Dedicated with love to the memory of Emily S.
Chef Dominique Crenn in 60 seconds: shy, slight, lithe, sinewed, agile.
Her sleeves were rolled up to reveal working-class arms, roped muscles and thin, spindly fingers. She smiled and moved through the room, you could tell that she was not entirely comfortable with the front of the house - capably managed by a professional staff that circles en glissade.
Her food is not shy, however, and she is a teller of blush inducing stories that come alive on the plate. Lesser chefs would be accused to letting gimmicks and table drama stand in the place of taste and balance. Chef Crenn brings European whimsy to her dishes, and an attention to sensuality some might consider feminine.
It has been a long time since the kitchen was the exclusive domain of men. Remarkable women chefs have lately been coming into the limelight, and good on them!
As the first female chef in North America to earn a second Michelin star, Crenn has certainly earned her place in the pantheon of modern female chefs.
The mean, cynical, too-cool-for-school person that I have become wants to poke fun at the florid poetry of Atelier Crenn's menu, containing lyric adjective-strewn verse. On the same hand, I find myself often unable to restrain my own prose.
Who likes a cynic, anyway? My platonic dinner date certainly does not, explaining to me that she strives to live a life free of irony.
I sip wine and roll this idea over in my head, like a duck breast in butter. A life without irony? A sincere life?
I imagine this would take great bravery - bravery maybe I do not possess.
Anyway, I'm not trying to "bum" anyone's "trip" (there I go being sarcastic again).
The food at Atelier Crenn defies cynicism and challenges even the most staid acolytes of the "food is craft, not art" (Bourdain and his ilk) to reconsider their leitmotif.
Surely food can be both craft and art, temporal and fleeting as it is? Like dance, it exists in a moment in time and then is gone. Like craft, it is reproduced en masse, course after course, cover after cover like so many bobbles you'd find on Etsy.
And I, as "food blogger", am often too much focused on "process" that I miss the experience entirely: how is this assembled? Where is this from? Who grew what, who is the sous chef? What is the composition?
Usually I am hearing each instrument, nattering details come into focus, but I should be letting it blow me over like Beethoven's Eroica "Marcia Funebre" fuge - making me feel something.
Crenn's food is evocative, whimsical. She has cut through my analytical ego and feeds the id. Brava.
"Table drama," said my companion, "is what keeps me coming back here week after week."
Ok, but you're paying next time!
Menu and Pairings - 4th January, 2013
Grains & Seeds, Dashi, Yuzu Kosho - 2011 Arisda Gewurtztraminer
The Sea - 2009 Antoine Petitprenz-St. Aubin
Walk in the Forest - 2009 Copain 'Les Voisin' - Anderson Valley Pinot Noir
Ocean & Land - 2007 Chateau Lafleur-Gazin Pomerol
Betterave - 2009 Chateau Larame - Saint Croix Dumont
3127 Fillmore Street,
San Francisco, CA