Liveblog: Innovator Interview with Dominique Crenn of Luce

BlogHer Original Post

Welcome to the liveblog of the BlogHer Food '10 panel "Lunch: Innovator Interview: Dominique Crenn."

Here's the description:

In addition to being a recent winner of Iron Chef America and a Michelin-starred chef, we are fortunate that Dominique Crenn is the Executive Chef of Luce, the premier restaurant at the Hotel Intercontinental, our conference venue. Carolyn Jung of FoodGal.com will interview Dominique during this Innovator Interview.

LISA STONE: Hey Everybody, We're about to get started with the interview. I am really honored to introduce the lunch panel. We have two excellent experts to speak to you all.

Many of us who used to read the Mercury News know Carolyn Jung, who now writes Foodgal. And we have Dominique Crenn, who is a michelin-rated chef, and many of us know her as a chef who won Iron Chef America.

Carolyn will invite us into their conversation. Thank you both so much for being here.

CAROLYN: I am so happy to be here because I get to share the stage with one of my favorite chefs. We're 99% female (men call out, laughter), and this woman is a role model among all of us. She grew up in France and always wanted to cook. When she went to cooking schools in France, she was told: You're never going to make it. You're a woman. She came to America, to California, and now she's a star. It shows what perseverance can do!

Dominique is on both Twitter http://twitter.com/dominiquecrenn and Facebook http://www.facebook.com/dominique.crenn, and I wanted to ask you, Dominique, how do you use social media professionally? How has it helped your career?

DOMINIQUE: I wanted to share what I am doing with my work. In the course of a few months my Facebook fan page has gone up to several thousand people. I love to hear what other people think about what I do, my work. I meet a lot of great people on there and they send me email, and I've sent a few back, it just helps me stay connected.

CAROLYN: What [kind of information] do you put out there?

DOMINIQUE: The things i'm working on, things I want to share with the world, things that matter. I don't write about taking a shower!

CAROLYN: Do you most of your chef colleagues use Twitter or Facebook?

DOMINIQUE: I think most of them do that. It's a great tool for us. We work in an industry where we work with our hands, so it's a great tool for us. Yesterday on Facebook I got some comments from people here who were looking forward to seeing me, and I am [looking forward to meeting them], too. I have a lot of friends [on Facebook], too.

CAROLYN: How do you feel about bloggers coming into your restaurant and taking photos of every dish they eat, whether with an iPhone or DSLR, etc.? From your perspective as a chef, building a restaurant, trying to create an atmosphere in a restaurant, how do you feel about it?

DOMINIQUE: I think it's great. It's a way to communicate your work. I'm okay with it. I think evereyone is entitled to their opinion. We all work for something. I think people should come with an open mind. I ask that people have an open mind to new expereinces. I dont judge...I like fact, I have my own opinions. People's opinions are interesting. I like to hear them.

CAROLYN: Have you ever come across a post or message that is either hurtful or inaccurate? Have you taken any actions to correct it, or let it slide?

DOMINIQUE: If somebody was upset, I'm inclined to want to know why. I like to make something better for them. I read once that a girl had a problem with the reservations system, wanted an open table at LUce. We work for 15 hours/day, we really want to create something, it's not just a job, it's a way of life. Nothing is perfect. Life is about evolution.

If something is not pleasing, I want to know so I can [evaluate whether a change needs to be made]. Life is about learning about each other.

CAROLYN: How do you feel about "everyone as a critic", with sites like Yelp and other reviews that are posted online by people who aren't necessarily professional restaurant reviewers? Has it made your life harder or easier?

(laughter)

DOMINIQUE: This is interesting. My godfather was a restuarant critic in France. He told me that he goes there [to the restaurant], he looks at the craft of the chef and what he has done with his cooking. He said, "I write about what is great." Food critics -- for me I want to please the client - food critics are great because they give you insight about what you need to work on. I like yelp. It's been good to me. But you can't read it and be upset if there isn't something you like. You need to read everything.

CAROLYN: When you read criticism from blogs or traditional reviewers, can you give an expample of what you've changed?

DOMINIQUE: Like I said, it's all about evolution. If you see something you need to look at, you think, "Maybe I need to do something about it." I'm listening, I'm aware, but I want you to give us a chance. Blogging is great. It's information, people writing. I get so much information that I couldn't get otherwise.

CAROLYN: So you're here now in a room full of bloggers...women.

(men chuckle, call out)

CAROLYN: So the thing we have in common is that we all blog. We've fantasized about being a chef, owning our own restuarant. So I wanted to give you the opportunity to tell them what you want them to know about how you do your job so it better informs all of us.

DOMINIQUE: I speak for myself, not for all chefs. It's a way of life. Being a chef is something you're born with. Through the years you follow your passion. It's 24 hours. I read, I talk to farmers. Your staff is like family, and you're with them 5, 6, 7 days a week. One day is great, the next day is not. You want to bring your best out every day.

Things may be great at first, we're not here just to put food on the table. We work on it. We work really hard. Everyone in my kitchen is outdstanding, even my dishwasher. They're hard workers. I think in life when you talk about something you need to have an argument. We need to be very careful not to attack people in a way that isn't fair.

CAROLYN: It used to be that when you opened a new restaurant, you had to build up a lot of buzz before opening...inviting in food journalists to write about your restaurant. Now, with social media, you can get the word out so much more quickly, and have a full house the first night. Has all this with new media made your job harder? Do people judge you from the start, vs. before you had time to get into the groove?

DOMINIQUE: That pressure can be good, things change. I say "Come on in. We're ready for you guys."

OPEN FOR ATTENDEE QUESTIONS

ATTENDEE: When you were tryinG to pursue your dream with food, and cooking, and getting into the restaurant business, and you heard "No", what was your reaction? How did you get over that emotitonally, to get where you are now?

DOMINIQUE: I had a great father. He taught me a lot of things about life. There was a lot of knowing my profession, and I kept my mouth shut and pushed harder. Finally they let me in. Sometimes I feel that things are too easy, it might not be as useful as when they're harder. I like a challenge. It took me longer to acheive what I have acheived, but that's okay. I'm glad for what I did through the years. I hope that I can teach people and show them that this is a hard profession but you have to push. If you want it, you have to go for it. I'm all for a woman on top.

(laughter)

ATTENDEE: How do you balance restaurant, cooking, social life, media, how do you find time just for you?

DOMINIQUE: It's been difficult right now. The only way my friends connect with me is thru Facebook. We work hard, we play hard. But we need to have time. I don't have a lot of time for myself. It's not a profession for having a family, I guess. It's hard. It's something I'm working on.

ATTENDEE: Have you seen Julie and Julia?

DOMINIQUE: I love it. Love that movie. I went to see it here in San Francisco, and the cast was there. I was working at Stars [one of the first restaurants that Chef Crenn worked at, in San Francisco, no longer open], it was a restaurant, and I see this woman come in and she's tall. At the time I was the only woman in the kitchen at Stars. This woman came to stand by me. She said, "Hi, I'm Julia Childs. Where are you from?" and I said, "France" and she started speaking to me in French. At the time, I didn't even know who she was, so I read her books. I loved the movie!

ATTENDEE: So it doens't sound like there are many women chefs in France?

DOMINIQUE: Not at all. There are maybe 4-5. It's very male-dominated.

ATTENDEE: What dish have you made that you're most proud of?

DOMINIQUE: Cooking for my mother. My mom came to San Francisco and I was very nervous because I remember when I decided to become a chef, my parents were very worried. I was very nervous about cooking for them, and they came to the restaurant. When I came to United States, my mother gave me a recipe book and there was a dish - a rabbit dish - that was in the book. I decided to cook that when they came. I served it to them and they were very happy. That's the dish I'm most proud of.

ATTENDEE: If you could give us one piece of advice, what would it be?

DOMINIQUE: Follow your dreams. Follow your dreams, with love and respect. Keep doing what you're doing. Grow from it.

ATTENDEE: What inspires you? Where do you get ideas? What food blogs do you follow?

DOMINIQUE: Every food blog. People inspire me. I go out a lot, when I have time. People's stories inspire me. My cooking is inprired by my life. My cooks' lives. I ask a lot of questions about their family, their past. We do that when we create a dish. People inspire me. If I didn't have these people in my life, I would be nothing. Every day I read a lot of things, discover new blogs. When I get a friend request and they note that they love to write about food or travel, I always go to their site. I saw on Twitter that someone recommended a gluten-free site, and I checked it out. I liked it, so I re-tweeted it. We are responsible to use [social networking/social media] in the community of cooking. I am reading about lactose intolerance, I am reading a book about cow's milk and how bad it is for you. I read my best friend's blog. I read it all the time. I have my own blog, but no one knows about it. I write a lot of poetry.

ATTENDEE: What was your experience on Iron Chef America?

DOMINIQUE: Nice people. Next Iron Chef was great because I was with a lot of people I knew, we had a lot of fun. It's TV! Sometimes when you go on TV you just have to fun with it. It was a great expereince. We wanted to be a competition, not against each other, but as chef on chef. Sometimes it was not fair because we didn't have all the same ingredients at the same time. Iron Chef America was another thing. You go there and have one hour. It's just an hour of TV. That experience was great. Especially when you kick ass.

(laughter)

Next Iron Chef, you're working for 17 hours each day, seven days/week. It's a lot of work. But it was fun! You just have to put yourself out there. You have to let it not get to your head. It's been amazing!

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