PhD Graduate Alexandra Rodney and Professor Josée Johnston on Celebrity Chefs and Inequality

PhD Graduate Alexandra Rodney and Professor Josée Johnston, in collaboration with Professor Phillipa Chong (McMaster), published an article in Poetics. The article explores how celebrity chefs reproduce social norms regarding race, class, and gender. The authors argue that the personas created by these individuals are usually gendered, racialized, and classed in a way that contributes further to existing inequalities.

Alexandra Rodney obtained her PhD in Sociology from the University of Toronto in 2017 and is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Guelph. She researches the intersections of health, gender and culture. Josée Johnston is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto and her general research goal is to advance knowledge in the sociological study of food and consumer culture.

We have posted the citation and the abstract of the article below. The full text is available through the University of Toronto Library Portal here.

Johnston, Josée, Alexandra Rodney, and Phillipa Chong. 2014. “Making Change in the Kitchen? A Study of Celebrity Cookbooks, Culinary Personas, and Inequality.” Poetics, 47:1-22.

In this paper, we investigate how cultural ideals of race, class and gender are revealed and reproduced through celebrity chefs’ public identities. Celebrity-chef status appears attainable by diverse voices including self-trained cooks like Rachael Ray, prisoner turned high-end-chef Jeff Henderson, and Nascar-fan Guy Fieri. This paper investigates how food celebrities’ self-presentations – their culinary personas – relate to social hierarchies. Drawing from literature on the sociology of culture, personas, food, and gender, we carry out an inductive qualitative analysis of celebrity chef cookbooks written by stars with a significant multi-media presence. We identify seven distinct culinary personas: homebody, home stylist, pin-up, chef-artisan, maverick, gastrosexual, and self-made man. We find that culinary personas are highly gendered, but also classed and racialized. Relating these findings to the broader culinary field, we suggest that celebrity chef personas may serve to naturalize status inequities, and our findings contribute to theories of cultural, culinary and gender stratification. This paper supports the use of “persona” as an analytical tool that can aid understanding of cultural inequalities, as well as the limited opportunities for new entrants to gain authority in their respective fields.

Read the full article here.