Co-owner and chef of San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn, Dominique Crenn is a passionate LGBTQ+, inclusivity and sustainability activist

As part of its pre-announced awards programme, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants has named French-born chef Dominique Crenn as the proud recipient of its 2021 Icon Award. The coveted Icon Award celebrates an individual who has made a significant contribution to the restaurant industry worthy of global recognition, and who has used their platform to raise awareness and drive positive change. Apart from earning the title of The World’s Best Female Chef in 2016, Crenn has become a symbol of empowerment and hope, going above and beyond her job scope to inspire change in society.

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Having adopted her parents’ keen interest in all things food, the San Francisco-based chef moved to the US at the age of 24 to embark on formal training. Driven by passion and grit, Crenn’s talents were quickly recognised; she became the first female executive chef in Jakarta, Indonesia, where she headed the kitchen at the Intercontinental Hotel. Her return to San Francisco saw her working at the acclaimed Luce. In 2011, her dream came true in the form of Atelier Crenn, her debut restaurant in the iconic city. 

A beautifully designed interior with a philosophy to match, the establishment is centred around the theme of ‘poetic culinaria’, Crenn’s belief in storytelling through her dishes, each of which has its own narrative. Within mere months of its opening, Atelier Crenn was awarded its first Michelin star. This achievement was nothing short of a momentous one as the following year, Crenn became the first female chef in the US to oversee a two-starred restaurant, making her an inspiration in a largely male-dominated industry.

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Crenn’s success story was far from over, however, as 2018 saw her annihilating her own record once more when Atelier Crenn graduated to three-star status. By the time 2019 rolled around, Atelier Crenn ranked No.35 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.

Following through with the desire to transplant her culinary upbringing into a more casual setting, Crenn launched her second brainchild, Petit Crenn, soon after in 2015. Infusing the space with warmth and history, the upscale bistro is an ode to the home cooking of Brittany and the dinner parties thrown by Crenn’s own mother and grandmother. Crenn’s sentimentality and penchant for storytelling manifested once again in Bar Crenn. A wine bar nestled next to Atelier Crenn, the place was opened in 2018 as an homage to the Parisian salons of the early 20th century.

Crenn’s transformative influence didn’t stop in the city. On the outskirts of San Fransisco, in Sonoma, is the heart and soul of the chef’s sustainability mission, Bleu Belle Farm. This is Crenn’s crucial project aimed at helping her restaurants achieve waste-free status across the board, as compost from each location is returned to the farm. 

As illustrious as her branding has become, Crenn’s F&B ventures prove to be fuelled by her humble love and compassion for humanity. When the pandemic hit last spring, Petit Crenn was transformed from a high-end restaurant into a simple kitchen providing meals for frontline workers. The kitchen has also been feeding the homeless of San Francisco with 2,000 healthy, organic, plant-based meals a week.

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Crenn’s love for life and others never wavered, despite the unfortunate hand dealt to her. Since being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 (now in remission), the 56-year-old has been an advocate of openly speaking about her health, in order to help raise awareness of the disease. In addition to that, she is also an avid campaigner for Black Lives Matter, identifying as half-European, half North-African herself.

Basking in the glow of her achievement, Crenn earnestly expresses her desire to further spread awareness regarding inclusivity: “I hope to use this platform as an opportunity to give back and to inspire the next generation to be true to themselves and to always enjoy the journey."

William Drew, Director of Content for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants says: “Dominique Crenn is not just an outstanding chef and restaurateur, she is an example of someone who speaks truth to power in every aspect of her life—through her leadership, humanity and endless campaigning for social justice within as well as outside of the hospitality sphere. Her devotion to sustainability, her community and her restaurant teams, while achieving and delivering culinary excellence time and time again, makes her a hugely worthy recipient of this year’s Icon Award.”

Crenn will be receiving her award at the official ceremony for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in Antwerp, Flanders, on October 5.