Chef Dominique Crenn on Food Waste
Continuing our celebration of LA Food Bowl 2017, we interviewed Chef Dominique Crenn at the "Food For Soul - Cooking is a Call to Act" panel on Friday, May 6, 2017 held at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.
The LA Times hosted its first ever LA Food Bowl, a celebration of the local LA food scene that also highlights issues of food waste, hunger, and sustainability. Chefs Mario Batali, Massimo Bottura, Roy Choi, Dominique Crenn, and Mary Sue Milliken spoke at the group panel. They discussed food waste and shared their projects that work to combat this issue. LA food critic Jonathan Gold moderated the talk.
Chef Dominique Crenn rose to critical acclaim when The Michelin Guide gave her flagship restaurant, Atelier Crenn, two stars in 2013. Dominique's celebration of local ingredients combined with her use of poetry to describe the flow of her menus created a special storytelling dining experience in the heart of San Francisco's Cow Hollow. Dominique has another restaurant, Petit Crenn, a more traditional take on French cuisine with a menu inspired by her mother and grandmother.
by George Ko
Photos and Video by George Ko
GR: What was your first experience with food waste?
Dominique Crenn: The first time I experienced food waste was when I came to the United States. I was eating at a restaurant and I saw these huge portions. Personally, I couldn’t eat them, but I was watching other customers in the restaurant, and I didn’t understand where the food was going to go if they didn’t finish the portions. I think that’s the first time I saw something and didn’t think it was normal. As I said during the panel, my mom never wasted food. It’s all about celebrating food, cooking for people, and that’s enough. Less is more. It’s about finding a balance. I think there’s a perception that if the plate is big you have to get your value for it. But at the end of the day you don’t because the food you’re wasting isn’t good for the planet. It’s not good for anything.
GR: A lot of people admire your ability to source local foods. Especially as a French chef in San Francisco: you really highlight the locality of San Francisco. Do you mind talking about your relationship with local fisherman and farmers and how you’ve incorporated that into your food?
DC: You can do that anywhere in the world. You have to understand the culture of the time and place. You have to take your ego out of the equation as a chef and understand the community, and what the community can bring to you instead of going to people and demanding what you want. Just understanding the ecosystem around you. When you create that relationship with the people that work around you, you create a better economy and ecosystem. In San Francisco we’re very lucky. In California, in general, we’re incredibly lucky. There are incredible farmers and incredible land. Going to the farmer’s market or talking to a farmer that gives me whatever they’re growing is great. It’s not even a luxury. It’s what people need to do every day.
There are farmers everywhere in the world. Farming, I think, is probably the number one economy in the world. You can find them everywhere: in Japan, you can find them in Africa. Just make that pledge to yourself that you will work with them. That’s very powerful. It’s about the economy, the ecosystem, and the community you’re living in.
GR: Was there a dish that you’ve eaten that uses ingredients that would normally be wasted?
DC: My parents come from Brittany in France. There’s this fish called espadon in French. I think it’s the swordfish. The swordfish has a bad rap. You have to be careful where the swordfish comes from. But my family uses every part of it. You even use the swordfish’s spine. The next day you can grill it and the meat is amazing. If you cut it down, the marrow inside is amazing. That’s what I’m using right now at Crenn. One of the dishes incorporates that piece which is normally wasted into the dish, and it’s one of the most delicious parts of the dish.
I think when you use a dead animal, you have a responsibility to make sure you celebrate it. You can’t throw things away. It’s the same thing with vegetables. When we get vegetables from the farm, we use everything. For example, if we use a melon, we use the meat but we also use the skin to make vinegar. You have to really embrace and celebrate what you have because it’s a gift. I think everything is a gift, so when you get something you have to make sure you embrace it. But that’s just me. Not everyone does that, but I think that’s the right way to do things.
GR: It’s so poetic and so beautiful.
DC: Life is a poem. Life is poetry. Words also matter.
GR: Is there a specific restaurant in LA you love or you’re dying to try?
DC: There a lot of places I’m dying to try. I can’t say any names. I lived here for a while, and LA is a very special city in my heart. There are incredible people here that create amazing food journeys. Living in San Francisco, I can tell you right now that LA is probably one of the best place to eat in the United States.
GR: What’s your favorite noodle dish and where would you eat it?
DC: I love the way the Japanese make soba noodles with buckwheat. I think there is a similarity between the buckwheat in Brittany and Japan. It brings me back to my memories. I like the texture and taste. There are a lot of noodle places in LA. I’m not going to say which one. No, there are a lot of great places. Okay, maybe Roy Choi’s places. It’s amazing here in Downtown LA. Can we talk about Koreatown? It’s amazing! I remember the first time I went there maybe fifteen years ago. You can get anything you want here. It’s the best.
I just came back from Japan. It was my first time in Tokyo. I love that there are places that take one thing and they’re making it all night long. I think that’s the beauty of caring about something. I think you see that a lot in Asian culture, which I love. It could be Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai. There is this care and history behind every dish. I think that’s beautiful.
GR: What’s next?
DC: I’m writing a memoir that will be my second book. I’m opening Bar Crenn which focuses on biodynamic and natural wine, which are also found at Petit Crenn. I just want to do things that inspire others and inspire me and you. It has to do with food but it might be outside of a restaurant. It might be a different form. It’s a platform for me. I’m lucky enough that you guys are celebrating me as a chef, but that doesn’t define me. What defines me is what I’m going to do with this platform to hopefully do good things in this world.
Checkout Dominique Crenn's restaurant's here
(Be prepared to wait for somebody to cancel their reservation. That's sometimes the only way to get a table.)