The poetry you write in Atelier Crenn menus is one of its compelling characteristics. Is the poetry the inspiration for the food, or the food the inspiration for the poetry?
Well everything is inspiration when you’re looking at the world. Everything I do in life, everything I touch, is something that I embrace, that I cherish, and something that I care about. I started writing poetry very young, when I was 4 years old. And you know, food is language, and when I express myself it is really to understand what the language is, and to try to extract the emotion out of it. Perhaps that is one way to look at things. And then there is nature: As a chef I’m touching earth and using a lot of incredible ingredients that come from nature and you need to celebrate that. And the way that you celebrate things comes sometime into words, and using beautiful words and using emotion is a way to connect with people.
What inspired your restaurants?
Everything is from my experiences. Atelier Crenn pays homage to my dad. He was not a chef; he was a politician—but he taught me about life; he taught me about diversity; he taught me a lot of things about the world and respecting the world, respecting others, and bringing people together. I learned art is very important, education is very important, being curious in life is very important, and being open to discussion with people who don’t agree with you. Sharing and learning, that’s what Atelier Crenn is about.
Petit Crenn is an homage [to] my grandmother and my mother, and it is in homage of women in general, who usually are the cooks in their homes, and the way they cook is to share the love and to bring the family together.
And there is very much a connection with earth and the understanding of how to produce and not to harm the planet. We serve just vegetables and fish, and the wine list is all biodynamic and natural, so we work with the planet to create great things.
Tell us about your vision for Bar Crenn.
Bar Crenn is going to be a space where people come together to have conversation and to drink really good wine and have very good food. It’s going to look like my living room, not like a wine bar. It will be a combination of Atelier and Petit Crenn, so everything is connected together and the end of it, the call of it, is to bring people together.
It doesn’t matter where they come from, doesn’t matter what their beliefs are, doesn’t matter the color of the skin—all that doesn’t matter. We want to bring people together. And we want people to come together to eat, to talk, to share—and to have fun and to look at life in a beautiful way.
That’s a poetic segue into some of the difficult topics we’re facing: What are your opinions on immigration?
We are all immigrants, and everyone needs to know that. My country is France, this is where I come from; my home is San Francisco. I believe in immigration. We need immigration in this country and in the world to find diversity and to understand diversity. We need to be surrounded with others’ ideas, and we need to welcome others.
But I also understand the rules. You can’t expect everywhere in the world to come here and destroy this country; that’s not what we want. We want people to come to America—and operate in the culture—but also bring a part of their culture. That’s what is really cool about America.
How do you feel about San Francisco as a sanctuary city?
The workforce here is very much people from south of America, and that’s what makes California so beautiful—our diversity. We all need to come together, to understand the politics of it, and put structure in, in a way that we can help the people who want to come here. … We are a country that needs to welcome and help people. I come from a country that welcomes so many people from everywhere. I am having difficulty to understand that because you have blond hair and light skin you are superior to others; I don’t understand that concept. It is very scary for me.
I disagree with the countries that treat people very poorly—especially the way they treat woman and children—and I disagree with that, but I’m not going to judge a person from that country. It’s not about the person; it’s about the politics of the country.
Maybe that’s why I’m in the food business. Food is about humanity. Food is about bringing people together. Food is about putting a religion on the side and understanding each other—not judge them. And I hope that every single chef in the world will use food to be a way of embracing diversity and embracing humanity. And if chefs can do that, the world will be a better place.