The Nouvelle Cuisine Revolution: Expressions of National Anxieties and Aspirations in French Culinary Discourse 1969 - 1996

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2011

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This dissertation posits that Nouvelle Cuisine brings together two of the most powerful cultural forces involved in constituting French national identity: food and revolution. As a result of this privileged position, Nouvelle Cuisine offers scholars a particularly rich object of study that can be related to larger issues at play in the formation and performance of national identity. In this work, I will argue that the revolutionary rhetoric used in the articulation of Nouvelle Cuisine serves several distinct and, at times, oppositional purposes. On the one hand, the revolutionary rhetoric is intended to create a break with a tumultuous and painful past, while asserting a new paradigm of national strength. On the other hand, however, the revolutionary rhetoric of equality and freedom also somewhat paradoxically participates in and supports the dark side of democracy, which includes but is not limited to behind-the-scenes jockeying for power and the elimination of groups that threaten or curtail either the power at the top or the legitimacy of the revolution itself.

This work will also argue that because of the very malleability of the revolutionary rhetoric and because French cuisine is considered such an important expression of the French nation, Nouvelle Cuisine and the contemporaneous culinary discourse transforms France's fine dining domain into a sort of theatre where national attitudes are not only represented to a socially diverse French public, but where the public itself is invited to participate in this performance of the nation: rehearsing, refining, and rejecting what it means to be French and, as a result, projecting both aspirations and anxieties of nationhood through this culinary landscape.

In writing this dissertation, I have drawn heavily on my training in literary studies, but have tried as much as possible to allow the subject matter to dictate an inclusive and interdisciplinary approach. I engage frequently with a wide variety of scholars such as Homi Bhabha, Roland Barthes, Michel Winock, Jean-Robert Pitte, Claude Fischler, and Stephen Mennell. Consequently, my argument places the classic literary tools of linguistic and semiotic methods alongside investigations that call on cultural studies, history, anthropology, sociology, political philosophy, and of course food studies. I use cookbooks, guidebooks, newspapers, magazines, menus, interviews, and multiple editions of the Larousse Gastronomique to provide first and foremost the context but also the evidence for this dissertation. I concentrate the bulk of my critical energies on the food and leisure magazine Le Nouveau Guide (founded by food critics Henri Gault and Christian Millau) and the cookbook series entitled "Les Recettes Originales de...", paying particular attention to Nouvelle Cuisine foundational chefs Paul Bocuse and Michel Guérard.

The narrative of Nouvelle Cuisine is equivocal, but it does not defy conclusions. My final analysis in this dissertation is that in the production and articulation of Nouvelle Cuisine, we see how food and revolution are used to reorganize the hierarchies and composition of a society. We see a reorganization that restores bourgeois, patriarchal values and clings to a hexagonal interpretation of France that prioritizes resistance over incorporation. We see a revolution that is perhaps less the French Revolution than the July Revolution. We see a revolution that is an alibi for restoration.

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Mallory, Heather Alison (2011). The Nouvelle Cuisine Revolution: Expressions of National Anxieties and Aspirations in French Culinary Discourse 1969 - 1996. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/3826.

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