how the M6 ​​show elevates cooking to the rank of art

1:30 p.m., June 8, 2022

This is a total show delivered every week by the candidates for “Top Chef”, a successful reality show whose season 13 is coming to an end soon. With their virtuosity, they impress with their mastery of surprising, sometimes mysterious, often wonderful techniques: emulsions or sauces that every cook must know down to molecular chemistry, including flame cooking or the use of ice cream.

These candidates are guardians of the temple of flavors and ensure that it transmits to us the harmonies of reference, the rules of good French gastronomic taste. Thus disciple, they activate themselves under the rigorous and benevolent eyes of their star masters. But tradition splits under the blows of their imagination, their inventiveness. They express themselves and then become creators freed from the cannons, drawing from all over the world, ingredients, important techniques, inventing new associations before our eyes. By creating these original, unique plates, they become true contemporary artists.

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The three figures of the artist

The M6 ​​set thus shows the three figures of the artist who have been superimposed since antiquity: the craftsman, the academic and the artist-creator as defined by Raymonde Moulin. The latter, still the dominant and romantic figure in our artistic imaginaries today, appeared in the 19th century and engages his whole being in creation, its history and its identity, its sensitivity. He is the one who “Give everything and don’t give up”the one who “Go to the end” of his art, that which, from its individuality, tends towards the expression of an emotion “Universal”.

With these shows, cooking, like other popularly accented practices, has become gastronomy, perhaps moving towards an artifice, an artisticization, to be consecrated as an art in its own right.

The artist-made cook is not a recent invention, but it reaches a paroxysm of recognition, revealing our contemporary taste for eventful and spectacular culture. The show works as a device for recruiting new talent, both in pairs, in legitimate cases (for example, the Michelin Guide) and in the audience.

For the candidates, the stakes are high. It consisted of moving from the status of executor to that of a master recognized for his art

Above all, as with modern and contemporary art, it generates market recognition, that of star restaurants. For the candidates, the stakes are high. It consisted of moving from the status of performer to that of a master recognized for his art, a passage that in a few months can lead him to the ultimate stars, as previous seasons have shown. Since the 19th century, artistic recognition has passed through the market, both in plastic and culinary art, leading some commentators to talk about the art-plasticization of the kitchen (Caroline Champion, unpublished intervention at the study days of 2 and 3 October 2012, INHA).

Exacerbated sensory

At the heart of this weekly staging, the concept of the dish is the object of all attention. Far from biological necessities, the image values ​​above all the visual beauty of the dish. Addressing all the senses of the jury, the latter first judges the harmonies of colors, the originality of the arrangement and the composition. The visuals are paramount but the jury, before tasting, tells us about the smells it gives off. Both hearing and touch are mobilized for the crunchiness of a texture, the quality of a cooking, when candidates and mentors are threatened to taste in the dark. A total aesthetic experience, compared to other arts that only require one or the other of our senses, the culinary art is distinguished by the simultaneous mobilization of the five and in the first place by taste. The difficulty of describing the infinite sensations it generates then becomes the center of the staging of the judgment of peers and dishes, and this description plunges us into abstraction.

Pleasure and aesthetic experience

The attention paid to the dish and the description of the sensations it provides lead us to the third dimension, often forgotten in the major arts, characteristic of the artistic aesthetic experience: pleasure. But culinary pleasure is not the pleasure of “legitimate” arts and fine arts in particular, and perhaps these are the limits of the artifice of gastronomy, at least its completion.

In fact, aesthetic hierarchies are fragile. While there was talk of culinary art as well as 9th art in 1923, it was supplanted by comics, both of which were nevertheless considered socially “inferior” to legitimate fine arts.

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The strength of the culinary art, the mobilization of taste that distinguishes it from other arts is also its weakness, as these hierarchies are socially built on oppositions. Since the 18th century, since Kant and especially Hegel, legitimate art has been built on the negation of the body and the appreciation of an intellectualism which the bourgeoisie has seized upon to form, as Bourdieu pointed out. The pleasure of bourgeois artistic experience is not physical. The nobility of feeling does in fact make a bad household with the belly, and G. Simmel of underlines an irreducible difference when he writes: “While the work of art draws the essence of its beauty from its integrity, which keeps us at a distance, the refinement of the table is an invitation to the burglary of its beauty.” »

In “Top Chef”, however, every week, the culinary competition – which grieving spirits deem incompatible with art – which, moreover, is punctuated by advertisements for the agri-food industry, constantly makes us dream, for the best and for fun.

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