Chef Dominique Crenn: 'Everything I Do Could Have ... Impact' For Other Women : The Salt In a restaurant world dominated by men, Crenn recently became the first female chef in the U.S. awarded three Michelin stars. It's "showing young girls you can achieve a lot in your life," she says.

Chef Dominique Crenn: 'Everything I Do Could Have ... Impact' For Other Women

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I was on assignment in San Francisco recently, and it involved some food tasting.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: So this is Chef Crenn's brioche served with a little bit of cultured butter and sea salt. It's her grandmother's recipe. What's amazing about the brioche is it's actually the one unifying item across all three restaurants, so Petit Crenn, Bar Crenn and Atelier Crenn.

GREENE: All of those restaurants are owned by Dominique Crenn, who wasn't surprised at all when I told her how good that bread was.

DOMINIQUE CRENN: I love brioche. When it's, like, warm and buttery, it's delicious. And it's so luscious and I will say luxurious that you feel so connected to the person that make the bread.

GREENE: I was chatting with the French-born chef shortly after she got some news. Her restaurant, Atelier Crenn, was given three stars by the Michelin Guide. That is seen by some as the highest honor in the culinary world. And what's more, of all the chefs in the U.S. to get three stars from Michelin, Dominique Crenn is the first woman.

CRENN: We were not seeking it. We don't seek those thing. It's what we do with it that matters, you know? - doesn't mean that we are better than others.

CRENN: But she does think this gives her a better platform now to inspire women in an industry largely dominated by men. Dominique Crenn says she has seen slow progress making kitchens more diverse and building respect for women there. She's made her own way up in the San Francisco restaurant scene since moving here from France in her 20s.

CRENN: When I start to work in a kitchen, there's not a lot of women that were working. And I didn't try to pay attention to that. But I knew there was something that - I had to work harder than others. And I was a bit pick on sometime, but I'm a very strong person. Nobody touched me.

GREENE: Picked on, like, the chef with...

CRENN: I will cut them.


GREENE: Did you face people who thought you were moving quickly because you're a woman?

CRENN: Yeah. There's one guy. I remember him. I'm not going to say his name. He was very short. I called him Napoleon.

GREENE: (Laughter) He's, like, a fellow cook in the...

CRENN: Yeah.

GREENE: What did you tell him?

CRENN: You know, I've never been aggressive to anyone. But I looked at him in his eyes, and I said, listen. You can think anything of me. But what I'm going to show you is what I can do. And if you're not happy, then I don't really care. I think the chef is happy, so that's what draw me here. I need to please my chef, but I'm also pleasing myself. And that's it. You have to talk like this. You can't, like, engage in, like, violence. I think they want you to, like, fight. I fight with words.

GREENE: Given all of this work you've been doing in trying to use this platform, I want to read you something that I know you've heard before. And that just - it just caught my eye. I had to reread it a few times. And it was Michael Bauer, who's the longtime restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. He said about you, she has been successful because she does have talent and she has worked hard, but let's be honest - also because she has enormous charisma. She's beautiful and has that French accent.

CRENN: Yeah. I remember.

GREENE: What did you think about that?

CRENN: I didn't like it. But I have to tell you that Monsieur Bauer came to me. And he told me that what was said in the newspaper was taken out of context. And I did listen to him. And what I realized at that moment - which I think he should have never said that. I said, you know, I think sometimes you have to be very careful when you use the word as a journalist because you were saying that about me. It's really degrading. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that should not be a factor on anything.

And yes, I mean, charisma - what is charisma? It's like I'm trying to be genuine every time I speak or I'm out there. And maybe you call it charisma, but this is who I am. That's what he told me.

GREENE: Because if you read that - I mean, he also said about you, she cooks the way men are cooking, like it...

CRENN: That was not right either, yes.

GREENE: Did he explain what was taken out of context?

CRENN: Well, I think what he was trying to say is, you know - I mean, the field that I'm in and also the start of the restaurant that I'm doing specially with Atelier Crenn is a little bit different than a casual restaurant. And he was, perhaps - he wanted this to be a compliment. But I'm not saying what he said was right. I'm just trying to, like, be not aggressive about it. Like, I think what I want to say from this is that words matters, and the consequences can be hurtful to others.

GREENE: The fact that we're even talking about this...

CRENN: It's crazy.

GREENE: ...Like, those words. And yeah, what does that say about...

CRENN: That we have a lot of work to be done.

GREENE: ...This industry, this moment?

CRENN: We still have a lot of work to be done.

GREENE: And your platform in this moment, like the #MeToo movement and a lot of things that women have been through, do you feel like whatever role you can play has become even more important?

CRENN: Absolutely, you know? I think - I mean, I am just a little fish in the sea, you know? But I do understand that everything that I do could have a little impact. I mean, I had few men - men chefs that had sent me emails. And they have said to me, you know, we have never met. But I have to tell you that I'm not proud about the way that I've been treating people, not just women but a lot of people in my life. And you have inspired me to be a better person. I hope you can give me some advice.

GREENE: These are...

CRENN: I was...

GREENE: ...Male chefs who said...

CRENN: Yeah. I was...

GREENE: Who can I write in my industry who might give me some advice? And...

CRENN: That's powerful. I truly believe that some people go through life, and they've been taught not the right way. But I can't judge them.

GREENE: I mean, there have been chefs in this country who have been accused of having a culture of harassment in their kitchens and women who have worked for them who have said they've been abused. And I just wonder, like, when those accusations come out, I mean, you seem to have a level of patience and an open door. I mean, there's some people who say, get that guy out of the industry. Like, don't go to his restaurant.

CRENN: Oh, no, not everyone (laughter). Yeah. So some, I will not give them the pass. I'm giving the pass to people that haven't, you know, done anything violent, especially sexual violence. They have no place to be in an industry where you're supposed to bring people together.

GREENE: So who gets a second chance? Who do you decide?

CRENN: For me, it's people that, perhaps, that work in that environment and understand that they were perhaps follower. But they realize they should have speak up because when you look at the world, we are all complicit.


GREENE: Dominique Crenn is chef owner of Atelier Crenn and other restaurants in San Francisco. She recently got three stars from the prestigious Michelin Guide.

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