Food, food media, and celebrity chefs make up an increasingly important element of the cultural industries. The craze is not altogether new, but the cultural relevance and ubiquitous appearance of chefs in all forms of popular media is a relatively recent phenomenon. Anthony Bourdain, although by no means the first celebrity chef in the era of cable television and omnipresent chef personae, did introduce a new and important image of chefs in the culinary media industry, what I call the “chef underground.” For this brand of chef the kitchen represented an escape from mainstream culture and values. The kitchen was not a sight for self-promotion or entrepreneurism, but rather a space that allowed for a prolonged commitment to subcultural participation. The kitchen was, and is, of course, a space of labor exploitation. Yet, for those travelers in the chef underground the kitchen allowed for the development of a transient existence, relatively free from outside scrutiny as well as normative notions and expectations of workplace and lifestyle behavior. By identifying and detailing the alternative social and cultural dispositions of the chef underground in his writing—and aligning himself with them—Bourdain at once managed to construct a unique anti-establishment media persona for himself as well as render the once nebulous group of outsider chefs and cooks legible in mainstream consumer culture. This dissertation investigates the cultural influence of the new archetype of chefs following Bourdain’s rise to prominence. In the midst of a broad cultural valorization of chefs and cooks, the promotion of Bourdain’s anti-establishment persona through multiple mass media created a new popular image of professional chefs. The previously unglamorous career of working in a restaurant kitchen was transformed into a cool and authentic occupation and subcultural formation. This dissertation explores the cultural significance of this re-articulation of chefdom by employing multiple methodological approaches in order to understand how the re-presentation of chefs and cooks after Bourdain’s rise to fame has affected the everyday lives of individuals working in contemporary professional kitchens and influenced the broader culinary and media industries.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2016. Major: Communication Studies. Advisor: Catherine Squires. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 233 pages.
Hungry for More: Anthony Bourdain and the Cultural Valorization of Chefs and Cooks.
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