Industry Spotlight

How Chef Dominique Crenn Is Working to Create Equality in the Kitchen

Chef Dominique Crenn has worked tirelessly to be a voice of change in an industry that tends to place female chefs in a separate category. She has advocated and fought for equality in the kitchen and has often criticized organizations for their promotion of gender inequality through specific awards and titles. Her ascent as a brilliant chef has been nothing short of amazing; however, we admire her not only for her talent and technique but for her courage and initiative to stand up for women in an effort to create a better future.

So just how did Chef Dominique Crenn get here?

A French native and culinary inspiration, Dominique Crenn has navigated both kitchens and restaurants from the time she was a child. Crenn attributes her early introduction to culinary arts to her mother and grandmother in their home kitchen, and to her father for helping her appreciate the subtle nuances and unique flavors of great cuisine. Yet, as well-versed in food as she was, cooking professionally was not always her plan: “As a young girl, being a chef did not cross my mind—I wanted to conquer the world,” she told Time.

Crenn began to manifest that dream by traveling throughout Europe, learning different styles of cooking and incorporating cultural influence in all of her dishes and ingredients. When she finally arrived back to France, she realized that it was not a place in which she believed she could grow as a professional. She moved to San Francisco, a city with a lot of amazing female chefs, and learned how to cook.

Crenn worked her way up the culinary ladder with chefs such as Jeremiah Tower and Mark Franz, until she eventually became executive chef of Yoyo Bistro at the Miyako Hotel. In 1997, Crenn moved to Indonesia and made history when she became the first female executive chef in the country at the Hotel InterContinental in Jakarta. A year later, she returned to California to serve as the executive chef at the Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach, and as the opening chef at Abode Restaurant & Lounge in Santa Monica. In 2008, Crenn was named Chef of the Year by Esquire and finally, in 2009, Crenn earned her first Michelin star for her menu at Luce in San Francisco’s InterContinental.

Her ascent as a chef had not been an easy one. In a male-dominated industry, Crenn was constantly reminded that she was seen as a lesser equivalent in the kitchen.

As Crenn told Time: Early in my career, I was told I shouldn’t try to work in a kitchen, that I should consider serving or managing instead. It was a sad narrative that was given to me, and it came from a society that didn’t know better.

Women always cook in the kitchen, but to think a woman could be a chef was like, “No, there is no way. It’s too long. It’s too hard.” You have to really look at yourself and say, “You know what? I’m going to do it on my own, and I’m not going to let anyone to tell me yes or no.

Crenn didn’t let anyone’s negative beliefs or comments bring her down. Instead, she continued to make her mark in the industry. In 2011, Crenn decided to pursue a personal project and opened her very first restaurant, Atelier Crenn, but again found that support in the industry was hard to find. “Nobody wanted to invest—and people told me they didn’t trust that as a woman I could carry it off. But I had a vision and I had to try, and I made it my mission to stay positive.”

In 2011, Atelier Crenn achieved its first Michelin star, and it received a second in 2013, making Dominique Crenn the first and only female chef in the United States to receive two Michelin stars. In 2013, Crenn was nominated as a semifinalist for Best Chef: West by the James Beard Awards, and in 2018 she was awarded the title. Inspired by her mother and grandmother, Crenn opened her second restaurant, Petit Crenn, in 2015.

Crenn reminds us that being successful in the food industry is about talent, not about gender, and that “it’s what you do with that recognition that defines who you are.”

Aware of the current reality for women in the food industry, she has never been afraid to raise her voice and stand up for what she believes in. She continues to advocate for women by speaking out against injustice and by being a part of the change she wishes to see in the industry. Not only is Chef Dominique Crenn an extraordinary chef, she is an extraordinary woman who has proven that women are here, and we are not going anywhere.