The Untold Truth Of MasterChef's Dominique Crenn

"Gutsy" is the word that immediately comes to mind when you think of "MasterChef: Legends" guest judge Dominique Crenn. Although she had no culinary school training, she was determined to work for 1980s superstar chef Jeremiah Tower at his celebrity-jammed restaurant Stars in San Francisco. As Crenn wrote in her memoir "Rebel Chef: In Search of What Matters," she landed in San Francisco and presented herself to Tower. Looking him straight in the eye, she said, "I want to work for you. I'm French, so I already know how to cook" (via France Today). Tower hired her on the spot, thus launching Crenn's remarkable culinary career.

A trailblazer in the male-dominated chef world, Crenn has been awarded an primpressive four Michelin stars. In 2021, she will be honored with the Icon Award for her accomplishments in the hospitality industry and using her lofty position as a platform for raising awareness and driving positive change, according to a press release posted at PR Newswire

Crenn is revered in the restaurant business by her peers for her skill, her artistry, and her passion for not only the food she cooks but also for the people she feeds. A fierce champion of sustainability, Crenn just announced that her restaurant Atelier Crenn will be the first to serve lab-grown chicken (per VegNews). Crenn isn't just another celebrity chef. As you delve into her life and career, you'll agree that Dominique Crenn is nothing less than extraordinary.

Dominique Crenn is the only US female chef to win four Michelin stars

In relatively short time, Crenn skyrocketed to fame (per The New York Times). Fed up with France's male-dominated culinary schools, she left her native country when she was 21 to pursue her own culinary ambitions (via Condé Nast Traveler). She landed in San Francisco, which, as she said in Netflix's Chef's Table, reminded her of Brittany, where she was raised (per Eater). Crenn worked at several high-end restaurants and then, according to SFGATE, she was recruited by Intercontinental Hotel in Jakarta as Indonesia's first female executive chef. Crenn spent a year there, running an all-female kitchen staff before heading back to the U.S. As reported by Grub Street, she worked eight years at the Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach, California, and briefly at her own restaurant, Abode, in Santa Monica. 

But Crenn had left her heart in San Francisco, and in 2009, she was hired as chef de cuisine at Luce in the Intercontinental Hotel, and the same year, she was awarded her first Michelin star (via Fine Dining Lovers). The less-than-adventurous tastes of hotel guests, however, compelled her to open the very adventurous Atelier Crenn in 2011. Two years later, Atelier Crenn was awarded two Michelin stars, making Crenn the first female chef in the U.S. to win three. Her winning streak continued when she was crowned the World's Best Female Chef in 2016, and in 2018, Crenn again made history by being awarded her fourth Michelin star for her Parisian-style Bar Crenn. 

Dominique Crenn calls herself an artist, not a chef

Crenn doesn't think of herself as a chef. When asked by CBS News if she was an artist instead, she replied "Ha! Yes." Crenn was adopted when she was 18 months old (per Longreads), and her father, Allain Crenn, was a well-connected politician. He was also a painter, and she credits him for shaping her belief that food and artistic expression should be integrated. "I'm not serving a menu," she said on "Chef's Table," "I'm serving a story. I'm serving my soul" (via Eater). Her Michelin-starred restaurant Atelier Crenn is a tribute to her father's vision. Atelier is defined as an artist's workshop or studio. Her father had such an atelier — several of his paintings now hang in Atelier Crenn (per SF Eater) — and she wanted her restaurant to be "a place where you create ... and a place where you gather people to create with you." 

Cooking is Crenn's canvas, and her stunning dishes reflect her artist's point of view. Vanity Fair dubbed her cookbook "Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste" as surreal but also acknowledged the breathtaking beauty of her creations, many of which are inspired by her interactions with nature.

Crenn isn't only a visual artist, she's also a poet. According to Eater, you won't get a menu at Atelier Crenn; instead, you'll be handed a poem, penned by Crenn, that describes each dish with impressionistic images. Crenn believes that food and poetry are complementary languages, and her "poetic culinaria" allows her to express her emotions through her cooking.

Dominique Crenn is engaged to actress Maria Bello

Crenn dedicated her 2020 memoir "Rebel Chef" to actress Maria Bello as "l'amour de ma vie" ("the love of my life") (per Eater). But as Crenn told Haute Living, before 2018, she'd never heard of the famed actress, until Bello contacted her on Instagram and requested a reservation at Atelier Crenn. Crenn made the reservation, but as she was on her way to Mexico, she wouldn't be there. Bello insisted that Crenn be present, however, and when they met, sparks flew. Both were in relationships at the time, and they simply remained close friends. When Crenn revealed the news of her cancer diagnosis on social media on May 5, 2019 (via Eater), Bello flew to San Francisco and declared her love. But Crenn was hesitant. Her father had died of cancer in 1999, and she knew what the disease would do to her and what a burden it would be on Bello. Bello was undaunted and told her, "okay, let's do cancer." 

Crenn endured the grueling chemotherapy treatments, double mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery, and Bello stayed by her side. During a trip to Paris in late December 2019, Crenn proposed to Bello (per SFGATE), and they announced their engagement at Elton John's annual Oscar party on February 9, 2020 (via ET Online). The pandemic, however, separated the couple, as Bello stayed in Los Angeles and Crenn in San Francisco. But in a photo that Crenn posted in late August, they've reunited and look very much in love.

How Dominique Crenn survived breast cancer

As reported by CBS News, in 2018 when Crenn's doctor told her that she had triple-negative breast cancer, she asked him in her usual cut-to-the-chase way, "I'm in trouble?" He assured her she wasn't, but she needed to do the work. So began Crenn's journey of looking deep into who she was and really getting to know the person staring back at her from the mirror. As she said in a Zoom interview with Haute Living, food is medicine for healing a sick body, and she used her self-discovery to also enlighten and inspire people. Crenn removed meat from her diet and menu at her restaurants (via Eater) and loaded up on Omega-3-rich fish and fresh produce from her farm in Sonoma, California. The cancer treatments took a toll on her body, and she lost all of her hair, as she posted on Instagram.

After eight months of chemo and surgeries, Crenn's cancer went into remission. But as the pandemic ravaged America, she knew she had to take action and launched (with two partners) VitaBowl, a superfood company that offers nutrient-rich, plant-based meals. "I think the pandemic has exposed the weakness of America; how poor the food system is. It needs to stop." She partnered with rethink and GLIDE and used her restaurant Petit Crenn to feed 2,000 homeless every day. On one particular day, Crenn was approached by a homeless man who told her how good he felt since he'd been eating her food. In a way, cancer helped Crenn find her purpose.

Dominique Crenn is a passionate activist for gender equality

According to The New York Times, Crenn is firmly feminist, but at the time of the interview in 2017, she wasn't ready to dive into gender politics. Her role as a chef is feeding people, no matter their gender, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. "The longer I do this, the more I am sure that none of it should matter in the kitchen — or anywhere." When she won the award as the World's Best Female Chef, she admitted to CBS News that she felt diminished. Women shouldn't have their own category but should be simply considered "best chef." What's most troubling about the Worlds50Best list is that none of Crenn's restaurants was listed in either the top 50 or top 100. As reported by Mic, the annual list has long been plagued by a lack of inclusion and diversity.

When British chef Tom Kerridge wrote a misogynistic opinion piece in The Independent, Crenn felt compelled to respond. "Can you imagine a female chef saying about men what he said about women in the kitchen?! No, you can't. We don't roll that way" (per Vice). Crenn was reluctant; she didn't want to be painted in a box as a female chef first and a chef second. The Me Too Movement, though, changed her. As reported by the The Washington Post, Crenn admitted that she had dealt with sexual harassment as victim and an employer. She believes that women can change the toxic culture of restaurants.