Full disclosure. I recruited Krishnendu Ray to NYU (for good reason as you can see from this interview in the Washington Post) and he is now my department chair.
With that said, I greatly admire what he’s done in this book, which is to cast a sociological eye on immigrants to the United States who get their start by using what they know of their own food tastes and traditions to open and run restaurants of the “ethnic” variety in today’s terminology.
Ray argues here (and elsewhere) that the contributions of immigrants to modern food culture are largely ignored by academics and critics who view
discussions of taste as marginal to the real lives of marginal peoples. In this conception, poor, hard-working people can teach us about poverty and suffering, hierarchy and symbolic violence, but never about taste…As a consequence, taste loses its contested and dynamic character, and…even its fundamentally sociological nature. As labor and immigrant historians have shown us repeatedly, good food matters to poor people, perhaps even more than it does to the rich and the powerful.
In his book, Ray draws on his readings, experience teaching at the Culinary Institute of America, and on interviews with cooks from China, India, Italy, and elsewhere to examine their motivat…