Dominique Crenn, chef and owner of Atelier Crenn
On Friday, Atelier Crenn reopened after closing through the month of January to remodel its kitchen. But not only the restaurant’s décor received a revamp. The restaurant has replaced its five-course and fourteen-course tasting menus with two expanded options: a seven-to-ten-course, $120 tasting menu (only available Tuesday through Thursday) and a $195 grand tasting menu with over twenty dishes. We recently talked to chef (and poet) Dominique Crenn about the big reopening.
San Francisco: Tell us about the redesign. Has the décor’s aesthetic changed?
Dominique Crenn: No, the aesthetic is the same. The dining room is pretty much unchanged, though there are new glass windows offering views into the kitchen. Before, the only entrance to the kitchen was a narrow hallway connected to a bathroom that guests used. We fixed that to create a flow in and out of the kitchen.
Why did you add a glass window to the door of the kitchen?
Transparency is everything. The connection between the dining room and the kitchen is very important. In traditional restaurants the dining room and the back-of-house were separate entities. But every night I go out into the dining room to meet and talk with the guests. It’s all about the connection.
Why did you decide to change the tasting menus? Are you going prix-fixe?
I hate prix-fixe. A prix-fixe menu is a bargain. A tasting menu is a story. And I want to tell a story. [Tonight's] menu is the story of my transition from the year of 2013 to the year of 2014. But I don't think we're part of a trend. We don’t try to follow trends the way other restaurants do. We just want to express ourselves, to be who we are as a restaurant. I’m against the culture of immediate gratification that's become so prevalent in the food scene. When you open a restaurant, critics immediately need to evaluate and pass judgment before it’s even been open a month.
It seems the menu’s philosophy has not changed, so much as deepened.
When I go to a farm, I don’t just buy the best produce and leave. I like to get my nails dirty—to feel the connection. I want to talk to the farmer, to sit down with him—to see the story behind the product and think about it.
Are you tired of always being labeled the only female chef in the country with two Michelin stars, or do you like being singled out as a female chef?
Right now it might be important to inspire talented young female chefs. But I wish people would view gender distinction as a thing of the past. I’m a two-Michelin-star chef, not a female two-Michelin-star chef.
Finally, mandatory superficial question: could we have a preview of the poem on tonight's menu?
Here's the first four lines:
Winter has come with its cool breeze
Mellow serenades of colors licorice and orange
Under the midnight glow, I can taste the sweetness of the sea
Where the broad ocean leans against the Spanish land.