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February 24, 2009

Chef Dominique Crenn Gets Down on the Farm

Chef Dominique Crenn of Luce
in San Francisco's InterContinental.

by Julia Bainbridge

Yesterday, the folks at the new InterContinental San Francisco stopped in New York to talk about the property, the plans, and, of course, the food. The 32-story InterContinental--expected to be the last major hotel to debut in the hilly city for the next seven years or so--was built with the future in mind: It is registered with the U.S. Green Building Council to pursue LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

You can read our U.K. sister magazine Condé Nast Traveller's Hot List entry on the hotel, which opened last February, here. I want to talk about Monday's real star, Luce chef Dominique Crenn.

French-born Crenn first worked with the InterContinental family in 1997 in Jakarta, where she took the helm at the hotel's restaurant, as well as the title of first female executive chef in Indonesia. From what I saw yesterday, Crenn has made herself at home again in San Francisco--she was there in the 90s, working at the celebrated Stars and Campton Place, among others--and feels particularly happy about the relationships she is able to have with local farmers there. Luce, her restaurant at the InterContinental San Francisco, features a supper menu with new American instruments, Italian baselines, and notes from all the other places Crenn has traveled over the years: Hawaiian butterfish gets baby carrots, mango purée, pickled Savoy cabbage, and a smoked pancetta gastrique; lamb and lamb cheeks from Sonoma Farm Lamb are served with a date tagine, slow-cooked Gigante beans, basil "soil" and garlic purée.

Crenn landscapes her plates like she might a garden, too; there are more literal takes on this, like her root vegetables that "grow" out of "soil" (dehydrated black olives or basil mixed with Panko bread crumbs), but even the carrot cake is placed in such a way that you want to walk through it and pick from it. For yesterday's meal, Crenn flew in her ingredients from the West Coast overnight, including some gorgeous Niman Ranch beef she topped with crunchy, almost pebble-size sea salt (well, that was from Brittany). Crenn clearly has farmers in mind from start to finish. Whether you can tell or not, you'll certainly wonder just what it is that makes her food so darn good.

Further reading:
* Esquire thinks Crenn is pretty hot, too. The magazine just named her its chef of the year
* Catch of the Day: International noshables


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