Two Women Who Have Shaped the Restaurant World

Two Women Who Have Shaped the Restaurant World

Posted by May. 12, 2017 | BY Emma Alois on May 19th 2017

female chefs

photo credit: City Foodsters on flickr

In honor of Mother’s Day this weekend, we wanted to take a moment to appreciate the female chefs of the restaurant world. We have previously celebrated the groundbreaking work of Angela Hartnett, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Ana Roš; today we turn to two other women who have shaped the culinary world, past and present.

One is credited with pioneering a new style of American cuisine, and the other is known for inventing modern French cuisine as we know it. (You might remember her restaurant from our article about rare and endangered European recipes.) Mothers to their cuisines and mothers to their children, these two female chefs motivate, inspire, and amaze.

Dominique Crenn, the World’s Best Female Chef in 2016

French chef Dominique Crenn is the culinary rock star of this generation. Born near Versailles, while growing up Crenn explored Europe and its varied cuisines, before entering the San Francisco cooking scene in 1988. She learned from the best chefs in the city and worked in prestigious kitchens such as Campton Place and the Park Hyatt Grill.

Crenn was a natural. In her first year holding court as executive chef, the esteemed annual catalogue Access San Francisco gave her restaurant, the Yoyo Bistro at the Miyako Hotel, an impressive three-star review. After nine years in California, she moved to Indonesia to work, eventually returning to the Golden State to open Atelier Crenn and Petite Crenn.

A California influence is evident in Crenn’s cooking style. Californian cuisine borrows from Mexican and Asian cooking and emphasizes fresh, locally grown ingredients. Yet Crenn has made her own mark in New American cuisine, defying geographical culinary assumptions.

Her innovative recipes, commitment to sustainable ingredients, and high-end artisanal dishes landed her on the “50 Best Chefs in the World” list for 2016. Yet no accolade is as great as receiving not one, but two Michelin stars. As described by the Michelin Guide, Atelier Crenn serves “exquisite cuisine,” and Crenn’s talent for seafood is “otherworldly.” Crenn is the first female chef in the United States to receive two of the acclaimed stars.Eugénie Brazier, the Mother of Modern French Cooking

Much as Dominique Crenn will continue to inspire chefs in the years to come, Eugénie Brazier inspired the previous generation of French chefs. More commonly known as La Mère Brazier (but also referred to as the “Mother of Modern French Cooking” or the “Queen of French Cooking”), Brazier can be described as the most influential chef of all time. She trained the greatest French chefs we have today, including living legends Paul Bocuse and Georges Blanc. Bocuse credits everything to her: “This exceptional woman … taught all of us about flavors and gave us a taste for hard work, and work well done. There would have been no success for any of us without her.”

In professional culinary circles, even forty years after her death, “La Mère” (1895–1977) remains synonymous with haute French cuisine.

Unfortunately, most people have never heard of La Mère. It’s remarkable, because it could be said that the highest standards of modern French cuisine are measured against those of Brazier’s cooking.

So who was the mysterious La Mère? Eugénie Brazier was the first woman to receive three Michelin stars, and the first French chef (male or female) to run restaurants that received six Michelin stars in total. Because of her success, Lyon became the culinary capital of the world. Both of her restaurants, La Mère Brazier and a restaurant at Col de la Luère (the name is now forgotten), retained their six stars for over 20 years.

All while being a single mother to her son.

Eugénie Brazier had humble beginnings, with her cooking centered on oatmeal and corn. At 20, she moved from the French countryside to Lyon, bringing her farmhouse recipes with her. She quickly impressed the city patrons, and in no time, she went from being a mentee to running her own restaurants, transforming the gastronomic scene of Lyon and France as a whole.

The wealthiest and most influential people in France flocked to her delectable creations, some of which were shockingly extravagant. For instance, the “chicken in half-mourning” volaille demi-deuil was a plump chicken baked with rounds of black truffle under the skin (the truffles giving the illusion of a black veil).

Fortunately, there is footage of some of these recipes, thanks to Anthony Bourdain. These two and a half minutes will transport you to another time in Lyon, France.

She was known for handpicking the most talented chefs and turning them into culinary geniuses. She was fastidious; she expected meticulous organization from her staff. La Mère was also feared for her temper. Her intimidating style of running a kitchen most likely influenced some later French chefs to run theirs in similar fashion.

La Mère Brazier had an illustrious career that continues to inspire female and male chefs alike.