02 April 2012


"Philly Cheesesteak" at minibar, Washington, D.C., 6 August 2010. Photo by author.

Dining counter at Saison, San Francisco, 8 September 2010. Photo by author.

Terrific news: The University of Chicago Press will publish SMART CASUAL. It's an ideal read for anyone interested in the history and fashions of restaurants and gourmet dining. There'll be something new to chew on for the seasoned professional and the foodie novice.

SMART CASUAL is an in-depth look at how the fine-dining restaurant in America changed from a hushed scene of chandeliers and closed kitchens, strict dress codes and Continental cuisine, to a clamorous place where diner-style decor and hamburgers are no longer impediments to a Michelin star...or two. It also recognizes the simultaneous rise of new formalities, such as the elaboration of tasting-menu rituals. While they may seem contradictory, I consider these tendencies as part of a cohesive "omnivorous" turn in gourmet taste.  The book uncovers the key dining rooms and trends that mark the rise of "omnivorous" preferences, and considers the changes in taste in light of broader shifts in the definition of elite social status.

The book has academic rigor, but jargon-free prose. It draws on extensive archival research as well as participant-observation and interviews with major players. It considers the cuisine as much as the environments of restaurants. SMART CASUAL picks up in time where Patric Kuh's THE LAST DAYS OF HAUTE CUISINE (2001) leaves off, but, unlike it, puts the focus on visual aesthetics.

I will post updates here and via my Facebook page (The Eye in Dining) and Twitter (theeyeindining) as soon as I have further details to share related to the project and its release. Thank you for your interest.