Divergent Myths: Occupational Change in the Culinary Industry

[Research with Gillian Gualtieri, Vanderbilt University]

About the Research

In this study, we examine how actors use myths to describe their practices during a moment of perceived occupational change. We use the fine dining industry as our case, which is facing a moment of change as the historically institutionalized model of hierarchical and abusive management has given way to an emerging management style that emphasizes individualized care and personal growth. Using 150 interviews with fine dining chefs across the US and UK, we examine how chefs make decisions about managing their staff through the lens of these two available myths, which we call broadly call “discipline” and “care.” We find that the vast majority of chefs are “incremental changers,” they blend these two myths when describing their approach to management, drawing from each as the circumstances require. Surprisingly, despite the obvious divergence in practice and tone of these two management myths, chefs employ similar explanations to justify and legitimate their actions (i.e., both myths are equally appropriate for ensuring a consistent and delicious product on the plate produced in an efficient and effective manner). Additionally, we identify a small group of “change agents” who have completely transformed their management style from discipline to care. We show how these few chefs conceptualize their commitment to care as a purposeful, consistent conviction motivated by a moral imperative to enact change in the broader culinary industry and social world at large. These findings illuminate the variation in both myths and management present in an occupation in transition, suggesting that divergent myths can coexist as long as they are rationalized and justified the same way on the ground. In addition, our qualitative data reveals an intermediary phase in the process of occupational change, whereby actors are renegotiating the “rules of the game” and choosing to blend old and new practices.

About Daphne Demetry

Daphne Demetry is an assistant professor of Strategy & Organization in the Desautels Faculty of Management. She joined the faculty in 2017 after a post-doctoral research fellowship at the Centre for Corporate Reputation at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. She completed her PhD in Sociology at Northwestern University.

​As an organizational sociologist, Daphne investigates questions related to organizational theory, culture, economic sociology and entrepreneurship. ​Daphne studies these issues primarily through qualitative research methods (e.g., participant observation, interviews, and content analysis). Empirically, her research centers on the culinary industry: restaurants kitchens, pop-up and underground restaurants, and gourmet food trucks.

Date: Thursday 21 October

Time: 3:00-4:30 pm CEST

Venue: Both in-person (Room A346) & on Zoom (link provided to registered attendees only)

Should you want to attend (on Zoom), please register at shorturl.at/uxCFQ