Dominique Crenn: “Now we have the opportunity to lead change.”
Our exclusive interview with Dominique Crenn, first woman to earn three Michelin stars in the United States and ambassador of SIAL Paris 2020.
SIAL Paris 2020 will be under the sign of change, with the theme “Own The Change, Transitions, Reinventions & Global responsibility in the food industry”. What does this theme inspire in you?
Owning the change is so important right now. Those words in particular resonate with me. We have to acknowledge that the food industry for so long was not a planet-friendly business. We created so much waste, we used so much plastic… now we have the opportunity to lead change. We have the opportunity to show people in their homes how to make better decisions, whether it’s the ingredients they’re using to how they shop, how they behave as consumers. Because we have had to make those decisions in the restaurant world.
Was this theme a factor in your choice to become ambassador of SIAL Paris 2020?
I would be lying if I said it wasn’t because I love Paris. I do! California has been my home for so long now, but coming back to Paris is always so emotional, it brings me such joy. And I love seeing all of the innovation going on in the food industry in California, but I think it’s still extremely important to watch what’s happening in France. I still consider myself a French chef, of course!
What do you think of the growing involvement of the chefs in favour of the consumption of local, seasonal products, and for some to embark on the bet of cooking without animal material or at least bowing to “flexitarianism”.
I think we’re returning to our origins. Cooking seasonally, not using too much meat… that’s the original way of doing things. Buying strawberries grown in a hot house in the middle of December, or expecting to have meat every day or for every meal, that only started a generation or so ago, and it was driven by consumerism. When you look at the history of food, the history of cooking, people adapted and made delicious food out of what was available to them. And so many delicious, classic dishes were born this way.
You have created your own “Bleu Belle” farm. Can you tell us a bit more about this project?
You know, my team and I, we’re constantly thinking about steps towards sustainability. We talk the talk but we know we have to walk the walk. And having a farm where we could source local We’re constantly thinking about steps towards sustainability, seasonal produce seemed like an obvious step to take, especially in our region of California which is perfect for agriculture. Chefs like Dan Barber have really inspired so many of us to take this step because there’s this perfect cycle made between the restaurant and the farm. You receive produce, you compost want you can’t use, you take the compost back to the farm… having the farm has been a huge step in making our restaurants waste-free.
On a personal level, which changes would you like to implement or pursue in the years to come, and why?
I love a good vegan meal. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I need a burger, but I’ve enjoyed experimenting with vegan recipes. There are little vegan options I’ve added to my daily routine, like using cashew milk or other dairy alternatives for my coffee. I also made sure to keep my kitchen at home small. I have the tiniest little refrigerator, a little pink mini-fridge. This pushes me to only buy what I need, to stock up on less and therefore waste less. I never want to use another to-go coffee cup again… these are all small changes but they add up. Depending less on animal products, creating less waste… that makes a difference.
Do you think our feeding behavior will have changed following COVID-19?
The world of food is changing in so many ways, and I think this change is positive. We are going to re-think so many given concepts like fine dining and start to prioritize health and nutrition above all. It is more important than ever before to support our farmers … They have been providing us with the nourishing, healthful food we need day after day, crisis or not. They are essential and all our efforts in the future need to be devoted to protecting and celebrating them.
SIAL Paris is an international trade show that targets a 73% international audience and 87% international exhibitors. Do you distinguish yourself in your kitchen by cosmopolitan influences? Do you consider that your French or breton origins strongly influence your cuisine?
My biggest influence in the kitchen is memory. The first dish you taste at Atelier Crenn is called a Kir Breton. It’s an amuse-bouche, just a little bite you pop in your mouth that tastes of cider and creme de cassis. But I didn’t put this on my menu to show off my Breton origins (even though I’m proud of them!). I created it from the memory of my parents serving Kir Breton at dinner parties. I have other dishes associated with eating Fish and Chips in England, traveling through Japan, sharing oysters and rose with friends… they’re not associated with a nationality, they’re associated with my favorite experiences.
What fundamental differences would you make between the expectations of customers of gourmet restaurants in France and the USA or in the world?
Ha! What a question… so French! Being American or French or whatever nationality doesn’t matter… I think there are customers who expect gourmet restaurants to be old-school, stuffy, silent, classic… you take a sip of water and someone runs to refill your glass. Then there are guests who are ready to be in dialogue with the chef. They understand food and service are forms of language. They leave their expectations at the door and are ready to be surprised. Both kinds of customers exist in every country in the world.
On the strength of your international career, what is your current vision of French food?
Walking around Paris, I see evolution. I see people experimenting with new cuisines or creating more vegetarian options. Some time ago, if you asked for a vegetarian dish, they brought a cheese platter. But this new generation is excited about what the world has to offer. They love their French origins but they want to break out of the mold.
SIAL Paris and its network (Jakarta, Abu Dhabi, Montreal, Shanghai, New Delhi, Toronto) have as their signature “Inspire Food Business”. Is the inspiration coming from trends, or does it come from new encounters, travels?
Not from trendstrends. People, travel, literature, art, music… that’s where I get my inspiration from.
Personally, based on what criteria do you choose your products?
Sustainability and ethics are the new luxury. I don’t care how delicious the caviar, how expensive the champagne… if the people behind these products did not think of the effect they were having on the planet, I don’t want it.
What is your favorite food ? Your favorite drink?
It used to be oysters and rose wine. But I’ve been thinking of my health lately. I’ve been drinking lots of organic tea. I’ve been making delicious pasta at home alongside a beautiful salad.
What inspires you on a daily basis?
My team. My daughters. My love. My family.