Program Title: Word of Mouth: What We Talk About When we Talk About Food and Presentation of the 2014 Amelia Award to Nach Waxman
Speaker: Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson
Date: October 15, 2014
Location: Columbia Maison Française
Priscilla Ferguson, Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, is well-known for her Francophilic analysis of the triumph of French cuisine in the seventeenth and eighteen centuries through her book, “Accounting for Taste;” her most recent book, “Word of Mouth: What We Talk About When We Talk About Food,” and the subject of our October program, focused a light on the transformation of the world outside of France into the foodiest of foodie paradises. Whether at Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli, René Redzepi’s Noma, or any of the other restaurants where a coveted dinner reservation becomes a deposit in the cultural capital bank of contemporary culinary trendsters, Ferguson argued that the underlying structures and rules by which haute cuisines have been constructed have now been changed to elevate creativity, innovation, novelty, and shock value on the plate, possibly at the expense of commensal enjoyment. She noted that we now have “haute food,” a culturally disconnected series of dishes where the performance of preparation—the “chefing”—accomplished not only through the visible stage of the open restaurant kitchen, but also with the culinary memoir, television shows, and Twitter feeds, has changed everyone’s conversations and experience of food.
As a lagniappe to the program, Amelia Award recipient Nach Waxman graciously spoke after Ferguson about the changing discourses that he has witnessed in his career as proprietor of Kitchen Arts & Letters; the anthropological and sociological lenses under which food is now studied is reflected not only in the development of an academic discipline of food studies, but also presents itself in a new focus on cultural contextualization by cookbook authors. The more we talk about food, the greater our curiosity about what the culinary world can offer.
At the reception in Waxman’s honor, we decided to pay homage to Maison Française with a largely French menu of classic bites, including gougères.