Three to get ready

This is week three of our conversation with Chef Dominique Crenn, 2016’s world best female chef and participant in this year’s Euphoria food and wine festival in Greenville SC, on the weekend of September 21-24.  Along with other chefs, including La Farm’s Master Baker Lionel Vatinet, Chef Dominique’s innovative and imaginative cuisine will be showcased Saturday evening at the Seeing Stars dinner.

Iron Chef America is a competition series based on the hit Japanese show.  It pits a stable of chefs; dubbed “Iron Chefs”, against chef-challengers.  The two go head to head in Kitchen Stadium.  Using a mystery theme ingredient, a culinary battle ensues during which each chef creates a minimum of five dishes.New Iron Chefs were anointed in The Next Iron Chef, a single elimination series with ten of America’s premiere chefs competing for the title.  In 2009, Chef Dominique competed in season two, which eventually saw Jose Garces winning the title.

In a case of sweet, sweet karma, in 2010 she competed on Iron Chef America where she trounced Chef Michael Symon in battle yogurt.

Chef Michael Symon.  He’s not just unhappy about that ugly jacket he’s wearing…

Chef Crenn and I recently had a phone interview.  This is the third and final part of that conversation.

Iron Chef; where by the way you were robbed, Oh, you are sweet, but I didn’t want to.  Oh Really?  Looking back, I am not someone who would be happy doing that.How did you keep coming up with such imaginative and original dishes during the competition?  You know, I’d just look at the ingredient and try to understand what the ingredient is about.  Kind of like, go back, deep into your memories, and do things that perhaps, you have eaten before; maybe what you mother used to cook, and you’re just being creative, you know?  And it’s quite interesting, because you compete with others that don’t have the same background that you have or come from the same country.  Obviously, this is not France, and that was my point of reference.  Then you are judged by those that are not French at all, so I try to connect with them.  It was a lot of fun–it was a lot of fun.Things that you guys came up with, week after week, some of them should have been classics.  You wonder why someone hadn’t come up with that fifty years ago.  One time they gave me a sea cucumber to cook.  But they didn’t give me fresh, they gave me frozen sea cucumber, and I’m like, “Really?  Are you serious?”  So, anyway.

I have one more question for you, and I won’t steal any more of your time.  What is one thing about you, that no one would ever guess?  I used to be a little ballerina.  Yeah, I was not disciplined enough, I guess.  And, I was so bored.  Yeah.Chef, thank you so very much for taking time for this.

Chef Dominique Crenn may not have had the discipline for ballet, but she had enough to earn a baccalaureate in economics and a bachelor’s degree in international business from the Academy of International Commerce of Paris, then move to San Francisco and start her education all over in some of the best restaurants and under the tutelage of its best chefs.  And only nine years later she was so well regarded she moved to Indonesia as the area’s first female executive chef.

I’ll bet, on that journey, she was never bored.Next week is the last pre-Euphoria chef chat.  Chef Trey Bell, of Greensboro’s LaRue Elm, will be under the microscope.Thanks for your time.

Profile, the second, part deux

*This column will be running on Wednesday, August 30, on the food page of The Henderson Daily Dispatch.

Last week I shared the first portion of my telephone interview with Chef Dominique Crenn in advance of her participation at the Euphoria Festival in Greenville SC, on the weekend of September 21st.   She’s chef/owner of Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn and Petit Crenn in San Francisco.  Chef Dominique was also named world’s best female chef in 2016.

Here is the second part of that conversation.

What are some items that you can’t cook without? A good spoon to test.  What…, salt, great olive oil…French olive oil?  From Spain; great organic olive oil.  I know, I love the French, but the Spanish is just amazing.  I’ve spent a lot of time in Spain. A lot of great cheese…French cheese.

What is your favorite cheese?  You know I love comte cheese, and blue cheese, Roquefort or Fourme d’Ambert.

So, you know, I need to have a scale in the kitchen too.

What is one dish that a novice should learn that is inexpensive, but which also can be used for entertaining?  They need to learn how to make the best French omelet. What in the culinary world angers or disappoints you?  When people don’t think before cooking.  They are not conscious and thoughtful about what they are buying.  In a restaurant also, you know?  Restaurants have a responsibility not only to cook, but to the farmers and the community that we are living in.  I think it’s important for us to be involved in any way that we can with the community that surrounds us.  And we are not growing the food, the farmers are growing the food.  Just get involved—get involved with your rancher, get involved with your fishmonger, get involved with the person that is making cheese—get involved with your community.  And when they don’t do it, that really angers me.

So, what in the food world makes you happy and gives you hope for the future?  Children give me hope.  Food is the core of the society.  If there is no food, no understanding of what food is, then there is no society.How do you deal with the stuff that you have to put up with as a female chef?  My approach is to be smarter than they are, without putting them down.  I deal with it with in the most intellectual and positive way I can.  If I’m dealing with someone who’s acting with much annoyance, I just don’t answer them.

What do you pack for a picnic?  A good bottle of wine; rose wine.  A beautiful French baguette.  Different types of cheeses, some pickled vegetables, maybe some jam, some type of seafood, chacouterie, a lot of beautiful fruit from the market.  But I think a baguette with butter and cheese, and cornichon is good enough for me.What’s the best way for passionate, but not affluent people to enjoy fine dining?  When you want to appreciate something, you have to go with an open mind, let go of your surroundings and surrender yourself to what it is.  I know it can be kind of expensive, but I created another spot, Petit Crenn where people can come and enjoy the passion and the love that we create.  And I’m opening, in the fall, Bar Crenn, which is going to be ala carte, also, adjacent to Atelier.  I’m going to be offering ala carte, but also be offering maybe a couple of tasting menus which will be less expensive than Atelier Crenn.  I want to welcome everyone.

Next week we will conclude our conversation with Chef Crenn.  She told me a couple things that surprised me, and might give you a surprise, as well.Thanks for your time.

Profile, The Second

This is week two of the Euphoria chef series.  Starting on September 21st, and running through the weekend, Greenville SC will be holding the Euphoria food, wine and music festival.  Chefs from all around the country will attend to cook and teach.

I’ve been lucky enough to interview a few of those attending.  Last week, Chef Scott Crawford of Crawford and Son, in Raleigh was generous enough to do an email interview.Chef Dominique Crenn, is chef/owner of Atelier Crenn and Petit Crenn in San Francisco.  She holds two Michelin stars, and the title of world’s best female chef.  Chef Crenn was a finalist on Food Network’s Next Iron Chef.  She’s also mother to two little girls, and an extremely chic French woman.  I’m a huge admirer.Chef Crenn kindly consented to the interview, but rather than doing it via email, she wanted a telephone conversation.  On one hand, I was thrilled.  But on the other, I was petrified.  I felt like a middle-school science student interrogating Sir Steven Hawking.

I needn’t have worried.  She was gracious and patient.  What follows is a transcript of the call (When you read her answers, imagine them in a charming French accent).France does many, many, many food things better than the US.  What does the US do better?  I don’t know if it’s better than France, what I like about the United States is liberty and freedom, of thinking and creativity.  There is less bureaucracy than in France.

What is the one French food or food experience you miss the most?  My mother’s cooking. What was one of your favorite?  Many, many, many dishes.  She used to make this beautiful whole salmon or any type of fish that used to come from the fish monger.  And roast it with many beautiful vegetables and herbs with some olive oil in the oven.  Just delicious, and I miss that.  And I miss her famous tarte tatin, which is an upside-down apple tart that she used to make—that I miss, a lot.  It’s comfort food, you know?  It’s made with so much love.

What is your guilty pleasure?  Chocolate.What is your favorite?  Maybe a chocolate with a praline (The French pronunciation of praline is prah-lee-nay).

What do you make when you get home from the Atelier and it’s late, and you’re hungry?  Grilled cheese sandwich.

Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn Open-Faced Sandwich

One of Chef’s grilled cheese creations.

What kind of cheese?  Comté cheese, or some type of aged goat cheese.

You have twin daughters, how old are they?  Three years old.

What do they eat for lunch?  Do they like grilled cheese too?  It’s very interesting.  They’re very picky, but they love everything vegetable.  They love pasta and pizza, but we make everything from scratch.  They love cauliflower!  They like to go shop and pick up their own vegetable and go home and cook it, so this is pretty cool.I read what you said about American kids, that they’re our most treasured possession, but we feed them the worst food.  It’s very important to introduce to your kids a very healthy diet.  Fresh food; stay away from the prefab food.  You know in the long run, before the age of four, this is where they get their taste and understanding what food is about, without even knowing, and this is very true.

This ain’t no Ginsu knife, boys and girls…

What five tools can you not live without?  I don’t know if it’s a tool, but I cannot live without salt.  Definitely, a good, sharp knife.

What type of knife do you use?  Japanese.

Please join me next week for more of my conversation with Chef Crenn.

One bad ass woman.

Thanks for your time.