Pastry Chef Juan Contreras’ Creations at Atelier Crenn – San Francisco

Atelier Crenn Chef Juan Contreras 2

Cooking with Elements of Coal and Ash

Many are familiar with Atelier Crenn Executive Chef Dominique Crenn, but do you know the man who is creating the sweet grand finale? Talented, soft-spoken and an artist in his own right, Pastry Chef Juan Contreras is creating modernist desserts to complement Chef Crenn's savory works of art. His dishes have been so well-received, that the restaurant recently began offering a five-course dessert tasting menu ($55). The one-star Michelin Atelier Crenn has now been open for a year and a half, and with time, Contreras' creativity and experimentation has become more unexpected and enticing.

Atelier Crenn Chef Juan Contreras

Eggplant with Chai spices, lemon, cashew, smoked wood

Like Chef Crenn, many of Contreras' dishes are inspirational representations of natural elements. Who would ever imagine consuming something that mirrored charcoal and ash? Contreras did and he agrees with our sentiment stating that, "rarely are the colors of black, grey and white used in a dessert, due to its unappealing nature. When presented thru the medium of a hot element such as a grill and smoke, the guest can make a connection."

Dining at Atelier Crenn is non-typical. Guests who dine here aren't going for a steak atop a mound of potatoes with a side of aspragus. This is a sensory experience that will evoke a whimsical, and fresh involvement of your taste buds. Familiar items will be prepared in ways you've never tasted. For the Elements of Coal and Ash dessert, Contreras includes eggplant. He tells us, " I wanted to implement eggplant, which botanically is a fruit, based on its seed. It is normally treated in a savory application because it would naturally blend well with Indian flavors since I normally consume it that way." The dessert is braised in chai spices and finished with Japanese binchotan coal and caramelized honey to make it resemble a piece of charcoal. Contreras echos the flavors in a shortbread crumble that has the spices blended into the butter, giving it an aromatic spicy finish. For a nutty perspective, cashews are roasted, smoked and made into an ice cream that allow air absorption so that when frozen, it resembles a block of ember ash. To contrast the spice and cut through the sweetness, lemon juice is dehydrated as a meringue to not only provide texture but cleanse.

Atelier Crenn is known for its tableside finishing touches, and the Elements of Coal and Ash dessert is no exception. Pastry Chef Contreras and team sprinkle a mint frozen ash that soothes and mellows the flavors. Before the guest consumes, they pour an aromatic broth of smoked wood into the vessel to capture the essence of burning. Don't say we didn't tell you this was an an adventure.

 Atelier Crenn Chef Juan Contreras Beet Dessert

And if the above weren't impressive enough, Pastry Chef Contreras has just this week unveiled a new dessert to his repertoire. The "Beet" recreation (above) consists of Sheep's milk yogurt, mandarin, chocolate and oats. And yes, everything is edible including the "beet" and its stem. It's prepared with a beet sorbet and caramelized chocolate, while the farm leaf is edible.


Atelier Crenn

3127 Fillmore St
(between Filbert St & Pixley St)
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 440-0460




  1. Alejandro
    18/05/2012 / 11:00 am

    Woah, this is some fancy cooking techniques. I need to visit here soon.

  2. lisa steinberg
    18/05/2012 / 11:51 am

    I have been dying to go to Atelier Crenn ever since they opened. I am waiting for the hubby to hopefully take me there on our anniversary.

  3. food addict
    18/05/2012 / 12:29 pm

    I was staring at the photo last night on Instagram and really couldn’t imagine it not being a beet. This is a mind lesson in eating. Very cool Chef Contreras.

  4. Corey
    19/05/2012 / 6:13 pm

    Wow! That isn’t a beet? Crazy cool stuff happening in world Of food.

  5. j.g.
    20/05/2012 / 1:25 am

    Atelier Crenn is one of the best restaurants I’ve ever eaten at. I hope they get their two Michelin stars this year.

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