Born to Cook

Dominique Crenn, chef of Luce restaurant, serves up melon specialties in her home.

Dominique Crenn, chef de cuisine of San Francisco’s Luce restaurant, was practically born to be a chef.

After all, as the adopted daughter of a well-known French politician and his wife, Crenn grew up with an adventurous palate thanks to her mother’s fine cooking highlighted by fresh, seasonal ingredients from farmers markets in France.

With her father’s best friend a famous restaurant critic in France, Crenn also found herself often accompanying the two powerful men on excursions to Michelin-starred restaurants when she was all of 8 years old.

“When I was 8, I told my mother I wanted to be a chef,” Crenn says.

“Or maybe a policeman or a photographer,” she adds with a laugh.

It may look like tuna sashimi, but those are actually slivers of pickled watermelon rind atop that tomato-melon salad.

Cooking did win out, but not before she had to battle French culinary school directors who discouraged her from becoming a chef because she was a woman.

But Crenn has never been one to let anything keep her down. Witness the scars on her left hand, a reminder of the time she cut herself badly while shucking oysters at fabled Stars in San Francisco. Crenn calmly walked from the bar to the back of the kitchen. Only there, did she let out a piercing scream. She refused to go home. After colleagues helped bandage her hand, and she downed a shot to numb the pain, she calmly went back to work.

Read more about this fascinating woman in my “Chefs Night In” story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle Food section. You’ll also learn how to prepare Crenn’s summery “Melon and Heirloom Tomato Salad with Pickled Watermelon Rind and Melon Shot.”

Melon with mint and lime.

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  • Enjoyed your article on Dominique Crenn that appeared in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle. Just wish the Chron allocated more space for your piece, Carolyn—it was just enough to tease my appetite to learn more about Luce’s Chef de Cuisine. 🙂

  • Thanks so much, Wotten! Glad you enjoyed the profile story. Yes, that’s one of the OTHER unfortunate aspects of the decline of print journalism — less space for stories because the newspapers, themselves, are getting so thin and small. Sigh. Let’s hope newspapers find a way to survive to do what they do best.

  • I always admire women chefs so much. They always have to fight it out harder than males. Loved this post!

  • I love a good girl power story!

  • I really liked her foie and pear in the eggshells at the Meals on Wheels gala!

  • What an incredible culinary education from such a young age! What a great story of how she took over the kitchen at the age of 9 years – born to be chef, indeed!

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