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Mon Feb 11, 2019, 03:19 PM

Three Michelin stars! Meet the first woman to smash America's boys' club

Three Michelin stars! Meet the first woman to smash America's boys' club

Dominique Crenn is the first woman in the US to be awarded the top honor by the prestigious French restaurant guide for her restaurant Atelier Crenn

Dominique Crenn in San Francisco. Photograph: Matt Edge/The New York Times/Red/eyevine

In November, three decades after arriving in San Francisco from France with no professional cooking experience or even training, Dominique Crenn got a lifechanging call from the Michelin Guide. Surrounded by staff, she answered the phone: “Ah, bonjour!” First, she excitedly relayed the news that Bar Crenn, her 1930s Paris-inspired wine bar, had earned its first Michelin star. Then, her composure erupted into what can only be described as ecstasy. Jumping around sandwiched by staff members, she whooped and screamed. Her only audible words: “Oh my God!” Her restaurant Atelier Crenn had been awarded not one, not two, but three Michelin stars.

It was the first time a woman in America had ever been awarded the top classification by the prestigious French restaurant guide (she was also the first female in the US to get two stars in 2012). Not only did it confirm her status as one of the world’s top chefs, but it also marked the smashing of America’s boys’ club cooking elite. Chef Nancy Silverton says Crenn’s achievement broke the glass ceiling for everyone. “It means there are no limits, no roofs, no barriers. Dominique took a sledgehammer to the walls,” she tells me. Eric Ripert, executive chef of three-star New York restaurant Le Bernardin, describes Crenn as a “pioneer” and a rule-breaker. “It’s not many women worldwide who have that achievement,” he says. “And it’s a big deal for the US. It’s not too many three-star Michelin in America to begin with.” (There are 15 in total.)

. . . . .

“Well I mean, yes, it is vulnerable. But I think one of the greatest traits of a human is being vulnerable because …” She starts again. “People think it’s a weakness, I think it’s a strength because it allows you have authenticity, it allows you to tell people who you are. There’s no lie, there is no hiding behind something. I’m not in politics here. What you see is what you get,” she says, unravelling the patterned scarf from around her neck. “It’s nice. It allows you to grow as a person, which is great.”But she has also had to be strong. Female chefs often have to work even harder than men to succeed in an industry already notorious for its relentless work ethic and unforgiving hours. Crenn was named “best female chef” by World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2016 (although she later criticised it for being gender specific, saying: “It’s stupid. A chef is a chef”) and last year the James Beard Foundation named Crenn “best chef: west”.

Earlier in her career, she came across a lot of men who believed they needed to act tough. But she fought this mentality by not caring what other people thought of her. “‘If you’re a woman, you should shut up and just cook.’ I’m like, seriously? You’re telling me that? Guess what. I’m going to keep speaking then.” Women, she says, in many places are still being paid less than their male counterparts. She believes the problem goes back to education and that all children should be taught the same, regardless of gender. “We can’t have a country run by men only. We’re not going to be able to change things if that happens.”

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