Dominique Crenn, the first American woman to receive three Michelin stars, has a long history of upending the status quo. In our signature video franchise “The First Time,” the French-born chef looks back on the earliest glimpse of the gutsiness that would carry her to the top of a grueling, male-dominated field — when her older brother was being bullied and she “kicked this guy’s ass” on his behalf. “I don’t believe in being a bystander,” she says. “I always step up.”
Crenn had no restaurant experience when she left France for San Francisco in her twenties and talked her way into a job at one of the country’s best restaurants. But the seeds of inspiration were sown the first time she helped her mother in the kitchen, as a child of just four or five years old. She recalls the formative experience of making the French classic apple tarte tatin as “magical.”
She’s continued kicking ass since, both in the kitchen and out of it. As Crenn has reached the heights of success, she’s strived to use her influence for good. She routinely speaks out for gender parity in the restaurant world and next year is aiming to reprise an all-female chef series at her flagship restaurant, Atelier Crenn, next year. Yet she recalls a more intimate moment as the first time she felt she made an impact: spending time with an 11-year-old girl who was gravely ill with leukemia and wanted only to meet Crenn and cook with her.
Of her Michelin stars, Crenn says she believes they’re not really for her. “Those stars are for people that want to be inspired,” she says, “for all those young girls that need to believe in [themselves] and you can do anything you want.”