“Today we’re celebrating, but tomorrow we go back to work.” Dominique Crenn keeps her nose to the grindstone, even when talking to the New York Times about her historic success. Crenn became the first woman in the United States to receive Michelin’s coveted three-star rating on Thursday when the guide released its 2019 Bay Area ratings.
Crenn, who was already America’s highest-rated female chef thanks to her previous two-star title, is no stranger to hard work. When she moved to San Francisco from France in the 1990s, she wasn’t following celebrity chef dreams. She hadn’t even been to culinary school, and still hasn’t. She got her first job cooking under Jeremiah Tower, one of the fathers of California cuisine. She refined her skills over the next two decades by working her way up from the bottom in a series of kitchens.
Everything changed when her modernist restaurant, Atelier Crenn, was awarded two Michelin stars in 2013, and Crenn found herself thrust into sudden celebrity status in a male-dominated field. But she’s here for the fight. When she was named “the World’s Best Female Chef” on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Crenn was the center of attention for another reason: the award sparked a global debate, insinuating the world’s best chef is de-facto a man, and women need their own category in order to compete.
“I hope that award won’t exist in two years,” Crenn told the NYT, “But then I thought, ‘Am I going to fight it or am I going to do something with it?’” Crenn kept the title despite suggestions she should reject it, choosing to use the publicity to shed light on inequality.
The National Restaurant Association reports that while 70% of all servers are women, female chefs account for just 19% of chefs nationwide. This trend follows many other industries where women are underrepresented at the top, contributing to the national wage gap. Not to mention the slew of chefs recently accused of sexual harassment and assault. Crenn’s accomplishment shows how far behind the restaurant industry is when it comes to gender equality, but her self-made perseverance signals a path forward for advocating for women’s rights: tomorrow, it’s back to work.