First Meal Back: Dominique Crenn

The city/country’s best chef has *a lot* going on, quarantine be damned

Dominique Crenn stands in front of a polka dot background
Dominique Crenn is one of San Francisco's most acclaimed chefs.
Daniel Zuchnik
By Diane Rommel / May 28, 2020 1:25 pm

In honor of all of the restaurants we dearly miss and can’t wait to get back to, we’re asking some of the country’s most decorated chefs to tell us about the meals that will be at the top of their list when Stay at Home orders finally lift. This is First Meal Back.

Dominique Crenn earned her third Michelin star in 2019, officially if belatedly given passage to the ranks of the world’s best chefs. Her three San Francisco establishments — Petit Crenn, Bar Crenn and the flagship Atelier Crenn — are no less than the best restaurants in the best restaurant city in the country. 

While coronavirus has closed her doors for the moment, Crenn has addressed the pandemic with creativity and innovation, which is made evident in her plans for the evolution of her propjcts. Newly engaged (to NCIS actress Maria Bello) and anticipating the release of her memoir, Rebel Chef, in just a few weeks, Crenn gave us a peek at dining during and after pandemic-era San Francisco 

InsideHook: Where will you eat your first meal, once the city has reopened? 

Dominique Crenn: My first meal will be with my team. But for my first meal elsewhere, I’ll go to Zuni Café. It’s an institution in San Francisco — they’ve been cooking farm-to-table for 40 years, and they’ve been doing the right thing all that time. It’s a community place, where everybody knows your name. 

And where will you get your first post-pandemic drink? 

Bar Crenn! [Laughs.] I love Terroir, a little wine bar in the Mission. They have wine from all over, but they’re dealing only with small wineries with basically biodynamic or natural wine — they want to support the world of artisan, not-commercial winemakers. I would love to go back with my very good friends. [Editor’s note: Terroir is currently open for takeout from 4 – 7 p.m., and delivering free with San Francisco, as well as Marin on Saturday as well; see their Instagram for updates.] 

San Francisco has a beautiful bar community — I hate to just say one. I would like for all of them to reopen. And I’ll be a customer for sure. 

What do you think it will take for things to come back to something that looks like normal? 

We need a vaccine — we need to be tested, and we need a vaccine. Restaurants are the fabric of America — and the world. People want to commune and eat together and be together — I think we need to have tests and a vaccine. Until then, we need to be cautious and we need to understand the rules that we’ll need to follow. People love to eat, people love to drink, people love to come together. It’s the responsibility of the customer, to be sure that they’re living a life that is healthy. 

How will your restaurants look when we reopen? 

Atelier Crenn is great. We only have eight tables, so they’re already quite far apart. I’m also partnering with the art community, and we are designing things that we can use to separate tables — not just Plexiglass but something very beautiful; it’s going to look like a honeycomb, between tables — it’s going to be beautiful. 

Before they arrive, everyone will receive an email with all the rules that we’ll be implementing: Don’t come sick. People will come in, their temperature will be taken, we’ll give them a mask if they haven’t brought their own, we’ll have hand sanitizer, and when we sit them down at the table, they’ll be able to download the story of the menu in a digital way. It’ll be like a movie. And then when a dish comes, they’ll be able to listen to what the dish is about — it’ll take them to the next level of digital experiences. We might do that with the wine, too — so we’ll give them an experience within an experience. 

Bar Crenn will be a private room, so you’d be able to do a dinner there with five or six people. And if people want to do a party there, everybody needs to be tested, and then they can have a private party of up to 10 or 15 people. 

Petit Crenn is going to be takeaway and also an épicerie fine. We’ll be selling a lot of things from the farm — we’re making marmalade, we just canned some peas, we’re making homemade tea, we’re making kombucha, we’re making our own pasta right now. We’re going to do a lot of our own provisions, but we’re also going to work with the community, people doing their own thing, as well. We’re going to have boxes from the farm with vegetables, along with an inspiring recipe that people can use if they like. And we’re going to have a patisserie — we’re developing croissants, chocolate croissants; we’re working on all that right now. So we’ll be selling our own things along with products from the community. Everything will be artisanal, local, and obviously organic.  

That level of creativity is really inspiring. 

I’ve always believed that creativity comes out of struggle. On March 14 or 15th, we listened to Mayor London — we were really listening, sitting down — and the first thing I said to my team was, OK, guys, who are we? We’re a community. We’re creative. We’re in service to our community. So now, let’s gear up to be at the forefront of the change. It’s not going to be what it was like before — so let’s be at the forefront of those changes. We did it right away — we never complained about not having the restaurant anymore. There’s a reason why we’re cooking — we want to feed the community. We have to do that; it’s normal for us to do that. The people who are afraid of change are going to struggle.