Authorship at the fogones: Gastronomy and the Artist in Post-Transition Spain

Atkins, Alison, Spanish - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Pope, Randolph, Department for Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of Virginia

This dissertation analyzes the representation of food in Spanish novels and cookbooks from the 1980s and 90s, a period in which Spanish cuisine gained an unprecedented level of international visibility and prominence. Using both cookbooks and novels published during the period, my project examines the tension between everyday and stylized food practices in order to explore how each text engages with questions of authorship and artistic creation.

The first two chapters focus on cookbooks authored by alta cocina chefs as well as by gastronomic critics who have compiled signature recipes by the chefs. I consider how these texts engage with contemporary theories of authorship and creativity, establishing a complex relationship with the modern notion of author as individual, autonomous, and unique, a kind of genius figure. In Chapter 1, I analyze the ways in which the prologue writers and compilers of two cookbooks of the early 1980s, Carlos Delgado’s Cien recetas magistrales (1981) and the 1982 Grandes maestros de la nueva cocina vasca present the featured chefs as unique and autonomous creators as part of a process of establishing culinary art as a legitimate art form. Chapter 2 focuses on three chef-authored cookbooks of the 1990s: Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli: El sabor del Mediterráneo (1993), Karlos Arguiñano’s El menú de cada día (1992), and Pedro Subijana’s Menú del día (1992). I consider the problematic attempts by these professional chefs to affirm themselves as singular, creative “authors.” These two chapters identify contradictions related to the presentation of the nature of these chefs’ “genius” and reveal unresolved tensions related to the role of the artist, of the intended reader, and also of the gastronomic critic. Despite the problematic nature of considering singular authorship within culinary creation, these texts speak to the continued legacy of the Romantic author and the enduring idea of a single author as originator of a unified text.

Whereas these chapters on cookbooks consider the way in which food practices are “written” and thereby offered up for aesthetic consideration, the final two chapters consider how aesthetic objects—in this case novels—utilize food, serving both realistic and metaphorical functions, in order to contemplate what it means to be an artist and author as well as the role of creativity within the everyday. In Chapter 3, I analyze the function of food in Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s El pianista as a complex and ambiguous depository of memory. In this novel, culinary references prompt an exploration of how the negotiation of everyday practices in the present reveals modes of engaging with the past as well as the role and authority of the artist in contemporary society. Chapter 4 examines how the attention paid to quotidian food practices in Almudena Grandes’ Malena es un nombre de tango facilitates a breaking down of binary oppositions, accompanied by an affirmation of creative authorship by the main character Malena. Such explorations of the meaning of everyday food practices contribute to a more complete understanding of the presentation of cocina de autor chefs like Adrià as solitary geniuses, unprecedented and nonreplicable, and the declaration of their role as the vanguard of a radical gastronomic revolution supposedly emerging in Spain after the transition.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
literature, cookbooks, Spain, Post-Transition, authorship, cuisine, culinary arts, gastronomy, food practices, the artist, the everyday
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