How do we tell a chef from an amateur, a piece of culinary art from mere lowbrow attempts at home cooking? Is there any real difference at all, and if so, on what expertise does this distinction rest?
This is the basic question that my research fellowship with Harvard’s Schlesinger Library attempts to answer. As summer is slowly winding to a close, so too is one of my post-graduation summer endeavor. Many days in an overly air-conditioned library have finally brought together an illuminating bit of research on the topic of culinary aesthetic shift from the post-WWI period in the United States to the post-1975 period.
To give you a bit of insight, I thought I’d feature a few of the clippings from my research below—all photographed from the culinary magazine Gourmet through-out different time periods.
Taken from a 1952 copy of Gourmet, during what many describe as the time of high modernism, this advertisement elucidates the proliferation of mass production and appeal to authority typical of products under the period of Fordist modernity.
Compare this to the advertisement below from Gourmet in 1975, featuring instead an emphasis on small batch production and eclectic (or D-I-Y, do-it-yourself) style.
While I’ve traced a number of factors that played into this shift in culinary aesthetics of which only one example is shown above, one of the most telling is the distrust of totalizing views of cooking as art that was so prominent in the 1950’s of French-cooking traditionalism and extensive chef training leading to a distinction between the chef and the amateur. Chefs-as-artists became co-opted into materialism completely through advertisements (James Beard) and more easily through television cooking shows (Julia Child) with the advent of TV.
Of course, this is all just to give you a flavor of what my summer has looked like, and also to show some of the truly interesting research materials at one of Harvard’s libraries. On a less scholarly but no less important side, summer in Cambridge has proven to once again offer a wealth of opportunities of leisure time for any student (or post-grad) who happens to be around for these few months.
On Sundays Cambridge closes down a section of the street between the river and Harvard Square allowing of jogging, walking, or bike riding without the innumerable cars to push you off on a sidewalk. During the summer though, they have a new program called Sunday Parkland Games where everything from badminton to hula hoops, along with team games (potato-sack race) and free yoga classes from Karma Yoga Studio! It was so much fun, it felt like being a kid again during our elementary school relay games.
If anyone is in the area, this will be going on for the next two Sundays and strongly urge you to come check it out.
Besides that, Fridays have also become a time of routine as the workday from 3:30-5pm for The Harvard Community Garden. The Garden has grown beautifully with the addition of its annual crops, and has been a great place to take free yoga classes put on by Harvard student and my Yoga-Teaching-Training classmate Kelly, as well as to take classes on everything from tea making to pickling. Most Fridays they even have a movie at the garden at night.
As the month comes to a final close, I’ll make sure to check back in one more time for more updates on spending the summer in Cambridge.
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