Misfit Professionals: Asian American Chefs and Restaurateurs in the Twenty-First Century
- Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 77, Number 2, Summer 2021
- pp. 103-132
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Since the mid-2000s, many Asian American chefs and restaurateurs have obtained mainstream acclaim by challenging the norms of the restaurant industry. Neither fully conforming to nor opposing industry norms, they reveal new forms of professional and cultural belonging that revise popular perceptions of Asian Americanness. I propose misfit professionalism as a critical concept to describe how this emerging generation of Asian Americans categorically mis-fits with institutional norms, resulting in a subject position socially defined by this mis-fitting. Exercising nonnormative professional practices in an industry where cultural traditions are tethered to professional norms, misfits authorize new narratives of Asian Americanness in popular literary genres like the cookbook. Their cookbooks employ a narrative device that I call the coming-to-career narrative, which challenges the genre's formal conventions. Examining the literariness of cookbook narratives, this article interrogates how industry professionalism engenders new understandings of race, gender, sexuality, and belonging in the twenty-first century.