Creating Tastes and Tasting Creatively
Race and the Semiotics of Peruvian Cuisine
During the past two decades, Peru has seen a dramatic expansion of restaurants and attention to its cuisine at home and abroad, a phenomenon known locally as the “gastronomy boom.” One effect of the gastronomy boom is a surge of enrollment in culinary schools, with young people of varying racial and class backgrounds converging on low- and mid-priced technical institutes in Lima in hopes of becoming Peru’s future celebrity chefs. In this article, based on participant observation in two such institutes, I analyze the processes by which students’ individual senses of taste are standardized and transformed in the name of forming diverse students into professionals. Drawing on the concept of linguistic style, I show that local ideologies of taste have long allowed cooking to be both an index of race and a substance through which racial difference is instantiated. I then show that socializing students to produce a new, “creative” cuisine – cuisine built on violating expectations about how culinary features should co-occur -- encourages students to think of themselves and their foods as commodities rather than representatives of race or region. As such, the practice of a “creative” cooking style semiotically links Peruvian hopes for greater intercultural understanding and hopes for the country’s economic development to the embodied and sensorial practices of individual culinary students.
Keywords: cuisine, taste, race, style, Peru