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    Modernism, Michelin, and Making History at Atelier Crenn

    by Katherine Sacks
    Antoinette Bruno
    September 2013

    Restaurant

    Dominque Crenn’s platings are still-life stories. But what’s more interesting than a fairytale vignette is the mind of Crenn herself and the flavors and textures she weaves to transport her guests through time and space, using their own taste buds as a conduit. Crenn is a chef, a conjurer, a tinkerer, a student of life, and an artist. Her restaurant is also multidimensional, aptly called Atelier Crenn, meaning “Crenn’s Workshop” in French. There she leads a dedicated team of artisans in the development and execution of her vision.

    Wild Garden: Roasted Carrot Sorbet, Pickled Carrot Chips, Dehydrated Baby Carrots, Shaved Mullet, Freeze-dried Coconut, Coconut Foam, Saffron Rutabaga Foam, and Aloe Vera Gel

    Wild Garden: Roasted Carrot Sorbet, Pickled Carrot Chips, Dehydrated Baby Carrots, Shaved Mullet, Freeze-dried Coconut, Coconut Foam, Saffron Rutabaga Foam, and Aloe Vera Gel

    Birth: Duck Consommé, Puffed Wild Rice, Vanilla Pudding, Curry-Apple Pudding, Pickled Bay Mushrooms, Chocolate-Porcini Branches, and Corn Silk Nest

    Birth: Duck Consommé, Puffed Wild Rice, Vanilla Pudding, Curry-Apple Pudding, Pickled Bay Mushrooms, Chocolate-Porcini Branches, and Corn Silk Nest

    Smoked Hamachi Belly, Caviar, Lardo, Celery-Apple Sorbet, and Beet Crustacean Broth

    Smoked Hamachi Belly, Caviar, Lardo, Celery-Apple Sorbet, and Beet Crustacean Broth

    Chef Dominique Crenn of <em>Atelier Crenn</em>

    Chef Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn

    Crenn’s written menus are often expressed as poems. For her, the poetry is as personal as her approach to food: “I think it’s about being naked, and being in front of people, about transparency and authenticity, and the message you want to give the [guest]. It has to come from within. It’s a dialogue with the food; it’s an amazing way of communicating.” This conversation on a plate—whether it is a “bird’s nest” of corn silk and chocolate-porcini branches or carrot and coconut in rutabaga-grapefruit broth—has dramatically altered since Crenn jumped into the kitchen in the late 1980s.

    “I struggled for many years doing other things with my cooking. I asked myself, ‘Do you open a bistro, doing food that you eat every day or do you go full force?’ I’m very happy to have done it this way. It’s a struggle, but I think it’s worth it.”

    Crenn, who has worked everywhere from Jakarta to Manhattan Beach, planted roots in San Francisco and opened Atelier Crenn in 2011. She attracted and curated a staff, including 2013 San Francisco Rising Star Pastry Chef Juan Contreras, to collaborate in her workshop. Their goal: to design transcendent dining experiences.

    “Restaurant work can be a bit monotonous; you go to work and do the same thing over and over again. I want people to come every day and just be excited about what is next and always want to work on something new.” Crenn recently returned to her workshop from an excursion to thePacific Northwestand workshopped a dessert of wild berries and 20 different native herbs. “I went with an empty canvas. I didn’t go there with any recipe or a plan. It could be a bit scary when you try to design a dish like this, but it’s so rewarding because your creativity is let loose. If you fail, it doesn’t matter, it’s just amazing to do it.”

    Crenn found her trip fortifying and stimulating but is wary of staying away from her restaurant for too long. “I don’t want to be one of those chefs that people say ‘She’s never there.’ It’s about inspiration, and getting to meet with other chefs, but you have to be careful [with your time.]”

    Crenn is bringing her singled-minded artistry and specialized techniques, her organic shapes, forms, and colors, and most importantly, her exuberance to ICC. Vegetable jerky is one such technique she’s been working on and is eager to share with her peers on the Main Stage at Pier 57 inManhattan. She recognizes that, “not everyone needs to do this kind of food, not everyone is that kind of chef,” but looks forward to demonstrating her passion and her process.

    It’s the soulful cuisine at Atelier Crenn that has put Crenn on the ICC Main Stage and under the national spotlight. She made history when she became the first woman chef working in the United States to earn two Michelin stars. “I really believe that America, maybe San Francisco, will be on top of the culinary world in 10 years. I love New York. I love Chicago. But I can see it, I can feel it, I live it in San Francisco.”

    Witness the audacious modern artist and fearless food provocateur at ICC 2013: Guts and Glory—leaving it all on the line. Once upon a time, at an ICC demo …