This article takes up the question of the vexed class role of the American celebrity chef, beginning with the premise that, in the U.S., the achievement of class status is inimical with physical labor——and that, nevertheless, celebrity chefs have not only achieved elevated class status, but have become creators of class status for those who eat their food, by allowing diners to take in a proxy version of their own status with their pastas and foie gras. Beginning with a brief history of contemporary chefdom, the article explores the synthesis of perceived French class, American bootstrapper working culture and testosterone-laden cowboy allure that has led to the rise of the contemporary image of the American chef. It then explores the ways in which the dirty work, the physical labor of the kitchen and the labor-free, pristine notion of celebrity come together in the body of the chef, creating difficulties for the diner who seeks to take in the chef's celebrity power with his food, but also swallows the chef's labor, thus sliding backwards on the American class scale, reversing the Horatio Alger story, precisely by seeking to move upward. Similarly, the diner who reinforces his sophistication by swallowing what the chef feeds him is also taking in the unknown, the mysterious, the potentially defiling and disgusting. Television chefdom solves this problem, at once making the chef famous, exposing him as ordinary, and putting him in his place through the mechanisms of reality TV and public judgment.
- ©© 2008 BY THE REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.