Let's Read Real Good-Like: Atelier Crenn
A sample from Dominique Crenn's latest elegant oeuvre, Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste.
October 29, 2015
Dominique Crenn gets a very dreamy look on her face when she talks about Brittany. It's the Holy Grail of pure Gallic living, which probably puts San Francisco—where Crenn now makes her Michelin-star laden home—somewhere on some mangy but endearing lower rung. San Francisco is sunny and bountiful, but Brittany? Brittany is slap-you-in-the-face harmonic, as only the French countryside can be.
Her admission into that shiny hall of book-penning chefs comes in distinct Crenn packaging: sleek, emotional yet cerebral, and bowing heavily to the elements. The book is also heavy as hell, which is a nice metaphor for the delicacy inside. Nothing is effortless—hard work begets beauty in the Crenn universe.
Here's a little taste, before the book's official release in November. Consider it an amuse spoon for your brain.
When I was a little girl, my father used to take me to the early-morning fish market at the Port de Douarnenez de Cornouaille, near our house in Brittany.
It was a very special time for me, in part because it gave me a chance to be alone with my dad, without my brother. Although he was very strict about my staying close by his side, loved being out in the misty morning air, surrounded by the smell of fish and the noises of the market. I was only about three or four years old when we started going, so I felt terribly out of place amid the chaos of yellow-booted fishermen calling to one another as they threw fish and cracked jokes. I used to withdraw into myself and observe how the fishermen moved so purposefully across the slippery ground, and imagine their lives from the lines on their faces. And of course, I watched my father as he navigated the huge open-air market, and I learned from him how to spot the best fish, how to talk with the fishermen, and how to respect the sea.
In French, we call this kind of commercial market la criée—the word is derived from the “cry” of voices at an auction. As a kid, I was captivated by these ancient sounds: For centuries, Breton fishermen have pulled their boats up to this port and used their voices to sell their fish, exactly the way that I saw in the 1970s, and la criée was like a time machine that transported me back through the history of Brittany and helped me understand why our culture is so deeply entwined with the sea. I’m sorry to say it, but there’s no equivalent to la criée here in San Francisco, even for chefs. It’s all been mediated by fish distributors and middlemen, which is a shame—and yet I do feel that I recapture some of that wonder and immediacy every time I taste really fresh shellfish, especially the lobster and langoustines that used to wag their claws at my younger self.
I don’t pretend to be a perfect oceanic steward, but I do try to cultivate an appreciation of the sea. Our seafood dishes try to capture some of my own awe when I contemplate the incredible diversity and the bracing simplicity of the sea.