To the San Francisco foodie, chef Dominique Crenn needs no introduction. The woman behind the two-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn, the romantic Petit Crenn and the new and buzzy Bar Crenn has become synonymous with the city’s fine dining scene. Combining European precision with a very Californian love of fresh ingredients and seasonal touches, Crenn, nominated for a 2018 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the West, is both an international superstar and as homegrown as they come. And she’s renowned for her artistic plating technique. We asked the French phenom to design a dish, and explain the method to her magic.
Despite being on the menu at Atelier Crenn for barely a month, the creation, a layered uni and geoduck clam tart with winter citrus, “is already becoming a classic,” says Crenn. Comprising a rice flour base, sea urchin from Hokkaido poached in clarified brown butter, fermented pineapple vinegar jel and barely cooked clams from Taylor Shellfish in Washington, the stunning tart is served alongside thin slices of fruit, formed into a rose and held together by the same fermented pineapple vinegar gel. As elaborate as it may sound, the tart is merely a throwback to Crenn’s childhood days in France.
“I used to go to the beach with my parents and I’d eat an orange from the garden, then suck on an oyster,” she recalls. “Citrus and seafood is a golden combination. I just love the acidity and the sweetness.”
There is more than meets the eye. “I’m not just putting things on a plate,” Crenn explains. “When I create a dish, a lot of things come into play. There’s a layering that happens. In your everyday, you can be happy, sad, cold, warm—and in a dish we want to embrace what life is about, to let each layer tell a story and transport you.”
With typical nonchalance, she remarks, “It’s just beautiful, bringing the beauty of the sea to your plate.” She makes creating a complex celebration of flavors and textures appear effortless, almost instinctive.
The result: An instant classic.