Dominique Crenn: She grew up in a politically involved, artistically leaning family in France—her mother cooked; her father took her out to fine French restaurants. She got a business degree and came to the U.S. in 1988 with a hankering to cook, appearing in Jeremiah Tower's kitchen at Stars and demanding a job. He put her on the line; she learned on the job, and on subsequent jobs in San Francisco restaurants. In 1997 she moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, where her stint as executive chef at the Jakarta Intercontinental coincided with a financial crisis and a revolution. With the gig cut short, she returned to relatively calm California, first in Manhattan Beach and then back to San Francisco, where she took the helm at Luce in the Intercontinental Hotel and won a Michelin star. After the requisite battle on Iron Chef (she trounced Michael Symon), she opened Atelier Crenn in early 2011. Her food is modernist cooking with soul—she likes to talk about memories and poetry and other things that make food critics a little uncomfortable with the sheer Frenchness of it all.
Mourad Lahlou: His studies of macroeconomics at SF State weren't doing it for him, so he opened up Kasbah in San Rafael, north of San Francisco, in 1997. He moved over to San Francisco's Richmond District—a fine-dining backwater—and opened Aziza in 2001, but critics and Michelin reviewers somehow found him, bestowing stars upon the restaurant and lauding his reinvention of Moroccan cuisine with a decidedly Californian bent. He battled Cat Cora on Iron Chef in 2009. Earlier this year he announced that he was moving Aziza from its foggy digs into a more restaurant-friendly area near downtown by the end of the year; he hopes to keep the current space to serve casual Moroccan food. He also has a PBS television series about Moroccan cooking (filmed in Marrakesh and San Francisco) and a cookbook in the works.
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