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Seven— The Aesthetics of Kitchen Discourse

图书名称:Kitchens:The Culture of Restaurant Work
图书作者:Gary Alan Fine    ISBN:
出版社:Berkeley: University of California Press    出版日期:1996年

Is there a philosophy of nourishment?
—Nietzsche


Talk is poetry; sociological poetry, rhythmic webs of connotative meaning bound together within a social structural matrix. Meaning depends upon a community of shared understanding in which strings of lexical items are interpreted. When we talk about things , we do not directly refer to the whole of our thought; our language is necessarily imprecise and capable of variable interpretations. Much of what we know we must leave unstated—full explication is impossible (Garfinkel 1967; Pollner 1987).

In practice, however, speakers draw from each other similar evocations. We strive "to induce a sameness of vision, of experienced content" (Isenberg 1954, p. 138). When this shared understanding occurs, it is because we have had similar experiences and have been taught to understand them in similar ways. Symbols are only marginally precise. This circumstance was nicely captured by the pragmatist philosopher George Herbert Mead in Mind, Self & Society: "It is the task not only of the actor but of the artist as well to find the sort of expression that will arouse in others what is going on in himself. The lyric poet has an experience of beauty with an emotional thrill to it, and as an artist using words he is seeking for those words which will answer to his emotional attitude, and which will call out in others the attitude he himself has" (1934, pp. 147-48). This type of speech or writing applies especially to those forms of talk that have an aesthetic reference: that is, that attempt to present an argument of sensory appreciation about an experienced object or event. Thus, talk at work may fall into this category. When speakers wish to explain the sensory or aesthetic characteristics of an object or event, they rely upon role-taking skills and reflection (Mead 1938, p. 98).

Speech acts do not need to be flowery or "aesthetic," even within art worlds. While replete with metaphor (the claim that A resembles B, and this relationship is meaningful), the language can be mundane, routine, quotidian. Indeed, much occupational communication relies on abbreviated or profane images, assuming collective understanding. Talkers in such circumstances are rarely self-conscious about their talk. This is particularly true in communities in which extensive cultural capital is not a requirement for entry. Communities of talk are not limited to elite culture producers, although surely these producers are most self-conscious about what they do. The creation of meaning is found in communities of all kinds and is incorporated and expressed within the activities found in those communities (Schudson 1989, p. 153).

In this chapter I attempt to understand "aesthetic" talk, not to present a philosophy of language (langue) but to reveal a pragmatics of language (parole): talk used by workers involved in the everyday creation of aesthetic objects. How is language used to create community standards—here, aesthetic standards? Sociologists have traditionally been hesitant about analyzing aesthetic judgments. Perhaps we have agreed with the philosophical position set forth by Kant that aesthetic judgment is a function of the "aesthetic attitude" (Shepard 1987, pp. 64-70), grounded in individual distance, disinterest, or perspective. When classified in this reductionist, psychologistic way, aesthetic judgment may seem outside the realm of sociological analysis: philosophers routinely ignore the social component of these choices. Sociologists such as Gans (1974) or Bourdieu (1984) who have examined "taste" see cultural choices as mediated through such classic social variables as class position or educational attainment, but have ignored or downplayed the interactional context in which evaluations are learned and expressed.

Sensory judgments are grounded in social relationships, face-to-face negotiations, social structure, and organizations (Mulkay and Chaplin 1982) and are found throughout society. These judgments, while they purport to present empirical statements for belief, present "feelings." By feelings I refer to the linkage of physical feedback and emotion talk. This talk can be analyzed through the sociology of the body and the sociology of emotion: how what one senses (felt reactions) is transformed into self-reflective cognitions about these sensory states.

A personal response is insufficient for building a "universe of discourse." These expressions are meaningful because speaker and audience are embedded in the same "moral community." The acceptance of talk strengthens the recognition of communal properties among the speakers. One of the key markers of community is the existence of shared constraints of language (Searle 1969; Grimshaw 1981, pp. 267–73; Cicourel 1974). Constraints are grounded in social organization and socialization, and they depend on the existence of common knowledge of linguistic rules and patterns (Swidler 1986). To talk "sense," those who converse must have an adequate notion of what each may and can talk about before the conversation begins.

The general category of speech events that captures the discussion of the sensory experience involves "tacit knowledge" (Polanyi 1958, p. 49): "[T]he aim of a skillful performance is achieved by the observance of a set of rules which are not known as such to the person following them." People routinely act with considerable competence and with a "sense" of what is right without being able to describe what it is that they do (Sclafani 1979). We know things we cannot explain (e.g., the sound of a clarinet [Wittgenstein 1968, p. 36, par. 78]). This complicates matters when individuals must describe their activity to those ignorant of the rules—socialization becomes a challenge and a hurdle. Language is a poor indicator of what techniques and sources of evaluation produce aesthetically competent products (Danto 1964). Frequently we can neither explain nor define, a point made by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein:

When we're asked "What do the words 'red,' 'blue', 'black', 'white' mean?" we can, of course, immediately point to things which have these colours,—but our ability to explain the meanings of these words goes no further!
(Wittgenstein 1978, p. 11, par. 68)

Imponderable evidence includes subtleties of glance, of gesture, of tone. I may recognize a genuine loving look, distinguish it from a pretended one. . . . But I may be quite incapable of describing the difference.
(Wittgenstein 1968, p. 228)

How, then, can meaning be established? The answer cannot be internal to the linguistic system of which the speakers are parties but must relate to outer criteria (the context and structure of the social system) (Wittgenstein 1968, p. 153, par. 580). It is the ability to "know in context" and to compare present contexts to past ones that permits aesthetic judgments and the ratification or criticism of judgments by others (Fine 1992a). This allows us to interact smoothly without recourse to the existence of impossibly precise definitions, in the face of "family resemblances" (Wittgenstein 1968, p. 32, par. 67). Even when the objects to be classed together have no one thing in common, they are still categorized together because we perceive a preponderance of similarity (Rosch 1978).

Talk in kitchen environments provides a fortuitous set of data for my argument, in that professional cooks routinely judge dishes that they produce and serve. While cooking involves the efficient production of foodstuffs for public consumption, these objects must be sensually pleasing, to both cooks and customers (Fine 1992b). As a result, a concern with flavor is central to the doing of professional cooking.[1] As the workers in a restaurant kitchen constitute a closely knit small group (Gross 1958; Whyte 1948), they rely on colleagues for advice, help, and judgment. Culinary talk is an integral part of cooks' work responsibilities and satisfies workers by persuading them that they are talented and competent craftsmen, even though most have entered the occupation without a self-conscious aesthetic sensibility (Fine 1985): they are aesthetically untutored.

In the more prestigious reaches of the occupation, the rhetoric of "art" is frequently encountered (Zukin 1991, personal communication; Charpentier and Sparkes 1934; Caldwell 1986, p. 38; Herbodeau and Thalamas 1955, p. 4); yet, cooking is also a low-paid, low-skill job for many who work at it. Even some elite cooks deny their "artistic" status (e.g., André Soltner in Burros 1986). Because of the range of images and the structural tensions associated with cooking, it is a particularly apt occupation in which to examine the creation of aesthetic talk. No widely accepted "theory" of food exists; food talk is not privileged discourse. As a result, cooks must continually construct and reconstruct culinary meanings for an unknowing or skeptical audience. Yet, all occupations try to some degree to produce objects and services with "style," however defined (Fine 1992b). For this reason aesthetic judgments in restaurant kitchens can be generalized to other work worlds.

Talking about Food

English, in common with other Indo-European languages, does not have an extensive vocabulary to describe sensory experiences. Yet, the five senses are, in practice, expressed with varying specificity and clarity. The visual aspects of our world, temporally stable and which can be pointed to, are reflected in the largest and most denotatively descriptive vocabulary. We all can see simultaneously what we describe. When we describe something as empirically certain, we use visual terms—exclaiming "Seeing is believing" (Dundes 1972). Vision is culturally privileged among speakers of Indo-European languages. Tactile and auditory sensations have an intermediate position—measurable and easily shared by a community that feels and hears.

Reaching a shared understanding about taste and smell poses a greater challenge to audiences. For this reason cooks and those interested in food find it difficult to talk about things edible. If many foods are "good to think" (e.g., Douglas 1984), these thoughts are not always easy to express (Adams 1986, p. 26; Corbin 1986, pp. 6-7, 111). Scientists have not developed standardized measuring scales by which taste can be judged and discussed: taste has no widely shared equivalent of volume and amplitude. Further, an object to be tasted must be consumed—incorporated within the body.

Smell has some of the components of taste, but we lack an adequate scale with which to measure it, although scientists have attempted to develop one (Harper, Smith, and Land 1968; Burton 1976; Cain 1978; McCartney 1968). Often we are at the mercy of "experts" (Ackerman 1990), who create criteria by which smells can be classed. Yet, these classifications rarely transcend the laboratory. Because smell and taste do not have precise standards of judgment associated with them, they provide a critical case for the development of a sociology of aesthetics. Despite the difficulty of developing such a language, perfumers and gourmets do understand their colleagues. How? In the absence of a well-developed linguistic code that specifically denotes sensual—olfactory and gustatory—experiences, how can individuals believe that they share meanings? In the case of professional cooks, how do they become sufficiently confident that, as a practical accomplishment, they can use this knowledge as a tool in their occupational world?

The "Problem" of Flavor

Whatever the reasons for this lack of differentiation of smell and taste, Western culture does not socialize people to these senses: there are no culinary appreciation courses in American schools;[2] going to a restaurant is not the same kind of event as going to a museum. Smell and taste are defined as secondary senses. They get no respect. Some suggest that the senses of taste and smell are not merely secondary but are also "lower" senses than vision or hearing, an argument made by Aristotle, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Kant, and Hegel. Taste and smell, they claim, do not involve sufficient portions of the intellect to involve contemplation. These senses do not go beyond themselves; they do not lead to theoretical insights. Colvin (1910, p. 357) suggests: "Sight and hearing are intellectual and therefore higher senses, that through them we have our avenues to all knowledge and all ideas of things outside us; while taste and smell are unintellectual and therefore lower senses, through which few such impressions find their way to us as help to build up our knowledge and our ideas." This is a social construction, for, in fact, any sense can be a window to the world. The limits on what one "sees" in taste and smell is culturally determined. Culinary standards are not universal (Mennell 1985; Mintz 1985; Bates 1968; Curtin and Heldke 1992). The Japanese tea ceremony is a potent aesthetic event, as significant for its audience as a painting. Likewise, one can discover in a bowl of bouillabaisse the economic circumstances of the fishermen of Marseilles, the zest of the French for sensual living, or the symbiotic relationship between the sea and the garden. That we typically do not think these thoughts is a cultural choice, not one inherent in our sensory apparatus or in the food. Yet, the cultural choice to downplay the gustatory and olfactory has effects, particularly in the development of language. A serious language of taste and smell would demand dramatic changes in our modes of description of foods. As the nineteenth-century gourmet Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1825 [1970], p. 40) wrote:

If it is granted that there exists an indefinite number of series of basic savours, all capable of being modified by an infinite number of combinations, it follows that a new language would be needed to express all the resultant effects, mountains of folio volumes to define them, and undreamed-of numerical characters to label them. Now, since no circumstance has so far arisen in which any savour could be appreciated with scientific exactitude, we have been forced to make do with a few general terms, such as sweet, sugary, acid, bitter, and so on, which are all contained, in the last analysis, in the two expressions, agreeable or disagreeable to the taste, and which suffice for all practical purposes to indicate the gustatory properties of whatever sapid body is in question.

A similar perspective is found earlier in the writings of John Locke (1700 [1975], p. 122):

The variety of Smells, which are as many almost, if not more than Species of Bodies in the World, do most of them want Names. Sweet and Stinking commonly serve our turn for these Ideas , which in effect, is little more than to call them pleasing or displeasing; though the smell of a Rose, and Violet, both sweet, are certainly very distinct Ideas . Nor are the different Tastes that by our Palates we receive Ideas of, much better provided with Names. Sweet, Bitter, Sowr, Harsh, and Salt, are almost all the Epithets we have to denominate that numberless variety of Relishes, which are to be found distinct, not only in almost every sort of Creatures, but in the different Parts of the same Plant, Fruit, or Animal.

In the centuries since Brillat-Savarin and Locke wrote, little has changed. Talk about food is decidedly constrained by the lack of vocabulary. As Jacobs (1982, p. 8) wrote recently, "How inadequate the language is in the service of palatal sensation, how hollow with overuse the few available modifiers!" Yet, this absence does not mean that individuals cannot express opinions and attitudes about food; rather, they rely upon a set of shared assumptions that they convey in an indirect and implicit manner.

Much discussion of foods is imprecise. Consider one cook's attempt to describe the taste of a salmon sorbise: "I thought it was excellent. I thought it was one of the better creations. It blends in with the fish flavor excellently. It's just super. It's not tart. Smooth" (Field notes, Owl's Nest). A person who had never tasted this dish could hardly learn from this description that onions are a central ingredient. Likewise, another cook commented about the soup of the day—lentil soup: "Yucky soup today. . . . I hate lentil. . . . I don't want to try it. There's probably nothing wrong with it. I just don't like it" (Field notes, Owl's Nest). When a particular dish is called "nice," "good," "wonderful," or "disgusting," we are in a world of shared assumptions: others will know why that adjective is used, even if they disagree. A community of meaning exists, which permits cooks to prepare competently those dishes that they find appalling so that others find them appealing. Part of this vagueness may be a consequence of the lack of training and cultural capital of these men and women, basically working class in origin. Bourdieu (1984, pp. 177-79) emphasizes the role of habitus in providing cultural categories for individuals of different economic and social stations to use to make sense of their worlds and express their identities; this formulation is comparable to Bernstein's (1970) class-linked elaborated and restricted codes. Yet, this explanation, which relies on a model of "culinary literacy," does not address the challenge of depicting gustatory aesthetics which exists throughout the class hierarchy.

A more direct and personal way to recognize the difficulty that people have when evaluating food involves a thought experiment. Select your favorite food, and then describe why you like it. Often the first answer will be straightforward and tautologous: "Because it tastes good." If so, ask again; why does it taste good? How could you describe the taste of the food to someone who has never tasted it? If one is rigorous in demanding an answer, one quickly discovers the failure of terminology—other than basic terms: sweet, salty, acid, bitter. Whether such terms have an "essential" meaning—as Wittgenstein doubts—they have a metaphorical meaning in use (Wittgenstein, 1968, p. 39, par. 116).

Fortunately cooks are not asked to perform this daunting task, except by intrusive sociologists. Consider these two representative inquisitions:

GAF: What is something that you really like?

DOUG: Stuffed green peppers are really good.

GAF: Why do you like them?

DOUG: The flavor of green peppers.

GAF: How would you describe that? What is it about green peppers that you like?

DOUG: I like fresh vegetables. I like green peppers.

GAF: How would you describe it to someone who's never had one?

DOUG: I don't know how I would describe it. I wish it was something easier like fish or something. I have no idea.
(Personal interview, Stan's)

GAF: What are your personal favorite foods?

DANA: Pizza.

GAF: Why do you like pizza?

DANA: I really don't know. I guess I just like the taste of it.

GAF: What do you like about it?

DANA: It's spicy. Do people have answers for that question? I don't know. I've never really thought about it.
(Personal interview, Blakemore Hotel)

In posing this thought experiment to academic colleagues, I found the responses were similarly inarticulate but phrased with more sophistication. Even those who can provide reasons for preferring a food typically borrow generalities and metaphors from other sensory modalities. One cook whose favorite food was lobster said he liked "the delicate taste to it, the nice flavor. It's really light. It's not overwhelming or overpowering" (Personal interview, Owl's Nest). Another claimed that her favorite food is French bread because it is "soft and crusty, slight bit of salt, salt is part of the great thing about eating French bread" (Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre). I asked people to explicate what had been taken for granted—everyone knows why a pizza can be said to be good; even if he or she didn't care for pizza, only a "cultural dope" would have to ask (Garfinkel 1967).

In discussing food one relies on metaphors or similes to describe taste, smell, texture, or looks (Mechling and Mechling 1983). These images can either refer to other foods or to some nonedible object: objects that, when the metaphor or simile is effective, are resonant within participants' life worlds (Schudson 1989, pp. 167-70). Food similes are the easiest constructions, even when the comparisons are surprising:

Howie says to Tim, the head chef, about a batch of cheese puffs that Tim had just cooked: "Beautiful. These puffed up just like souffles."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

Diane tells me that they make their veal stock very thick, "like molasses."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

These speakers take adjectival descriptions of the food (i.e., airy and thick) and apply them to other foods similarly typified.

Similes and metaphors extend beyond comparing one food to another. A food can be compared to anything if its symbolic value helps the listener understand its sensory characteristics: "Tom, one of the house captains, compliments Tim, the head chef, on a special of the evening: 'These scallops looked real good.' Howie, the sous chef, adds: 'That sauce looked like velveteen satin'" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). The shiny and smooth qualities of the sauce constitute the basis for the metaphors of velveteen and satin. Adjectives such as "mellow" or "soothing" describe foods that are well liked, even though these terms do not have any overt food relevance but can be linked to other objects similarly typified.

Using similes and metaphors to denigrate is more common and more likely to carry rhetorical force. Cooks frequently liken unsuccessful dishes metaphorically to "shit," in American culture a highly marked and generic term of opprobrium: "Ron says to me about their new dish, fillet of sole Santa Cruz, which the management of the hotel has added to their menu: 'The sole looks like shit now. Two half bananas on top. No sauce. . . . Real stupid'" (Field notes, Blakemore Hotel). This dish lacks the markings of a successful dish in color and textures. Other descriptions are more exotic:

Howie jokes to Lesley about the salmon she has been preparing—a whole salmon chaud froid with green sauce and relish: "What did you do, throw up all over it."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

Howie remarks: "I went to [a trendy restaurant] and ordered lemon sole. I should have known better. It tasted like a plastic helmet. The fish was cooked to death."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

Kate is making a pink spread named Strawberries and Cream, served as a sandwich. Kate tells Don, who looks at the spread with some disgust: "We sell more of those than anything else." Don comments: "That's a gut bomb. It's like eating a rock. They're tasty, but you can't eat very much of it."
(Field notes, Blakemore Hotel)

These judgments depend on expectations that kitchen workers have of successful dishes: dishes that mix colors appropriately or are "light" and fresh, fitting into cultural ideologies of food. These expectations derive from previous experiences in kitchens and as diners. Previous experiences provide the basis for comparative judgment, serving as points of reference or precedents for aesthetic evaluation (Lakoff and Johnson 1980). Cooks are continually learning; each judgment is modified by dishes they previously created and tasted, even as culinary theory is discounted in the face of pragmatic experience. The La Pomme de Terre sous chef comments on how he decides which ingredients will mix: "Well, half the time I think you don't know, you just guess. If you're a good cook, you guess right. There are certain things like I would've never thought of, like basil and cantaloupe. Basil is kinda spicy, peppery. But we made a cantaloupe and pink peppercorn sorbet a little while ago, and that was pretty good too" (Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre). The previous mixture of cantaloupe and peppercorn provides an aesthetic charter for mixing cantaloupe and basil. No set of rules predicts with any degree of certainty what goes together. The evaluation of "good" taste is not inherent in the food itself but in its social construction, which depends on the judge's membership in a community of taste. After the fact, ascertaining why certain items were defined as blending or mixing well is challenging, although one can construct rationales that justify the combinations. Since liking a flavor is, after all, a matter of preference linked to cultural capital and the flavors to which one has been exposed, "tasting good" is related as much to how one expects the food to taste—living up to an image—as to a formal standard of taste. The expectation of dishes and deviations from these expectations are often raised by cooks:

Diane tells me how much she likes the wild mushroom tart that the kitchen has made: "It's really good. . . . It's got a really earthy flavor. It just tastes like what it is. It's like eating the woods. When someone tells you the name of a dish, it's disappointing when it doesn't taste like what you expect. This tastes like what it is."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

I ask Lew why he puts paprika on the fish; he seems surprised by my question, then responds: "It's a way to make it look good. If we didn't put it on, it looks really white. It has no color. It looks more appetizing, instead of all white."
(Field notes, Stan's)

This implicit knowledge of what a dish should be is at the heart of understanding the "eye" or "knack" for cooking. Yet, this belief that the knowledge of how to cook is internal complicates the development of shared standards. Cooks may not recognize that their knowledge develops from the experiential side of cooking and on what they have learned from peers.

Shared Cooking

In most large and mid-sized restaurants several cooks labor simultaneously, forging an occupational community. Cooks do not need to rely upon their personal judgments about the creation or production of a dish but can request advice from co-workers. Aesthetic judgments are potentially consensual; an ongoing process exists by which professional evaluations develop. Previous judgments, consensually arrived at, affect the evaluation of subsequent dishes.

Cooks routinely share their evaluation of dishes:

Diane reflects on an avocado-potato soup prepared as a special: "It doesn't taste like what it is. . . . A lot of time people expect things to taste like what they think it should. If it doesn't, they won't like it, no matter how good it is." Howie comments: "It tastes like avocado and potato to me." Diane responds: "I can't really taste the potato."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

Diane refers to a salmon chaud froid: "Good salmon. It's a nice combination," but Tim retorts: "Actually I thought the salmon was pretty shitty, but the relish was good."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

By trading judgments, telegraphic but robust, cooks develop a sense of others' evaluations, even though in practice they typically do not refer to the characteristics of the dishes that allow them to reach their conclusions. They learn from a compilation of judgments over time.

Beyond these discussions cooks collectively decide in practice how to prepare dishes. They negotiate the final outcome of some of the dishes that they serve, especially when they have autonomy in the creation. Soups are notable for negotiation; items cooked to order on the line are less so. In restaurants in which cooks have the authority to create new dishes, the planning and initial preparation of a dish involves negotiation, whereas subsequent productions typically will not, unless a problem arises. The outcome of a dish is shaped by the input of the cooking staff:

Tim, the head chef, and Howie, the sous chef, discuss adjustments to a strawberry sauce to be served with smoked goose. Howie finds the sauce acceptable, but Tim prefers more heavily spiced and herbed dishes. Tim suggests that the strawberry sauce needs mint. He dips a mint leaf into the sauce and tastes [it], but decides that it is still not acceptable. Howie comments: "You got to think how it's gonna go, the mint flavors with a smoked goose." Tim adds red wine to the sauce; then Tim adds a paste with dry mustard and red wine that he decides is good enough but adds: "It's still not perfect." Later I ask Howie what was wrong with the sauce, and he responds: "Nothing. It just didn't have enough oomph for him."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

As is common in hierarchical organizations, the outcome of the negotiation is shaped by structural power as well as by the opinions of these two men who respect each other. Yet, one is obligated to decide. Aesthetic standards in organizations ultimately are directed by hierarchy. Power and authority are also evident when the head chef is absent: "Howie has just finished a fish terrine and says to Diane: 'Why don't you take a taste of that terrine and see how it tastes with that [red bell pepper sauce]?' Howie, Diane, and Denny—all taste it. Howie comments: 'It might be kinda strong.' Denny adds: 'It might be better hot.' Howie decides: 'Tim wanted to run it cold. . . . Why don't we put a hold on that'" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). Similarly cooks discuss the dishes that they are about to prepare, even when their judgments do not correspond to their personal attitudes. Cooks must learn to analyze dishes to prevent their aesthetic standards, grounded in their class positions, from blocking their professional judgment, as in this discussion of steak tartare, disliked by all the participants:

MEL, the head day cook, comments: There'll be a lot of gassy people around.

PAUL, the head chef, notes: I can't eat it.

MEL adds: I don't like the capers in it.

EDDIE, the maître d', jokes about the sauce: Put a little Sterno in there. It needs something.

PAUL: It needs the meat.

Eddie tells Paul that he put in some Tabasco and pickle relish, and they agree it tastes fine.
(Field notes, Owl's Nest)

This dialogue depicts the collective shaping of dishes and helps to create a sense of what good cooking consists. While such an understanding is typically implicit, and not overtly referred to, cooks recognize that their socialization consists of learning from colleagues how to fix particular dishes. A co-worker can set the cooking standards, although the production of colleagues may also be used as negative exemplars: "Bruce describes the crepes that other cooks make: 'They'll make them lopsided. I like to see a perfect crepe. I like to hear people say [the Owl's Nest has] the best crepes in town. When you hear something like that, you put more pride into them'" (Field notes, Owl's Nest). Because of professional solidarity, and perhaps because cooks define each other as competent, negative comments are less common than positive judgments.

Talking Aesthetic Theory

Although aesthetic judgments are ultimately grounded in evaluations and experiences of particulars, some cooks attempt to construct culinary theories. These "theories" are not theories in a classical, scientific sense but are extended metaphors—folk theories—that permit the cook to think about a diverse range of food products. Since these workers do not define themselves as intellectuals but emphasize their working-class origins, culinary theories are incomplete and were explicit primarily at La Pomme de Terre, the restaurant with the greatest desire to claim haute cuisine status and whose workers had the greatest need to construct a theory of art to justify their self-conceptions (Wolfe 1976). An explicit, verbal theory of culinary classifications is a luxury of those with intellectual pretensions, time, and an appreciative audience.

Because of the difficulty of specifying taste and knowing in advance which foods "go together," cooks create meaning from metaphor. These culinary theories represent a "poetics" of cooking (Brown 1977). Metaphors allow cooks to communicate about what they think that they are doing without explicit referents. For example, a cook may talk about "brightening" the flavor of a dish; another dish may be criticized for lacking "oomph."

In a more extended vein the head chef at La Pomme de Terre referred to taste as being functionally equivalent to a musical octave, borrowing an already well-established cultural theory. He indicated that, in some measure, he created dishes the way he imagined a composer might create a symphony: "[My sous chef] was making a soup, and he called me for assistance in finalizing the seasoning, so I thought about it, and it was just missing the high-end taste, the flavor, it didn't have any spark to it, so it just came to mind, boom, all of a sudden. I thought, gee, it's kind of like a musical octave. . . . It's a good basic analogy for preparing foods and flavor as far as I'm concerned" (Personal interview, La Pomme de Terre). Later he expands this metaphor: "Tim says that he sees a dish like 'an octave,' in that you need elements from all parts of the octave to give it harmony and balance. He describes how he changed the preparation of sweetbreads. Previously he had served sweetbreads in a Madeira sauce with mustard seeds, but because it was spring, he wanted to 'lighten it up.' He decided to cook them with shiitake mushrooms, saying that these mushrooms give the dish a woodsy taste, and he felt that he needed something that would balance the mushrooms and 'lighten' the dish. He finally decided to add apples" (Field notes, La Pomme de Terre). Although this undoubtedly is a useful analogy for this cook, it will help other cooks little unless they are already aware of what is wrong and how to fix it. They must share the dimensions of this metaphoric structure, even while being unconscious of the implicit models. Often people simply "do" aesthetic work without having internalized any theory of art (Sclafani 1979): formal and elaborated theories of art are a luxury of the professional aesthetician. In the first example, it is significant that this "high-end" involves a "spark," but the content of this spark is left implicit, part of the tacit practical knowledge that the cook must bring to the stove. The spark might be supplied by pepper, chile, orange, chocolate, cinnamon, basil, or oregano, but it should alter the unmarked taste of the foodstuff. What this spark should be is provided by shared experiences of cooks—these people have solved problems together (Becker and Geer 1960; Becker 1982).

An aesthetic theory of cooking does not require the explicit metaphor of a music symphony to be usable; other images are found in other settings, even when the metaphors are not extensive:

Barbara, the pastry chef, explains that she doesn't much like "decorated cakes"—that is, with flowers and strings—the traditional wedding-cake design. She tells me: "I'm really not too crazy about that. I think those cakes look too gloppy. I think it looks too much like what you go to Target (a discount department store that sells bakery products] to buy." Later she adds: "I don't like the look that's achieved by a lot of gaudy flowers. . . . I like things to be simple."
(Field notes, La Pomme de Terre)

Charles says to Al: "Al, can you jazz the mushrooms up a little bit." Al responds: "Yeah, I did." Al had added butter and pepper to the sautéed mushrooms.
(Field notes, Stan's)

I ask Herb how he goes about deciding where to place fruits on the fruit plate. He answers: "You have a dark, then a semidark, then a light [fruit]. That's what I try to do. You always want to have a balance of colors."
(Field notes, Blakemore Hotel)

These examples suggest that underneath local judgments of foods and dishes, cooks maintain unstated ideologies or visions about what foods should be, drawing upon such cultural values as simplicity, jazziness, or balance, found in other aesthetic realms. These are attempts to make sense out of what might appear to customers merely idiosyncratic decisions. When coupled with collective discussions by cooks and their negotiation with each other, these images extend beyond the individual cook to influence others in kitchen, and through occupational mobility may influence co-workers elsewhere.

The Limits of Culinary Talk

Arguing that cooks are concerned with and discuss aesthetic issues might seem odd to those who expect a richer and more elaborated discourse than that discovered in these ethnographic settings. The remarks of chefs may appear somewhat thin. It is evident from these data, and from the accounts of those who have observed or worked with cooks, that aesthetic discourse is not detailed in most kitchens—certainly in comparison with that of philosophers but even with that of head chefs or food critics in the upper reaches of culinary scenes. In a sense, these cooks are not talking about "cuisine," as elites define it, even though they are concerned with the sensory domain of food. One finds more elaborate, artistic discussion among chefs in the "better" restaurants in the major culinary centers of New York (Zukin 1993, personal communication), New Orleans, San Francisco, Paris, and Lyons. Like many occupations, culinary work is sharply segmented (Bucher 1962). Discourse is responsive to the concerns of the community and the training the discussants have received.

The cooking world in the Twin Cities cannot be said to be a fully developed "art world" (Becker 1982), and for that reason my observations are generalizable to those cooking communities that lack an "haute cuisine infrastructure."[3] Most diners wish to eat well, rather than to "think about" food. Cooks do not conceive of themselves as specializing in artistic production per se, but they are concerned with occupational aesthetics. In this they are like most occupations, in which the sensory qualities of the product or service is important. For a fully developed art world, three characteristics are necessary: an active social network, a recognized aesthetic theory, and public legitimation of the art produced. In the Twin Cities none of these characteristics was present, a reality that limited the elaborateness of the rhetoric and images available to cooks.

Social Network

Among Twin Cities cooks I found little social networking necessary for the recognition of a subcultural art world. Cooks do not visit other kitchens unless the visitor is a former employee. Although cooks and chefs dine at restaurants, they do not sup in their occupational role but as customers. When there, they do not visit the kitchen or request special service. Further, when asked their favorite restaurants, cooks rarely name the recognized "best" restaurants but middle-brow restaurants. The head chef at La Pomme de Terre claims that his favorite restaurant is Stan's Steakhouse because "it's laid back and casual," insisting that he is "a normal sort of eater." Eating for this skilled chef is not a mark of identity. The chef at the Blakemore Hotel was equally revealing, naming a well-regarded hotel restaurant but explaining: "I haven't been there in years. . . . If I go [there], it's not for me. I do not go there for my enjoyment; I go there to take someone who's going to be impressed. It's for their enjoyment. I'd be just as happy to go to McDonald's" (Personal interview). No cook or chef mentioned a network of cooks in the Twin Cities with whom they discuss his or her work. As I noted, the one local occupational organization, the Midwest Chefs Society, is primarily composed of those involved in trade education and institutional cooking. Only one cook at the four restaurants attended meetings of this group: a trade-school student whose instructor was then president.

The absence of informal or formal organization retarded the possibility of a more richly developed collective discussion of the "poetics of food" that transcended individual restaurants, as well as preventing cooks from self-consciously defining themselves as a group. In turn, the lack of self-consciousness of their occupational position precludes the development of such formal and informal groupings.

Aesthetic Theory

Cooks do have aesthetic standards, and they converse about these standards; however, they lack an intellectual grounding for these standards, and to outsiders their discourse may sound vague, as meanings are constituted by past experiences. As Becker (1982) notes, for an activity to be art, a recognition of conventions and a shared definition of art must develop. No such collective charter is evident in the Twin Cities. The discussion of the quality of a dish typically occurs in the context of that dish alone, rather than in an attempt to create a broader ideal of cooking. When I asked the head chef at The Owl's Nest about his philosophy of cooking, he responded that he wanted to do "a good basic cooking." He wanted his restaurant to be a "real good scratch house"—meaning that they would create dishes from original ingredients and not use convenience foods.

This attitude is fostered by the absence of "professional education," which might convey a philosophy. Most cooks in the Twin Cities, not "gourmets" themselves, were taught to cook in trade schools or on the job. There is no philosophical font: no courses on food theory, no books that emphasize this component of culinary work that prospective cooks are encouraged to read.

Public Legitimation

In most art worlds, theory is not developed by artists themselves but by those who surround them. Critics and academics provide the intellectual grounds by which work is transformed into art and given cultural legitimation. In the culinary world such critics are rare. Although restaurant reviews are published, critics are not cultural conservators but consumer guides. No link exists from the world of cooks to the world of artistic tastemakers. The absence of public recognition is evident in the fact that neither St. Paul newspaper had a regular restaurant critic during the research. The Minneapolis paper had a part-time critic who wrote a biweekly review. When she resigned, the paper did not replace her for several months. It would have been unthinkable not to find quickly a new critic in the areas of visual art, theater, film, or television.

In sum, the absence of community, theory, and public support, coupled with the largely working-class backgrounds and trade-school training of the cooks, limits the extent of aesthetic talk within the occupation. Through shared experiences and the need to produce efficiently food that is enjoyed by clients, cooks have developed a practical language, grounded in experience—a "sociolect"—that serves their purposes, requires a "strategic vocabulary," and permits efficient work. Yet, this is language that committed food writers, upwardly mobile customers, and earnest foodies consider banal, inadequate, and lacking in poetry.

The Philosopher in the Kitchen

Although it is not particularly helpful to see cooks "guided" by a formal set of aesthetic beliefs or a clearly defined artistic ideology, these workers are sensitive to aesthetics. Food is judged not merely as a technical product but also as an aesthetic, sensory one. The recognition of joint instrumental and expressive characteristics of objects applies beyond food. All constructed objects are comparable in that they are constructed instrumentally and are to be judged, in part, on the style of the making (Fine 1992b). What is true of casseroles is true of cabinets and cars. In each case judgments are made; these have limits and are functions of the senses, of language, of the worker's habitus, and of organizational and client demands.

As competent workers, cooks require a language that permits them to complete their work smoothly and well. This strategic vocabulary must overcome the reality that sensory experiences are internal; there must be external markers—precise or metaphorical—that direct food production. While internal experiences are personal, we "externalize" these sentiments and judgments through talk, gesture, and action. These markers are grounded in the practice of cooking and in the class fraction of workers with its own norms, values, expectations, and categorizations. The family resemblances of words are known through collective action and experience.

Further, workers need language that permits them to define themselves as community members. Although cooks' language is not sufficiently developed—in the scene I studied, at least—to justify the wearing of the mantle of art, it is sufficient to lead workers to be proud and self-satisfied of their craft skills (Fine 1992b).

The senses are experienced bodily. Whatever the sociological basis of these feelings and their expression, they are inaccessible to others. Yet, this simple recognition is not sufficient. We do know something of what others feel, because of our reliance on public display. We read the selves of others through action. This display can be generated verbally, gesturally, or behaviorally, always in a form accessible to another person. The problem is to transform this individual experience into collective expression, recognizing the need for self-presentation inherent in public display. Consuming pretzels, I cannot determine if your sensation of salty is identical to my sensation of salty. All we know is that we are responding to similar stimuli, and we gain intersubjective confidence by the fact that we both liken the taste of this food to other foods that we have tasted, choose to drink water after consumption, brush off the salt, or make an appropriately "salty" face, referring to the potency of the sensation. The shared meaning of experienced events must remain somewhat uncertain—especially when it is subtle, not dramatic. The problem is more than a philosophical issue, although it has long been that; it concerns how social settings are to be understood in theory and in practice, and how interaction proceeds in kitchens, hospitals, prisons, and families.

Language creates barriers of comprehension. Western languages are not sufficiently subtle, complex, or rich in aesthetic judgment to permit a complex set of cultural meanings. Their imprecision and metaphors require us to base aesthetic talk on shared experience. The problem of talk is linked to how we share senses, providing a grounding for action. Collective action can only be assumed when the parties accept a view of their social surroundings, and when they agree on an authority system that determines who has priority in decision making or when they accept metarules of negotiating (Kleinman 1982).

To understand food, cooks construct a range of metaphors. These metaphors are not only localized to the individual speaker but also are spread within the kitchen community and, because of occupational mobility, among other restaurants. Metaphors of experience are capable of being shared. The diffusion of aesthetic evaluation extends beyond occupations, although its power is evident in such settings. When we speak of socialization, at any level, we refer not only to instruction in technical matters but also to the moral evaluation of objects and actions, which easily conflates with sensory judgments.

Definitional difficulties are inherent in languages. We must settle for family resemblances that we hope will serve us well enough, often enough. Cooking as a social scene stands not only for itself but also for other settings in which discrete actors cope with scenes that are grounded in internal judgments and subjective sensations. Aesthetic order is a domain of social order.




Notes:

1. By flavor I refer to the combination of taste and smell.

2. A recent news report suggests that just such a course has been developed in French schools. Educators there believe that students have lost the appreciation of flavor.

3. One reader of this chapter noted that even in the best circumstances, cooks must fight for aesthetic status. "Cuisine" in France is usually categorized as "artisanship," rather than "art." The sources of culinary theory are typically a few important critics, published in major media outlets, such as Le Reynière in Le Monde . This reader proposed the interesting thought experiment of how the Minnesota restaurant world could be made into an "art world." Would awards be enough? What about state subsidies? Classes in college? Restaurants with elite boards of trustees?

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