Word of Mouth: What We Talk about When We Talk about Food

By Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Chefs and Chefing

A restaurant is a really terrific place for sociological study…. When you
take the trouble to look, our profession lets us see wonderful things.

Gilbert LeCoze, chef-restaurateur

Cooks cook. Chefs cook in public. They cook for show. They perform. Unquestionably artisans, perhaps artists, and definitely experts, chefs today are also entrepreneurs subject to the vagaries of the market, the inconstancy of diners, and the changing nature of their own visions of excellence.

These conditions of uncertainty give chefs a good deal in common with artists. More imperatively than for painters and writers, though, creativity for the chef means not just making a product, no matter how great or how grand. In today’s media-saturated food world, creativity demands performance. Where the elaborate table settings and extravagant pastry constructions of the aristocratic table showed off the food, chefing makes cooking part of the show. Production becomes as conspicuous as consumption.

A full performance of any sort needs conversation, commentary, and criticism, on judgments rendered, disputed, and defended, in a continuous round of talk and response. In this respect, the public cooking of the early nineteenth century not only redefined the chef as expert but also recognized cooking as chefing. In our own times, food talk has transformed chefing from an established profession into a fluctuating, unstable expertise that

-113-

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Word of Mouth: What We Talk about When We Talk about Food
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • California Studies in Food and Culture ii
  • Title Page vii
  • Contents xi
  • Prologue xiii
  • Part I - From Talk to Text 1
  • Chapter One - Thinking about Food 3
  • Chapter Two - The Perils and Pleasures of Consumption 33
  • Chapter Three - Texts Take over 50
  • Part II - New Cooks, New Chefs 77
  • Chapter Four - Iconic Cooks 79
  • Chapter Five - Chefs and Chefing 113
  • Part III - The Culinary Landscape in the Twenty-First Century 139
  • Chapter Six - Dining on the Edge 141
  • Chapter Seven - Haute Food 170
  • Epilogue 197
  • Acknowledgments 205
  • Notes 207
  • References 251
  • Films 265
  • Index 267
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