Culture, identity, and belonging in the “culinary underbelly”

Catherine Palmer, J. Cooper, Peter Burns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose – Drawing on social anthropology this paper aims to focus on the role of culture in identity formation through an examination of the results of research into the culture of the chef – culture manifest in what has been referred to as the “culinary underbelly”. Design/methodology/approach – In-depth interviews were conducted with head chefs of Michelin-starred restaurants and celebrity chefs with the aim of exploring the social and cultural processes underpinning the formation of chef identity. Findings – These illustrate what it feels like to belong on the basis of such signifying structures as language, community, and kinship. Being a chef is more than just a job, it is sacred work involving sacrifice and pain leaving a physical imprint on the individual in the form of burns, cuts and scalds. Such marks are the physical manifestation of chef culture. Research limitations/implications – The findings are not generalizable to all chefs. Further research should focus on issues of gender and ethnicity, and on chefs working in different types of establishment and at different levels/status to those interviewed here. Originality/value – The findings and the analysis provide valuable insights into chef identity. This analysis is important because the significance of concepts such as culture and identity for understanding specific job roles is still under explored within a hospitality context. Managers need to be able to understand and work with the cultural dynamics inherent in job roles because these impinge on key issues such as recruitment, retention and team building of all staff, not just chefs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-326
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Culture, Tourism and Hospitality Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Bibliographical note

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  • Culture
  • Family
  • Human resource management
  • Work identity


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