Chef's Table (2015–…): Season 2, Episode 3 - Dominique Crenn - full transcript

[Dominique Crenn]
I was adopted when I was 18 months.

They had my brother already
and they were looking for a little girl.

And they... they were,

I guess walking with the person
in charge of the orphanage.

And they looked behind and my brother
was holding me and kissing me.

And they realized at that moment,

"This is the little girl
that we want to adopt."

When you're a kid
and when you feel love around you,

you just want...
I think you just wanna grab it.

Then you don't want to let go

and every second of your life
with your parents is very, very precious.

And the way that I was built,
I guess, my brain is...

Memory is very important.

It's a vehicle to get to know
who you are inside.

[opening theme playing]

Three years ago, nobody...
at least, I didn't know

who Dominique Crenn was three years ago.

She has climbed so quickly
to the top of the game.

I mean, she's the first female two
Michelin-star chef in the whole country.

That's kind of a big deal.

I remember that first time that I met her.

Everything about her said "chef."

[indistinct conversation]

You know, she was tall
and she was poised, intelligent,

and this very, very talented person.

[in French]
You cannot decide to be a great chef.

You either have talent or you don't.

When the dishes come,

you eat them with your eyes.

There's a lot of emotion in her food.

[Karen Leibowitz] "Personal" is a word
that comes up a lot

when Dominique talks about her food.

For her, it is always
an expression of her memory,

her point of view, her emotions,

and that is something
that many chefs aspire to,

but, for her, it feels really central.

The reason why you do this, it's not...

Well, it's for yourself, making a dish,
and it's going to be an amazing dish,

and people are gonna talk about it.

Or is it a vehicle to...

be connected to people?

[Karen] When you sit down
at Atelier Crenn,

you receive a menu,
which is in the form of a poem.

It sets the tone of art

but also a kind of narrative
from beginning to end.

Each course corresponds
to a line of poetry,

but not in a straightforward, literal way.

[Dominique] I'm not serving a menu.
I'm serving a story.

I'm serving my soul.

I'm serving a conversation
and I want you to talk back to me.

I want you to dialogue with me.

I'm triggering something inside of you...

the memories inside of you.

And if I do this,
I know that I'm doing the right thing.

I'm fascinated with people
that I don't know.

I wanna get a window into their life.

You know, strangers adopted me.

And then they gave me
a different life that,

perhaps, I shouldn't have had if I wasn't.

I think that's something that I crave,
that moment where you connect.

And that's... that's...
that's such an important moment.

It's not just my restaurant.
It's my house.

And if you want to come to my house...

allow me to talk to you.

Okay, guys, uh, is 15 ready to go?

[man 1] Yeah, Chef.
[man 2] We are ready.

Okay, let's go.
Fifteen, two tomato.

What's going on with the bread, guys?

[man 2] Bread dough,
one more minute, Chef.

Okay, can we make sure
that we get the timing right?

-[man 2] Yes, Chef.
-Thank you.

[Nancy] There's two sides of Dominique.

The professional, serious,
talented, capable side.

And then the whimsical...

sort of sensual, free-spirited side.

[Dominique] My name was Dominique
when I was born.

[singing "Dominique"]

Do you know that song?

["Dominique" playing]

I often wonder what was my life
from zero to 18 months.

And I ask my mom and she say,

"You know, we don't really know
much about your life during that time,

but when we adopted you,
they called you 'the Smiley Face.'

And they told us
that you were a very happy little girl."

I liked to be outside
and play with the dirt

and be a tomboy.

And the first time I beat up a boy...

he was trying to hurt my brother, so
I went and I jumped, and I just, like...

I was so afraid that my dad
was gonna be angry at me.

But he'd say, "That's my girl!"

I asked her once, "Why did you
name the restaurant after yourself?"

And she said,
"Oh, I didn't name it after myself at all.

It's named after my father."

[Dominique] My dad's name is on the door.

Obviously, it's my name, too,
but it's...

That's his name.
Definitely his name.

And I'm here today because of him.

My dad's name was Allain Marie Crenn.

Very smart, very witty, very caring.

Her father was a representative
for Brittany in national government.

And he was an artist
as well as a politician.

He was a painter
and I think he encouraged her

to be artistic in any way that she wanted.

My dad took me to a restaurant
when I was nine years old.

And, um,
that was a Michelin-star restaurant.

And I was fascinated by

the way people were moving,
the way people were talking to each other,

the elegance of it...

the detail of it.

And... I loved it.

And I told my mom,
"I wanna be a chef."

And she's like, "Yes, yes, Dom.
Of course you wanna be a chef."

[Peter Jacobsen] We've got mostly figs,
uh, but also,

-I've got some curiosities for you.
-[Dominique] Awesome.

Let me pop a root off like...
[grunts] right here.

-Now, for me, it's a curious smell.

-It's an even weirder taste.

-[Dominique] What is the name of this?
-This is angelica.

-[Dominique gasps] Angelica!

We find this in Europe a lot but not here.

Oh, yeah, no, actually,
that's right, they candy it.

This, you've already smelled
lots of times, but--

-[Dominique] The chocolate mint?
-The chocolate mint.

-Oh, I love the chocolate mint.

Yeah, I know it's, uh... [chuckles]

[Maria in French]
She really takes care

with the ingredients she uses.

She always says, talking about the famous
saying, "Chefs are rock stars."

She always says,
"No, the producers are the rock stars!"

These little guys are also interesting.

They've got a nice texture to them.

Um, you know, and depending
on the dressing, I mean, that's--

You know, I'm thinking about...
We have a dish right now with oyster.

I'm thinking maybe with...
Add it to oyster.

-Some oyster juice.

-Are you okay?
-[Peter] Yeah, I'm good.

I'm gonna find one that's got that
sort of sweet gumminess for you.

[Dominique] Don't you feel like a kid
going up the tree?

Oh, I get to climb
these trees a lot, actually.

This one's not a perfect one, actually.

-It's bleeding milk.

So if it bleeds milk, they're not ripe.

-Let me let you try--
-Bleeding milk? This is...

Every fig will bleed milk
if it's not ripe.

Most people
have never really tasted a ripe fig.

So... see now you've started
to see those kind of--

[Dominique] Oh, wow.

You can eat something
and you can remember that forever.

I remember tasting a tomato.

Probably I was around
three or four years of age.

[young girl giggles]

[Dominique] I went to the garden,

and I put it in my mouth
and I remember it was...

it was soft, it was, like, juicy,

but there was something about it
that I just couldn't stop eating it.

[young girl giggles]

The tomato is gone...

but that moment is forever.

The experience is forever.

[Karen] I think Dominique derives
inspiration from a combination

of memories of Brittany and childhood,

and the present moment,
here in California.

And it creates this kind of double vision.

-Hello, hello!
-[dog barks]

-[chuckles] Hi.
-Hey, Chef.

-Hey there.
-How are you?

-What we get today? Some spot prawn?
-[man 1] It's spot prawn day.

[Dominique] Oh, wow! Beautiful.
[man 2] This fresh enough for you?

You want to talk to them a little bit,
and I think they're just, uh,

just beautiful.

You know, in Brittany, where I come from,
we used to go get langoustine

and, you know, those big langoustine?

And when I saw the spot prawn
the first time...

We don't have that in France.

-I don't know if you know that.


Often, I feel that people overcook
the shrimp in general, you know,

and they just kind of lose
what the shrimp is about.

Look at the... the meat inside.
It's pretty amazing.

The color is beautiful.


It's sweet.

-A little bit salty.
-[man 2] Yeah.

-It's very meaty also. Delicious.
-[man 2] Super sweet.

[Maria in French]
She uses a lot of seafood,

and that's a part
of her Brittany memories.

But I don't think her country is France

or the United States.

I think that her country is San Francisco.

I came in San Francisco in the '90s

and I felt something.
It's like, "This is home."

The water was here.

I remember the first time
I went on the coast,

I thought I was driving
the coast of Brittany.

I think, at a very young age,
I wanted to travel the world.

Because my dad really opened our eyes,
to my brother and I, about the world.

It's like, there's other things
than just what you have around you.

I think a lot of people came here
to find answers at the time.

You know, a lot of artists were here.

It was a place where people felt safe
to be who they wanted to be.

And I think I wanted that.

I wanna be who I wanna be.

I don't want someone to look at me
and judge me for...

because I'm thinking this way,
because I'm this way.

You can be yourself here.

-Thank you.
-[indistinct chatter]

I wanted to work for someone
that will take me under his wing,

and I read about this gentleman,
Jeremiah Tower.

And he opened this restaurant that works

with things that are available
at the moment.

Handsome man, tall, very elegant.

Almost, I will say, perhaps French.

If he hear me say that,
he will be like, "Oui, oui, oui."

Who doesn't wanna work
for someone like that?

And so, I went there,
and I did ask for a job.

And I got the job.

[Karen] She landed at Stars restaurant

where there was this sort of
superstar chef, Jeremiah Tower.

She was brand new to the United States

and she did not go to cooking school
and she'd never had a cooking job before.

But she plunged in and I really admire

that willingness to try something hard.

The way that he run his kitchen

is the sous-chef gave us the menu.

He said, "Well, Dominique,
today you have five dishes.

You know, a soup,
a salad, two fried things,

and this is the ingredient.

You have to make it.

No recipe.
And we have about 600 people on the book."

I thought that was amazing.

Wow, I'm like, "Yeah, he's gonna
allow me to do the soup?"

So, I'm like, trying to, like, you know,
"Oh, I'm gonna make the soup.

Okay, this is what they want.
I'm gonna make that, taste it.

I'm gonna add that flavor."

And then the chef tastes it,
"Oh, this is good."

And you're like... [gasps]

"Oh, wow, this is amazing.
They like what I do."

They gave you that responsibility
to enable yourself,

to create something,
and to take responsibility

and ownership about what you were making.

-[Dominique] Hey, guys!
-How are you?

-Good. How are you?
-[man] Great.

What's going on?

[Dominique] And I think
that's how you can be greater.

Because you have the team around you
that you push to the next level.

It's not about you.
It's about your team.

I think it's pretty
spread out tonight, so...

Yeah. I mean, between five
and six o'clock, we're just gonna...

we're gonna cruise, and eight o'clock,
[chuckles] we're gonna scramble.

All right, have a good service, guys.
Thank you. Thank you.

I worked with some amazing people,

but today is the best team
that I ever had.


From my dishwasher,
to the people in the front of the house,

to the kitchen, to...
Everybody is so amazing.


And I'm just...
I'm blown away by it.

What was that pâte de fruit that I ate?
That was amazing.

[Juan Contreras]
Uh, pineapple, lemongrass, vanilla.

That was crazy.
That was great.

-[Juan talking indistinctly]
-Oh, my God!

Do you have another one,
so I can have another one?

You know, my pastry chef, Juan Contreras,
he always inspires me.

And I know that what it's doing,

is just like,
"I wanna learn more with him."

With Chef Crenn, I think,

what worked with me was that
she allowed a lot to express myself.

There was never any shackles.

We've been together since 2006.

And I knew if I can set something
good for him, he will thrive.

And watching him,
it's made me happy every day.

I remember when I was a young girl,
walking through the forest with my dad.

He had a stick in his hand,
and then we were walking,

and cleaning the pathway and, you know,
the leaves, and dirt, and...

He was picking up mushrooms,
but he was also picking up blackberries,

and then bringing that back.

We were walking into an area where...

you had all the sensation about life.

Sweetness, bitterness, wetness, darkness.

And it was a time where my dad used to
talk to my brother and I about life.

It was 1999 and...

my dad had, um... prostate cancer.

And I called my mom and said,
"Hey, Mom. Can I speak to Dad?"

And she said to me...

"Dad doesn't speak anymore.
He doesn't wanna say anything."

It's like, [clicks tongue]
"Put Dad on the phone."

So, she put my dad on the phone

and the only thing he told me is, like,
"I love you."

And the following Wednesday,
it was four o'clock in the afternoon...

[clicks tongue] California time...

and the phone in my office rung
and it was my brother.


I knew.

He painted this painting,
and it's flowers.

He said, "I thought of you
when I painted this painting,

and it's how I feel that you evolved
as a woman, and..."

He just, through the years, he say,
"You know, I know it's hard,

I know life is not easy,

but always believe in yourself
and who you are."

And that's something that I never forget.

In the course of eight years,
I work for different people.

And I was at Stars,

and then I moved to Indonesia,
then I went to Los Angeles.

And then I came back to San Francisco.

I worked for
a lot of different restaurants

and hotels here in San Francisco,

and it's a time in my life

where I was trying to find
where I wanted to be.

I just didn't like
the culture of those hotels.

I struggled with guests
that were not open about things.

Thousand Island dressing?
Ranch dressing?

What? [chuckles]

[inhales] That made me cringe.

It was like, "What am I doing?"
I was lost.

And I looked at my life and I said,
"I'm not happy."

I need to do something that matters.

Did I want to open a restaurant
just to open a restaurant?

Or did I want to open a space
where I could create something?

And then, I realized, like,
I have nothing to lose.

I have nothing to lose.

"Atelier" means workshop.

A place where you create,
a place where you make your brain think.

A place where you put things together.

And a place where you gather people
to create with you.

My dad used to have a place
where he used to do all his painting.

You know, the name was Atelier Papa Crenn,

so it's a pretty natural way of thinking
about the name.

[Karen] The first dish for every diner

at Atelier Crenn is a spherical version
of Kir Breton,

which is kind of
the classic aperitif of Brittany.

Apple cider is frozen in a spherical mold
and then coated in cocoa butter,

and it's very thin.

And then the crème de cassis
that would normally be in a Kir Breton,

has been evolved into a jam on top.

We call, "Aperitif.
Do you want a Kir Breton?"

So cream... crème de cassis

and little bit of cider,
and people were drinking it.

So it was always something
that I remember.

Table 24, Chef.

It's like you come into my house
and it's the first things you encounter.

A glass in your hand...

a pop in your mouth.

She is adapting and reimagining
classic French food.

Her focus is on vegetables and seafood.

[in French] What is surprising
is her sauces and her bouillons.

It's there that we can see
her French side.

I have to say that making sauces
is expensive,

making sauces takes a lot of time.

However for us, the French,
sauces are like the DNA of our cuisine.


[Dominique in English]
Oh, it's good.

[indistinct chatter]

When Atelier Crenn opened in 2010,

I think it was not initially understood
by the local critics,

who found it to be a little bit out there.

The knock against her was that
it was too beautiful in a way.

Maybe even that she was too beautiful
to be taken seriously.

But I think that the way to understand
Dominique is through art.

Modernism never really came to cuisine

in the way that it came
to painting or writing,

and this may be the moment when cuisine
reinvents itself as an art movement.

And there are some people
who will never be open to that idea.

But in terms of what we do as people

to create meaning and beauty
and connect with one another

is absolutely central
to what's at Atelier Crenn

and to Dominique.

[Dominique] You have a voice

and then people are gonna listen to it
or people are not gonna listen to it.

But you can't be afraid
about the outcome of it.

We opened Atelier Crenn
because we wanted to tell a story.

And if people didn't come, well,
that would have been the challenge.

But we had to think that way.

[Karen] In 2011,
Dominique got her first Michelin star.

That was in the first year
of Atelier Crenn.

Okay, let's go here.

[Karen] And the next year,
she was bumped up to two Michelin stars,

and that made her the first female chef
in America to earn that honor.

The day we found out we got the two stars,
I think they called her at her house.

And then I'm the first person she calls.

She just said, like, "We got it."

You know, "Thank you so much.

This is yours as much as mine
and it's the whole team."

[stammers] So I cried that day, for sure.


Let's go here.

All right, how we doing on the dessert?
There's a birthday on 21.

-Yeah, birthday on 21...

...and then we also have
another birthday on table four.

Those ones need to get out soon, okay?

-Oui, Chef. Oui, Chef.
-Thank you.

-Are you okay?
-Oui, Chef.

-We're in the weeds.
-Okay. In the weeds?

-[man] Yeah.
-We love to be in the weeds.

[Dominique] Sometimes I wonder
about being a chef.

There's a lot of expectation
that I need to fulfill

because of others that are looking at me
and what I'm doing.

I struggle with it.

I always think about this French chef
that committed suicide long time ago,

Bernard Loiseau.
I'm sure you heard about it. And...

he was so troubled with everything.

I don't want to be like him.

Her home is clearly not a place
that she spends a lot of time.

The restaurants are her home.

She has a lot of friends
and she cares about her family.

But the restaurant is really
the center of her world.

[indistinct chatter]

[indistinct chatter]

The second restaurant, Petit Crenn,
is modeled on her mother's hospitality,

where there's more
of a traditional Breton menu

and it's a less formal atmosphere.

[indistinct chatter]

-Hi, how are you?
-Oh, my God!

-I'm not sure you remember us.

-We had paprone last time...
-Yeah, yeah, yeah.

How's everything so far?

[man 1] So delicious.
[man 2] Great.

-I'll go tell the chef.
-[woman laughs]

-Dominique, how are you? Hi.
-Yeah, hi.

-Hi, how are you?
-This is my friend Bella.

-Nice to meet you.
-Hi, nice to meet you.

[Dominique] You know,
when I used to live in France, you know...

you hang out with your friends
and they're at your house

until three, four o'clock in the morning.

Hi, how are you?

-[man] We have some mutual friends.

We live close by and heard
you're going to be in the neighborhood.

Our friends came last night, so...

-And did they like it? Awesome.
-They said it was excellent.

-Thank you very much.
-[woman] Thank you so much.

You're very, very welcome.
It's my house.

It's like I'm recreating
what I want in my house,

which I don't often have.

I want to switch, uh,
the dessert to, uh, tarte tatin, also.

My mom used to make tarte tatin
all the time, so can we, like, switch it?

-[woman] Yes.
-I think that will be nice.

I just learned that my mom,
uh, went to the hospital

and I didn't know about it.

[woman speaking French on PA]

And I talked to my mom today and I said,
"Why you didn't tell me?"

She's like,
"Oh, I just didn't want to worry you."

And I just realized that

she thinks that I'm too busy and...

she didn't want to disturb me,
and that just...

woke me up.

Because this is the same thing, you know,
when my dad passed away,

I was on the other side of the world
and I was not with him.

I get angry with myself.
You need to be hard on yourself.

I think it's important.
At one point you need to, like,

look at yourself and be, like, hard.

It's like, "Hey, I mean,
what were you thinking?"

[woman speaking French on PA]

It's really hard with your parents.

You know, you want to be there
for their struggle.

You wanna be present for their struggle.

[Dominique in French]
Hey, Mom!

Is everything okay?



Oh, my sweet mom!
Are things going well?

-Yes! Perfect!
-You? Yes, very good.

Ready to go?

I'm starving. Let's go get some breakfast
and some coffee, okay?

-For sure!
-[Dominique] Okay.

Please mind the step.
How have you been? Everything okay?

[Dominique's mom] Ah, yes.

-[Dominique] How about your health?

-Has your health been improving lately?

[Dominique in English] Coming back here...
it's where it all started.

It's where my parents come from.

And when you look around...

this place is the same
when it was 20 years ago.

They have something here that is special,

that I think a lot of people
are looking for.

What is, you know, that happiness?

I think it's hard for me to think
that I'm so far away from this place.

You know, sometimes where,
you know, the past is the past

and you don't wanna touch it.

And you want to keep the memories
of the past in your mind and...

to revisit something, it's...


-[Dominique in French] Good evening.
-Good evening.

Dominique Crenn.
This is where I lived.

-The kid.

-Nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you, Noella.

[man in French] I bet this will
bring back some memories, right?

[Dominique] Ah!

[Noella] When you were little,
were you playing here?

Ah, well... no.
My dad used to do his painting here.


Here we had bikes.
My dad used to paint here, too,

like he did upstairs,
in the front room.

Have you changed them a little bit?

-The rooms? No.

Oh, yeah, there it is...
It was converted into an office.

-Yes, a home office.

[man] I can see this is a building
that you know well.

Did you play here when you were young?

[Dominique] Yes, we played here.
We would hide here.

My room.

[in English]
My little bedroom.

That's amazing.

I used to, um...
I used to hide with my brother

and I used to go
inside of those covered areas.

Yeah, the bed was here.

And then I had a little desk here,
and then, um...

This is wild.
This is so wild.


[man in French]
This was your parents' bedroom.

[Dominique] Yes, I know.

This is where I saw my father
for the last time.

[Dominique in English]
This is the last time I saw my dad,

laying on that bed.

Because, you know, we have a viewing
when someone, uh, passes away.

So that was the last time...

I saw him and I was...
I lay next to him and...

kissed him goodbye.

All kids in the world think
that their parents are invincible

and they, like, they will never die.

They will always be there for them,
and I think it was a wake-up call

when my dad passed away.


[bell tolling]

Hold on.
I'm spacing out.

[sighs] I know he's over there.


[Dominique sniffling]

[crying softly]



[sniffling] You know...

when he was buried, it was the only...
only one here.

I love this.
I think this is beautiful.

I think about the times
that we used to drive to the beach,


swim and play...

and everybody was hot and sweaty,

and you could smell the lotion,
you know, the sunscreen lotion.

Understanding where I spent
most of my childhood,

I think it has a lot of connection
of what the restaurant is about.

And I always say that
it's not about us creating dishes.

It's about us connecting everything...

you know, from the start to the finish.

I've always been searching
to discover who I am. I'm still doing it.

This journey has helped me to reflect on
what matters and what doesn't matter.

My parents were very close to each other.
They were married for 45 years.

I believe that every human
longs to build that family with someone.

I'm looking for that place
where I can settle.

And I'm not sure if I'm there yet.

It's about being on the path of learning
until the end of your life.

Atelier Crenn was a part of my dream.

But when you realize a dream,
it's not a dream anymore.

There is other dreams that come to you.