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Jan 6, 2008 06:02 PM

Research. Please help!

Fellow Chowhounders, I will soon be starting my thesis for my Masters of Arts Gastronomy, and was considering doing it on the topic "How Celebrity Chefs have influenced food and culture."

Any thoughts/opinions would be greatly appreciated!!

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  1. Quite honestly, I think for Master's investigation, your topic is a bit light and fluffy -- only because it has been such a fodder of discussion on chat boards for years. There is the potential for an extensive thesis *if* extensive cultural analysis is done but literary sources are going to be thin.

    That's just me...

    1 Reply
    1. re: Carrie 218

      Agree on the lack of grit and fluffliness and applaud Carrie for her straight truth.
      And the topic is too big and unfocused. Do you mean JC and her impact, or the RR phenomenon? Consider that your research and academic references will have to be extensive. What do your advisors have to say about this topic?

    2. Check out the thread on Chowhound...... "Is food creation art?
      There are some fine examples amongst the intelligent responses

      1. You have a fun task ahead of you. How serious do you need to be?

        On the one hand, what data do you want to use? How will you document that such change has taken place? You'll have to entertain the possibility that CCs have had no significant effect on food and culture. How will you measure their influence? And attibution will be a problem: If you could first track an increase in fearless home cooking of French food (or dropping chickens on the floor) in the US, would that be because of Julia Child or wider interests in food, or to what degree both? Or have food and culture changes taken place in part because of wider, cheap air travel allowing people to have more contact with others. Or to immigration and more "ethnic" restaurants? What about indicators? The proportion of people knowing about the Maillard reaction may have something to do with Graham Kerr.

        At an intermediate level, you could just ask a large sample of people how they've been influenced by CCs. I'd wear a light blue hooded sweatshirt in the kitchen--if I had one and if it were ever cold in the kitchen--a la Jamie Oliver. More seriously, you could ask all culinary school and MS Gas students what influenced them--but that wouldn't necessarily mean that food and culture in the US has been similarly influenced.

        Or, finally, I guess you could install hidden cameras in people's kitchens to find out how often they yell, "Bam! Let's kick it up a notch!" or "Yummo!"

        3 Replies
        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          Don't forget RR's "EVOO", which apparently now has an entry in the Oxford American Dictionary.

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            I don't kick things up a notch, and yum-o will never cross my lips, but I do occasionally yell Bam! when I have cooked something I'm especially proud of. In fact, this expression is leaching into other parts of my life too, as in: "I got an A on my paper! Bam!"

            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              Oral history is a perfectly valid method of collecting data. Studs Turkel has made a career of writing social history using oral history technique. His book, HARD TIMES: An Oral History of the Great Depression is arguably the most powerful book ever written about that period in American history. It seems to me that the OP could do a satisfactory job writing a master's thesis using Oral History technique. Of course, the OP will have to approach this in an organized way. The OP could identify some celebrities chefs through time (e.g. The Galloping Gourmet [AKA Graham Kerr], Julia Child, Emeril, etc) and locate people who will sit for an interview about said celebrity's impact -- or lack thereof -- on their interest in food/cooking technique. Interviewing the professors in the Gastronomy program would be another good pool of interview subjects. I think Julia Child's long-time editor recently wrote a book. Just asking for reactions to the topic on Chowhound doesn't seem adequate.

              Note to OP: If you don't know what oral history is or how to conduct oral history inteviews, I recommend you get a copy of LIKE IT WAS (ISBN 0-915924-12-9). Although this is written for secondary school students, it is a thorough explanation of the process.

            2. I think it is the opposite.

              An unknown becomes a celebrity chef because of something innovative they do.

              Example; Racheal Ray became famous because she brought food down to the common person. She made olive oil a staple to people who would have otherwise thought it 'exotic'.

              Emeril brought Cajun/Creole to the masses.

              1 Reply
              1. re: BlueHerons

                BlueHerons, blast away at me if you must :-) , but I'm feeling a little testy today and am so responding:

                Rachael Ray was always making the food of the common person, i.e., burgers, chili, etcetera. Olive oil was obscenely readily available on my big box store shelves before RR ever, ever hit the 'waves. Not exotic.

                Ditto on Emeril for part: Cajun was always for the masses, Creole to a lesser extent, though it really is a fusion cuisine.

                I don't think there's anything innovative these celebrity chefs do. I DO, however, salute them in that they get otherwise disinterested people excited about cooking, but that's not innovation...that's marketing.


              2. Thanks for all your opinions. I'm still trying to come up with a topic, and for some reason, I am having a total brain freeze. I know this topic might seem "light and fluffy", but enrollment in culinary schools has more than quadrupled in the last five years. I know a lot of contributing factors play into this, but you can't help but think that the rise of the food related reality shows and the such have played into this somehow. I just thought it was an interesting topic. I'm still definately searching. It doesn't have to be that topic, not mine, is about the attititude toward screwtop wine.
                I'm trying to brainstorm. If anyone has any interesting thoughts, I would definitely appreciated hearing them. You are all very intelligent people! Thanks again! I'm open for ANY suggestions at this point!

                3 Replies
                1. re: linz_e_moore

                  To the wine producers around the world, the screwtop is of utmost importance, as it is the best way to keep the O2 out of the wine, but at the same time a perceived symbol of declasse product. So that might not be as light and fluffy as you think.

                  As far as your topic, the cookware industry and the cookbook industry thinks the impact celebrity chefs have on the market is extremely serious. You might want to investigate just how much of the market share celebrity cookware and celebrity cookbooks have. I have to believe it is a fair share and growing...

                  1. re: charlesbois

                    charlesbois, I apologize if I offended you. I certainly didn't mean to imply that the particular topic was "light and fluffy" No offense was intended.

                    1. re: linz_e_moore

                      Ha, no I'm not offended! (takes a LOT to offend me!) I was just commenting that while others may think these topics are "light and fluffy" the respective industries are extremely serious about these matters. So what may appear to be a "fluff" matter to your random chowhound may actually be not only a serious matter, but a matter that careers can hinge on. in fact, I thought YOU might be offended that people thought your idea was light and fluffy. Just goes to show how the written word, especially on internet boards, can be misinterpreted.