had previously competed in the Kitchen of M6 in 2015). She shares this experience and tells us about her philosophy in the kitchen and in life.
TV MAGAZINE. – Why did you agree to travel the world to take part in Top Chef?
Dominique CRENN. – I came in 2015 and meet my friends there. Above all, the French version of “Top Chef” is of much higher quality than the American one. I find it interesting and important that young chefs see something different than what French chefs are offering in France. It opens up other horizons, a different vision and creativity. By getting on the show, I may have helped the contestants change their perspective and approach. French cuisine is great, but it’s a unique journey, you have to get out of what you do every day. A chef should always be curious. It is by discovering flavors unfamiliar to them that great chefs advance and evolve. In the kitchen there is technology, but no law, it is art, emotion.
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You asked the candidates to work with seafood, why this choice?
My mother is from Brittany and for me the sea is mystery, beauty, everything. It’s not an easy subject because I didn’t expect the candidates to just cook a fish or shellfish, but also to understand the ecosystem and history of that product. Me, when there is a fish or a shellfish on a plate, I want to taste it and taste its history. And then it’s not easy to cook seafood because if you overcook it, if you don’t season it or don’t give it the right flavor, it can become difficult.
What do you think of the candidates?
They have a great level but I felt their plates contained a little too much classic. I needed to be surprised because I like to surprise people. There is one participant who surprised me and whose dish made me think. It was a taste bomb. When a chef surprises you, it’s super exciting.
Returning to Top Chef seven years after the first time, have you noticed an evolution?
The main development is that the production is now inviting chefs who come from abroad and this brings something different to the show.
Do you know the four jurors?
Hélène Darroze is a friend and I know Glenn Viel and Paul Pairet very well, Philippe Etchebest a little less. It was great to see them and the atmosphere is very nice.
What advice would you give these young chefs?
I want to tell them that cooking is not about technique. You can learn this every day, but learning to cook means getting into a feeling, into a story, looking at and being interested in nature and the ecosystem. I come back from the Colombian Amazon Rainforest where I worked with the native Indians who have had their own cuisine, their fermentations, for thousands of years. Cooking is that people look at nature and nature gives people ideas for cooking. I think chefs need that. I want candidates to see a product as a paint and the plate as a whiteboard and succeed in creating a harmonious painting. In general, I think chefs need to be a little more sensitive. Sometimes I feel like they act like robots.
Nature seems to be very important to you. How do you deal with the products?
I have a farm where we grow many things. I also work with plants native to California. I meet farmers who have different products, but also people who go to the forest or fish. I have a lot of information. If I cook you an abalone, it will be a taste explosion, but it will mostly be abalone on the plate. As we say in the United States, “less is more”. We need to stop packing too many things into one dish. In the kitchen we don’t cover, we uncover.
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Only one woman remains in the competition. You paved the way by becoming the first chef to earn two and then three stars in the United States. What message would you like to convey to young girls who are reluctant to enter this profession?
They are not the problem, they are the leaders. Even if we speak of an evolution, the discourse of the latter hardly changes, it always applies: “I don’t know if I’ll hire women because they want to start a family”… I find it terrible! Leaders need to change their minds. If women want to work, they can come to my house, I welcome them (laughs). In Jakarta I had a 100% female brigade, in my restaurant Petit Crenn I had 80% females and in Atelier Crenn it was equal. I make no difference. Of course, when young people see what is happening in the world in terms of women’s rights, they will be scared to start, but I think we have to keep being strong. If I do what I do, it’s not for the reward, it’s for my two daughters. It’s not about winning stars for me, it’s about helping women and changing things.
You are self-taught, how did your love for cooking come about?
I grew up in a family that loves to cook. My father worked in politics, but his best friend was a food critic Telegram from Brest. So we went to good restaurants. I was immersed in the beauty of French gastronomy. .I wanted to be a photographer, but I didn’t have the right high school diploma to get into the Louis Lumière school… So I went to San Francisco in the United States and wanted to work in the kitchen, but not really in a traditional brigade . I did some research and found Chef Jeremiah Towers, who was an architect and self-taught. So he had a different approach. That’s how I started.
You have three restaurants in the United States, would you like to open a branch in France?
I actually plan to open a restaurant in Paris. I’m not interested in doing three stars. I want to bring something different by offering a cuisine that represents my California a little bit. I don’t have an opening date yet, France is complicated… I was next to Emmanuel Macron during the chefs’ dinner in Lyon and told him that France was too bureaucratic and that she needed to wake up. It’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world and great for gastronomy, fashion and art, but the country doesn’t know how to give way to young people. Otherwise, I also started the “Breaking Bread” initiative to collect donations for the benefit of the Ukrainians. Today, Wednesday May 11, at 6 p.m., I’ll be live with chefs from all over the world on Facebook and YouTube.
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