Life Lessons with Dominique Crenn

In our new series, famous names from across the worlds of wine, spirits and gastronomy share their innermost secrets. First up: three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn of San Francisco's Atelier Crenn

Words by Club Oenologique Editors

Dominique Crenn
Photo by Jordan Wise

Dominique Crenn is the co-owner and chef of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, where she made history in November 2018 as the first female chef in the US to receive three Michelin stars. Born in 1965 in Brittany, France, she headed to San Francisco in her mid-20s and worked for two years at the renowned restaurant Stars. She then moved to Indonesia to head the kitchen at the Jakarta Intercontinental, returning to California after a decade and earning her first Michelin star at the San Francisco Intercontinental in 2009.

In 2011 she opened Atelier Crenn, and four years later launched her second restaurant in the city, Petit Crenn – “an ode to the home cooking of Brittany”. Both restaurants were featured in the second season of the Netflix series Chef’s Table. In 2018 she launched Bar Crenn, themed around the idea of the Parisian salon, which was awarded one Michelin star in November of that year.

In 2018, Crenn was awarded Best Chef: West by the James Beard Foundation, and in 2019 Atelier Crenn was named no.35 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. In the same year, she became engaged to ER and NCIS actress Maria Bello.

Her next venture is Boutique Crenn, set to open later in 2020 at the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. This space aims to “challenge the definition of fast-fine dining,” a spokesperson says, by providing customers “not only with the best in food, wine, and coffee, but also with fashion and art”. The various elements will be tied together by a thread of sustainability, the spokesperson added.

Dominique Crenn
Dominique Crenn made history at Atelier Crenn as the first female chef in the US to receive three Michelin stars. Photo by Jordan Wise

What was your childhood ambition?
To be a soccer player, photographer and the girlfriend of Olivia Newton-John. I was a loner and played sports, but all I really wanted to be was a photographer.

What do wish you’d known when you were 21?
I wish I knew more about mathematics. It’s something very practical that I wish I had understood more while I was at school.

What exercise do you do?
Recently I’ve taken up boxing with a private trainer; I also really enjoy going on hikes.

What is the character trait you most wish you could change in yourself?
I wouldn’t change anything about myself, but I do want to continue to learn about who I am and better myself.

What is the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought (aside from property)?
Artwork. My house is full of beautiful pieces of art, many by my friend Lucky Rapp, whose artwork is also featured in our restaurants.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why?
Just a place where I would be allowed to breathe, to be calm, and to take in beauty. I don’t want to name one specific place and have other countries or cities feel left out but I love a tropical island setting, like Grand Cayman for Eric Ripert’s Cayman Cookout.

If you could do any other job what would it be?

Whitney Houston
Crenn's music collection consists mostly of Whitney Houston records

What luxury item would you take with you to a desert island?
My music collection (mainly Nina Simone and Whitney Houston).

What haven’t you yet achieved that you want to?
I want to volunteer more. I want to be more active in giving back to the community.

If you were king or queen of the world, what’s the first law you would enact?
I would declare that every child having food on their table and a roof over their head was a basic human right to be protected and enforced by law.

Whom would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
Greta Thunberg, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, members of local movements like Glide, sustainable farmers, and lots of children.

Greta Thunberg
Climate activist Greta Thunberg and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would be the guests of honour at Crenn's dream dinner party

What’s your guilty pleasure?

What’s your secret talent?
I know every word to every Whitney Houston song.

When were you happiest?
Right now.

Whom do you most admire?
I admire lots of people the moment I meet them. People who can teach me something I don’t know.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“It’s not your aptitude but your attitude that defines your altitude.”

I know every word to every Whitney Houston song

What’s your greatest regret?
I don’t have regrets, I take those moments and use them as a platform to learn from.

What’s your current favourite box-set, TV programme or podcast?
I’m really into documentaries, like How To Make A Murderer. Not because I’m interested in the crime, but I’m interested in the conditions that led up to it, the failures of our system. I also listen to a lot of political podcasts.

What’s your most treasured possession?
My chihuahua Maximus.

What time do you go to bed?
1 a.m.