20 minutes with: the three-star chef Dominique Crenn
When Dominique Crenn prepares a recipe, she collects the ingredients from her own farm. For her latest pop-up restaurant atop Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, America’s only three-Michelin-starred female chef has brought together elements of French fishing villages, San Francisco’s haute cuisine, and Baja’s sun-drenched luxury. .
Montage Los Cabos hosted the short-lived, but sold-out Casa Crenn to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Atelier Crenn, the chef’s praised San Francisco restaurant. Available by invitation and only accommodating a handful of customers at a time, Casa Crenn brought the chef and his team from San Francisco south of the border to team up with the culinary team of adding Baja to the Montage collection.
A recent breast cancer and pandemic survivor, Crenn, 55, was on hand at Montage Los Cabos to prepare a 10-course menu described in verse. Raised among the fishing towns and farming villages of French Brittany, Crenn has paired her blend of seafood and natural ingredients with the daily produce and catch of the southern tip of the peninsula.
Between classes, she stopped by the table to talk about the challenges of managing catering in a post-pandemic world.
PENTA: How did the pop-up anniversary event take place at Casa Crenn?
Dominique Crenn: My business partner and pastry chef, Juan Contreras, is from the Baja region of Mexico. We’ve been together for over 14 years now. I realized we were going to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Atelier Crenn and I knew I wanted to celebrate with Juan. I wanted to honor our bond with Mexico and our partnership over the past few years. It gave us a chance to embrace this culture.
How did you come to land at Montage Los Cabos for the celebration?
I started talking last year with Marco Ortlam (Managing Director of Montage International). He and the people at Montage thought it would be great for us, for them and for the property. It gave me the opportunity to bring a vision of Atelier Crenn’s philosophy and vision to a place I love in Baja. It was a great opportunity to work with local artisans here. Everything went very organically, but always carefully and consciously between everyone here, because the world of cooking is all about family and community.
How has a restaurant like l’Atelier Crenn been affected by the pandemic?
We are an industry that is still fighting for its survival. Whether a restaurant is well-known or small and local, the pandemic has affected us all in the same way. We had to close and unfortunately let some people go until we could reopen.
Tragedies are the stories we hear from families who have had their restaurants for 40 or 50 years and have had to close. It is heartbreaking. Yet I believe the industry will fight back and come back strong. We are grateful to everyone who supports us and the entire restaurant business.
Have you been able to manage supply shortages after your reopening after the pandemic?
Yes. Seven years ago, I opened my own 4 acre farm in Sonoma. Everything is organic and biodynamic. A nice place. There I can grow my own fruit. I don’t grow everything I would need as I always want to support small farms and local fishermen. It is a way of building community and supporting each other in difficult times.
Taking care of a farm is not easy, especially in Sonoma where we thought we might lose it during forest fires. Yet running it has been a passion.
Before, during, and now after the worst of the pandemic, you took on an activist role seeking restaurant workers $ 15 an hour in California and nationwide. Where is this effort?
This job happened a long time ago because I believe anyone in any line of work should be honored for this job and paid properly. We have always paid above the standard salary because it is important to us. I wanted to bring my voice to the fore on this issue. We call America a just country, but the problem is that everyone lives on a different level. Everyone is treated differently, and I don’t understand that.
Who can live on $ 5 an hour? Anybody. It is important in this world to use your voice to help others if you have a platform. I want to make sure the workers get $ 15 an hour, and anyone who opposes it is shameful. I do not understand that. People should be valued and be able to afford a roof over their heads and put food on the table. This is what America should be focusing on because, without it, who are we as a country?
Like other areas of California, San Francisco has a serious homelessness problem. Atelier Crenn donated free meals to the homeless community. Did it start during the pandemic?
We used the time of the pandemic to start preparing 2,000 meals each week for the homeless population of San Francisco. It was difficult to start this job because the city has a lot of rules, but I wanted to be the first restaurant in San Francisco to use food reuse for the homeless. We work in partnership with the Rethink organization in New York.
I hope to educate others so that more restaurants can take what they might have and repackage it for those who need it. We are grateful for the private money we receive which allows us to prepare these meals, as it is important to feed those in need not only with food, but with good food, healthy food.
After your big birthday party at Montage, are you planning to come back to Baja for a longer stay?
I think it would be wonderful to explore a permanent restaurant in Los Cabos. We will see what the future holds.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.