Take Five with Chef Dominique Crenn, on Her Upcoming “Iron Chef America” Battle

Last year, Executive Chef Dominique Crenn of Luce in San Francisco, showed her chops by competing in the Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef Competition.”

Now, the 45-year-old chef who used to square off regularly against the guys in soccer in her homeland of France, shows off her combative skills again, this time in Kitchen Stadium on Aug. 8 on “Iron Chef America” when she takes on Iron Chef Michael Symon.

She plans to feature her “Iron Chef” dishes on a special prix fixe menu at Luce, too, starting Aug. 10. The multi-course dinner will be $65 per person, and be available through Labor Day.

Crenn joins a small cadre of Bay Area chefs who have battled an Iron Chef: Ron Siegel of the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco; David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos, Traci Des Jardins of Jardiniere in San Francisco; Mourad Lahlou of Aziza in San Francisco; Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco; Chris Cosentino of Incanto in San Francisco; and Nate Appleman (formerly at A16 in San Francisco and now at New York’s Pulino’s). By Crenn’s count, that makes her the eighth competitor from these parts, a most auspicious number for her, too.

Q: What’s up with the number eight?

A: In France, we celebrate the names of people on certain days. So, Aug. 8 is the day to celebrate St. Dominique in France.

Q: Hmm, so does that mean there was a good outcome for you in the battle because of that?

A: (laughs) You can’t read anything into that.

Q: The day you did the battle also marked the anniversary of your father’s death?

A: Yes, it was the 10th anniversary. The battle was for him. That day, I was sad, but focused. I wished he was there. But it also was a day to celebrate the person that he was. You have to celebrate that or else you just end up staying at home and crying your eyes out.

Q: Did you know Symon before doing the show?

A: I met him when I did ‘The Next Iron Chef.’ And I knew about him through friends in the industry. He has an incredible reputation. It was an honor to be in a battle with him.

We were putting makeup on, and sitting next to each other, just cracking up. He’s a wonderful man. But the gloves come off when it’s time to battle. It’s one hour of craziness.

Q: Of course, he has that unmistakable devilish laugh, too. Was that intimidating?

A: I love his laugh. I made a comment about it. You will see.

Q: I know you can’t say what the ‘secret ingredient’ is. But was it at least an ingredient that you liked?

A: It’s an ingredient that people don’t know how to use well or just know how to use one way. It was interesting for me to take risks and to think outside of the box.

Q: So this ingredient was better than the sea cucumber you had to work with once on the ‘Next Iron Chef’?

A: Come on, sea cucumber! I’m not going to go there with the sea cucumber. (laughs)

Q: Was doing ‘Iron Chef’ easier than competing on ‘Next Iron Chef’?

A: They are totally different animals. On ‘Iron Chef,’ you battle an amazing chef. Millions see you. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. You just have to really showcase yourself.

With ‘Iron Chef,’ you are in a professional kitchen. This is your space. This is your team. You can be more focused than on ‘The Next Iron Chef,’ where you have to share the space with someone who doesn’t want to share it with you.

Q: Hmm, could you be referring to Appleman, perhaps?

A: (She remains diplomatically mum.)

Q: When I interviewed Sara Moulton earlier this year, she told me how she mourns the fact that food and cooking have become so competitive these days. What do you say to that?

A: I am sad, too. Food is where talent should come together and evolution should happen. Unfortunately, the egos are rising and it is all about competition, which is bull s**t. It’s a craft, and it has been for centuries.

Q: But how does that jive with you doing shows like this?

A: I am doing a competition. But it’s not about losing or beating Michael Symon. It’s about putting yourself out there and doing something different with what you’re given. It’s a competition with yourself.

Q: How will it feel to watch the battle on TV with invited guests at a private party at Luce on Aug. 8?

A: Whatever the outcome, I think people will be proud.

More: My Q&A with Dominique Crenn When She Competed on “The Next Iron Chef”

More: My Profile of Dominique Crenn for the San Francisco Chronicle

More: My Q&A with Sara Moulton

More: My Q&A with Chef Chris Cosentino

More: My Q&A with Chef Ron Siegel

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