Cover of At the Chef
At the Chef's Table
Culinary Creativity in Elite Restaurants
Vanina Leschziner

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June 2015
272 pages.
$27.95

Cloth ISBN: 9780804787970

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This book is about the creative work of chefs at top restaurants in New York and San Francisco. Based on interviews with chefs and observation in restaurant kitchens, the book explores the question of how and why chefs make choices about the dishes they put on their menus. It answers this question by examining a whole range of areas, including chefs' careers, restaurant ratings and reviews, social networks, how chefs think about food and go about creating new dishes, and how status influences their work and careers.

Chefs at top restaurants face competing pressures to deliver complex and creative dishes, and navigate market forces to run a profitable business in an industry with exceptionally high costs and low profit margins. Creating a distinctive and original culinary style allows them to stand out in the market, but making the familiar food that many customers want ensures that they can stay in business. Chefs must make choices between these competing pressures. In explaining how they do so, this book uses the case study of high cuisine to analyze, more generally, how people in creative occupations navigate a context that is rife with uncertainty, high pressures, and contradicting forces.

About the author

Vanina Leschziner is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto.

"At the Chef's Table is the most sophisticated study of classification and action in a field of cultural production to date. I know of no other work that operates at this level of ambition and conceptual innovation. This book should be required reading for scholars in the sociology of culture, cognitive sociology, work and occupations, and organizational studies."

—Omar Lizardo, University of Notre Dame

"Vanina Leschziner provides a rare and refreshing insight into the small and intense world of elite chefs. At the Chef's Table revivifies sociological questions of field and figure, cognition, replication, and innovation in the emerging debates about knowledge production and circulation."

—Krishnendu Ray, New York University

"This engaging book offers much more than an evaluation of elite chefs and the food they serve in the US cities of New York and San Francisco (and the San Francisco Bay area). It brings a theoretical sophistication and depth to an area of research that is not always known for its theoretical rigour and creativity...Concluding and summarising sections on "theorizing action in the field," chefs self-concepts and on "creativity within constraints" complete a theoretically stimulating and empirically rich book that manages to encompass chefs as both individual actors and as members of a social field."

—Christel Lane, European Journal of Sociology