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Dominique Crenn Isn’t Afraid to Piss People Off in the Fight Against Climate Change

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The Basque Culinary Center hosts a symposium at Sales Force Tower after announcing its culinary prize winner

Dominique Crenn speaking at the Basque Culinary Center sustainability symposium in San Francisco
Dominique Crenn speaking at the Basque Culinary Center sustainability symposium in San Francisco
Rachael Calmas

On Tuesday on the 60th floor of the sky-high Sales Force Tower in Downtown San Francisco, the Basque Culinary Center announced the winner of its international Basque Culinary World Prize. Local chef Anthony Myint of Mission Chinese and his foundation ZeroFoodPrint won this year’s prize of 100,000 euros.

After the announcement, the Basque Culinary Center hosted a full day of panels in a sustainability-themed symposium with some of the world’s most notable chefs, including Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana to Dominique Crenn. Myint hosted a panel discussing his now award-winning foundation focused on improving carbon emissions in farming. But the most attended panel of the day was the one hosted by Massimo Bottura, Eteko Atxa of Bilbao’s three Michelin-star Azurmendi, Tokyo’s Yoshihiro Narisawa of Les Creations des Narisawa, Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz, and Dominique Crenn of Atelier and Bar Crenn here in San Francisco.

The panel was called “Forward Thinking,” a loose collection of ten minute speeches from each of the chefs on their perspective of the impact and power of sustainability, followed by a short discussion and brief Q&A. Anyone who follows international fine dining restaurants closely likely had their mind blown from the star-power of that particular panel, though the five speeches were a little less focused, and somewhat difficult to follow as Atxa and Aduriz spoke in their quick-firing native Spanish, with audience members following along via live translation.

Massimo Bottura speaking at the Basque Culinary Center’s “Forward Thinking” seminar in San Francisco
Massimo Bottura speaking at the Basque Culinary Center’s “Forward Thinking” seminar in San Francisco
Rachael Calmas

Massimo was arguably the most charismatic and most famous of the bunch — his World’s 50 Best list-topping restaurant Osteria Francescana featured as the premiere episode of Netflix’s Chef’s Table — focused on his main perspective of sustainability: the problem of food waste. Here are some of his best lines from the speech:

On the impact of fine dining establishments: “We discovered that beauty can rebuild the dignity of people. Today, fine dining restaurants are in the spotlight more than ever. Chefs have the responsibility to be a tangible example of sustainability. Chefs have a responsibility to send out that message. To study, research, and apply new ideas and techniques to fight food waste.”

On how thinking like a grandmother makes a big impact on food waste: “We need to break habits, often going beyond what we already know. A grandmother, using an overripe tomato or two-day old bread, is an important cultural approach. It’s about knowledge, vision, the past, and passion. It’s about asking the right ingredients. An overripe tomato can become a beautiful red tomato sauce. Old bread can become a panzanella, or bread crumbs. Sustainability is a mindset.”

Meanwhile, Eteko Atxa focused his speech (translated from Spanish) on introducing healthy eating on institutions, such as a providing a local hospital with recipe books and nutritional guidelines.

On how a simple, local approach can make an impact: “With a healthy cooking book, we created very simple menus with products you can find in a supermarket.”

The rest of Atxa’s somewhat meandering speech touched on the small impact cooks can make on local communities, using humble plans to improve the situation for everyone from diners to farmers.

Massimo Bottura, Eteko Atxa, Yoshihiro Narisawa, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Dominique Crenn at the “Forward Thinking” seminar hosted by the Basque Culinary Center
Massimo Bottura, Eteko Atxa, Yoshihiro Narisawa, Andoni Luis Aduriz, Dominique Crenn at the “Forward Thinking” seminar hosted by the Basque Culinary Center
Rachael Calmas

Yoshihiro Narisawa gave a prepared speech in English, starting first with the contrast of Tokyo and the Japanese countryside. Here’s some of the best lines he gave yesterday afternoon:

On Tokyo versus the Japanese countryside: “I love Tokyo and Japan, but I’m a bit worried. Tokyo and the countryside are totally different. When I go to the countryside, there’s no waste. They don’t throw anything away. They even use eggshells and the remaining vegetables for breakfast in different in beautiful ways. This is the beauty of Japan.”

On cherishing what each country can bring to the idea of sustainability: “As a chef, I like to send this message to people through my dishes. Everyone likes yummy food, right? You want to be healthy, right? You want to live long, right? I’m happy with my job because I can use fantastic ingredients to cook delicious dishes. I am sure you love your country. Each country has many good ideas. Countryside and cityside, I hope chefs continue to send good, tasty, happy messages by mixing traditional culture in today’s society for the future.”

Andoni Luis Aduriz’s take on sustainability focused on personal health and the problem of obesity. Here’s some of his best lines:

“Who has teeth implants? Who has progressive glasses?...When you have an implant, it feels weird, you can’t bite [the same]. When I had my progressive glasses the ophthalmologist told me not to drive because I could get sick. When you change something, what happens? It’s when you integrate something that you learn one more time. Your brain needs to learn how to see in a different way, bite in a different way. It’s the same thing here with ideas. To integrate ideas, you’re going to get confused.”

Aduriz related his quest for sustainability with regards to obesity: “According to all indicators at the state, around 36.6% of [Spain’s] population is overweight. Me, for example. 16% of the popular is obese. 13 million people are overweight, 5 million are obese. Lots of people are overweight.”

Dominique Crenn
Dominique Crenn
Rachael Calmas

Dominique Crenn provided perhaps the highest shock value and verve to her talk, which opened with a lengthy montage of various industry folks and friends saying, “wake up,” in an amateur video. Here are some of her best lines:

On the impact of her cancer diagnosis: “I had my wake up call because I had to start thinking about all the smallest details of my life. I gave up coffee. I gave up rosé. I gave up meat, sugar, and most dairy. We only have 12 years to act on climate change, according to the U.N. 12 years is nothing.”

Crenn then related sustainability to her upcoming restaurant and takeaway at the ground floor of the Sales Force Tower called Boutique Crenn:

“We will strive to be zero waste. No to-go bags or coffee cups. I don’t want to see any plastic. Bring your own cup. If you need a bag to carry food home, bring your own. If a guest asks for a bag or coffee, we might lose a customer. I don’t need their money for that. Remember, it’s time to wake up. The fight we are up against is a big one. We need to do dramatic things to move forward. Be ready to piss some people off for their own good.”

This panel concluded with a brief discussion, with notable quotes coming from Narisawa, who said in Japanese: “The public doesn’t share the danger or risk that we need. Everyone has to have the notion of the danger and risks that we are taking as chefs and restaurateurs.”

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