At Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, the menu reads like a poem. Dishes include “Autumn has come with its cool breeze” and “Where the broad ocean leans against the Spanish land.” One of chef Dominique Crenn’s signature dishes, “A walk in the forest,” sounds comparatively straightforward. But even though its name is (relatively) simple, the dish itself is highly conceptual and innovative.
The inspiration came from Crenn’s childhood in Brittany where she would forage in the forest with her father for things like mushrooms and blackberries. “I wanted to recreate that entire experience,” she says. “You know that feeling when you eat a mushroom and it kind of takes you back to earth? I want anyone who has this dish to feel like they are eating mushrooms in the forest.”
To make the dish, Crenn starts by burning a pine meringue on the bottom of a plate, adding a basil soil and a pumpernickel soil. She then adds a variety of mushrooms all prepared differently—sautéed, dehydrated, pickled and marinated. To finish, she sprinkles on hazelnut praline and herbs like sorrel or onion flowers. “It’s not just about texture or flavor of acidity or bitterness,” Crenn says. “It’s about feelings, memories, visuals, a story.”