Smart Casual: The Transformation of Gourmet Restaurant Style in America

University of Chicago Press
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Fine dining and the accolades of Michelin stars once meant chandeliers, white tablecloths, and suited waiters with elegant accents. The stuffy attitude and often scant portions were the punchlines of sitcom jokes—it was unthinkable that a gourmet chef would stoop to plate a burger or a taco in his kitchen. And yet today many of us will queue up for a seat at a loud, crowded noodle bar or eagerly seek out that farm-to-table restaurant where not only the burgers and fries are organic but the ketchup is homemade—but it’s not just us: the critics will be there too, ready to award distinction. Haute has blurred with homey cuisine in the last few decades, but how did this radical change happen, and what does it say about current attitudes toward taste? Here with the answers is food writer Alison Pearlman. In Smart Casual: The Transformation of Gourmet Restaurant Style in America, Pearlman investigates what she identifies as the increasing informality in the design of contemporary American restaurants. By design, Pearlman does not just mean architecture. Her argument is more expansive—she is as interested in the style and presentation of food, the business plan, and the marketing of chefs as she is in the restaurant’s floor plan or menu design. Pearlman takes us hungrily inside the kitchens and dining rooms of restaurants coast to coast—from David Chang’s Momofuku noodle bar in New York to the seasonal, French-inspired cuisine of Alice Waters and Thomas Keller in California to the deconstructed comfort food of Homaro Cantu’s Moto in Chicago—to explore the different forms and flavors this casualization is taking. Smart Casual examines the assumed correlation between taste and social status, and argues that recent upsets to these distinctions have given rise to a new idea of sophistication, one that champions the omnivorous. The boundaries between high and low have been made flexible due to our desire to eat everything, try everything, and do so in a convivial setting. Through lively on-the-scene observation and interviews with major players and chefs, Smart Casual will transport readers to restaurants around the country to learn the secrets to their success and popularity. It is certain to give foodies and restaurant-goers something delectable to chew on.
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About the author

Alison Pearlman is a Los Angeles–based art historian and cultural critic who blogs under the name the Eye in Dining. She teaches modern and contemporary art and design history at Cal Poly Pomona and is the author of Unpackaging Art of the 1980s, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Additional Information

University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Apr 15, 2013
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Architecture / Interior Design / General
Cooking / General
Cooking / History
History / United States / General
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The study of human body measurements on a comparative basis is known as anthropometrics. Its applicability to the design process is seen in the physical fit, or interface, between the human body and the various components of interior space.

Human Dimension and Interior Space is the first major anthropometrically based reference book of design standards for use by all those involved with the physical planning and detailing of interiors, including interior designers, architects, furniture designers, builders, industrial designers, and students of design. The use of anthropometric data, although no substitute for good design or sound professional judgment should be viewed as one of the many tools required in the design process. This comprehensive overview of anthropometrics consists of three parts.

The first part deals with the theory and application of anthropometrics and includes a special section dealing with physically disabled and elderly people. It provides the designer with the fundamentals of anthropometrics and a basic understanding of how interior design standards are established. The second part contains easy-to-read, illustrated anthropometric tables, which provide the most current data available on human body size, organized by age and percentile groupings. Also included is data relative to the range of joint motion and body sizes of children. The third part contains hundreds of dimensioned drawings, illustrating in plan and section the proper anthropometrically based relationship between user and space. The types of spaces range from residential and commercial to recreational and institutional, and all dimensions include metric conversions.

In the Epilogue, the authors challenge the interior design profession, the building industry, and the furniture manufacturer to seriously explore the problem of adjustability in design. They expose the fallacy of designing to accommodate the so-called average man, who, in fact, does not exist. Using government data, including studies prepared by Dr. Howard Stoudt, Dr. Albert Damon, and Dr. Ross McFarland, formerly of the Harvard School of Public Health, and Jean Roberts of the U.S. Public Health Service, Panero and Zelnik have devised a system of interior design reference standards, easily understood through a series of charts and situation drawings. With Human Dimension and Interior Space, these standards are now accessible to all designers of interior environments.
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