With an adventurous cook for a mother and a father who was a politician with a food critic for a best friend, Dominique Crenn was destined to LOVE food.
Dominique began her culinary journey in San Francisco in the late ’80s under esteemed chef, Jeremiah Tower, of Stars. It was there, at Stars, that Crenn perfected her craft and after gaining experience in several local kitchens, accepted the position of Head Chef for Intercontinental Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, making her Indonesia’s first female chef! Forced to flee Indonesia in 1998, due to civil unrest, Crenn made herself at home in both L.A. and Santa Monica, before returning to San Francisco in 2008 at Luce, where she was awarded her first Michelin Star.
In 2011, Dominique opened her own restaurant, Atelier Crenn, with the intention of expressing her art form, emotion, and memories into every dish. The Wall Street Journal noted, “Atelier Crenn serves a cuisine so visually, texturally, and conceptually inventive it has both delighted and baffled critics and drawn international attention.” After being the first woman, in the U.S., awarded 2 Michelin Stars back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, Crenn went on to earn Best Female Chef in 2016 and Best Chef: West by the James Beard Foundation in 2018. So, it is NO surprise that another first was in line. In 2018 Crenn was the first woman in America to be awarded 3 Michelin Stars.
After the big win, Crenn stated, “It’s a platform I now have; I must inspire others and make a difference.” Well, Chef, you inspire and make a difference for women not only in our industry but around the world every day. Thank you for truly loving food, people, and serving others!
Image by: FSR Magazine, https://www.foodnewsfeed.com/slideshows/11-quotes-prove-chef-dominique-crenn-can-save-world
After working under esteemed chefs Takao Izumida & Morihiro Onodera, Nakayama set out on a 3-year work study in Japan, where she discovered her love for the country’s traditional and cutting-edge cuisines. After returning to her home in Los Angeles, she opened Azami Sushi Cafe, an all-female ran establishment, awarded several ‘Best of’ Awards by Zagat, the L.A. Time, and Citysearch.
Eleven years later, after the closing of Azami and the opening of a second venture, Inaka, Nakayama, opened n/naka. The restaurant quickly became one of the hottest spots in L.A., drawing in curious diners with a ‘new-to-America’ culinary art form, kaiseki. This art form focuses on unprocessed ingredients that check all the boxes: fresh, sustainable, seasonal, local, balanced. Nakayama and her wife, Carole Iida-Nakayama, are the only known females to own and run the kitchen of a kaiseki-dedicated restaurant. This alone is extraordinary, but what sets them above the rest is their belief in omotenashi, which is, the value of guest experiences above all else. This principle, no doubt, is what makes n/naka one of the hardest restaurants in the country to get a seat at, being booked out months in advance.
Niki Nakayama, is one of the culinary world’s leading innovators, pushing the boundaries of tradition, and creating realities for women unimagined for generations in Japanese cooking. Her passion, process, and power are inspiring, and for this, we thank you, Niki!
Image via Frank Terry for Darling Issue 20