An Interview with Dominique Crenn, Executive Chef at Luce of the InterContinental Hotel in San Francisco.


On opening night at De Gustibus, we enjoyed the food of Chef Dominique Crenn, named “Best Chef of the Year 2008” by John Mariani in Esquire magazine.

Chef Dominique Crenn celebrates California’s farm fresh cuisine and traditional European techniques in her dishes and is known for creating menus that emphasize high-end artisanal, sustainable, and seasonal New American cuisine with diverse influences. Dishes she prepared on Opening Night are Salsify Soup with Coco Nibs and Oyster Beignet, Seared Scallops with Sunchoke Veloute and Braised Mushrooms, Pork Belly with Caramel Onion and Fried Sage and Nutella Pot De Crème.

We asked her about her philosophy of cooking and how she accomplished the unexpected in an interview for the De Gustibus blog:

Could you tell us about the dishes you chose for your De Gustibus class? How did you choose them and why?

It’s winter so I wanted to bring things that were in season and were available to the market in NY to the table. In New York, you have access to everything, and I wanted to bring the students something they could do – I used a root vegetable, which is grown a lot in Europe and California. It looks like burdock and it’s really good for you. I was using ingredients I knew people could find in New York.

I chose a very warm menu. You know, cooking and the food can be homey. It’s also a little bit of what I do at Luce. I’m a little bit of a purist. When cooking, I was thinking about how to get to their hearts. Also, in the menu, there’s a little bit of me.

Can you tell us more about your life growing up on a farm close to Paris?

I was born 10 minutes from Paris. I was adopted by people from Brittany (an area rich in agriculture). Both of my adopted parents are from farmer’s families. I had the best of both worlds because I enjoyed fine dining but also had the homey part of it by spending time on the farm. My parents taught me about being open minded about diversity and cooking.

For you cooking is about showcasing the hard work of local farmers, ranchers and fishermen right? Could you tell us more about that?

We’re very lucky in San Francisco. At the market there’s that moment when you see the first crop of a vegetable. Your mind is testing it and you start to develop recipes around it. I’m not a typical chef! I’m pretty unique in my cooking! I’m not following the trend of a lot of people. It’s about my experience and the things being brought to me — I’m trying to create around it.

On Tuesdays, I will be working with farmers in San Francisco as part of a collaboration with twelve chefs, and the proceeds will go to a farmers association. As chefs we have that responsibility.

You made history as the first female executive chef in Indonesia in ‘97 when you took the helm at the Intercontinental Hotel, in Jakarta. What was it like to be the first female chef in that country?

When I took that job in Indonesia at first I was not too sure what to do and I wanted to know what they wanted to achieve. I was working in a place of religious and political challenge. The experience made me really humble. I have a lot of humility in my kitchen. It has made a difference in the way I live my life and in my kitchen.

What advice could you give to De Gustibus students and participants to take home with them and inspire them in the kitchen?

Think outside the box and use new things as a substitute for what you usually use. It’s not just about cooking with potatoes and carrots. At my class on opening night at De Gustibus, I remember a woman there who said it was her first cooking class ever (her husband gave it to her as a gift)! I think recipes are the base of everything, but you need to make yourself comfortable, just go to the market, put your mind to it, smell the produce, smell the ingredients, have fun with it and use your mind. Be creative. Once you find the ingredients you have to think about what you can do with it.

How was the experience of cooking at De Gustibus?

It was very exciting. It’s not just about demonstrating recipes it’s about sharing your story with other people and learning about them. I enjoyed learning about the people who came to the class as well.

Is there any other advice would you like to share with our readers and students? 
You have to cook from your heart. Do some research and see what’s out there. Buy locally and support the local people and your community.

What was a highlight for you on opening night at De Gustibus?

For me, meeting Sal Rizzo and his team was such a highlight. It’s so nice to see people with so much love and passion who care, and who love what they do – and you can see that – in everything Sal has done at De Gustibus.

I would do anything to help him out – if you told me to get on a plane and fly to NY tomorrow I would do that for him.

Could we share a recipe with our readers?

Yes! Sharing is important. That’s how you evolve. I made a scallop recipe I would be happy to share with them.

For more about Dominique Crenn and Luce please visit www.lucewinerestaurant.com

Renee Restivo of the De Gustibus blog interviewed Dominique Crenn for this story.

Chef de Cuisine Dominique Crenn
Luce at the InterContinental Hotel San Francisco

“FRIED CHICKEN”

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves 4

For chicken:
1 whole Californian Free range chicken
4 cup of Yogurt marinade (see recipe below)
.5 cup rice flour /1/2 cup corn meal (finely ground) for dredging
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of chili powder
.5 teaspoon of cumin powder
Vegetable shortening or lard for frying
Oil thermometer

Yogurt marinade:
.5 teaspoon of vadouvan or curry powder
.5 teaspoon of toasted cumin seeds
1 teaspoon of chili powder
.25 tsp. of toasted cardamom seeds
.5 tsp cubed peppercorn
1 cup of Tabasco
2 cups of yogurt (plain)
.5 cups heavy cream
One-third cup of soy sauce
Salt to taste

1.Cut the chicken in 8 pieces.
2.Marinate the chicken in yogurt, cover and refrigerated for 24 hrs.
3.Melt the lard or vegetable shortening in a heavy frying pan or cast iron skillet. Oil should be heated to 325 degree Fahrenheit. (It is very important to check the temperature).
4.Mix rice flour, corn meal and all the spices above together.
5.Drain the excess of yogurt from the chicken. Dredge chicken in the flour mixture and shake off any excess.
6.Place chicken skin down into the cast iron skillet and cook chicken until golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes total. (Check the internal temperature of each piece of the chicken for doneness; chicken should be 180 degree Fahrenheit).
7.Drain the chicken on the rack over a sheet pan to rid chicken of excess oil. Serve!