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Inside the Minds of Malaysian World Pastry Chefs: Portraits of Culinary Creativity

Lee, Kai-Sean
Retaining quality chefs has long been an issue in the culinary industry. Existing literature insists that practitioners should enhance work environments to support and foster chefs' creativity. However, the core issue of how chefs manifest creativity remains unclear. This study focuses on elucidating the nature of pastry chefs' (an underrepresented category of the culinary profession) culinary creativity through a phenomenological approach. Nine extraordinary pastry chefs who have represented the Malaysian Pastry Team in the prestigious World Pastry Cup were interviewed, in which in-depth interviews and several material artifacts were collected to explicate the essences of culinary creativity. The data analysis was conducted in two phases: the first was to capture the individual essences of each pastry chef's creative experiences; and the second was to categorize and group each individual essence into themes that best encapsulate Malaysian World pastry chefs' creative experiences. Portraiture was used as a vessel to help portray each chef's unique experiences, which led to nine distinct yet rich "portraits of creativity" being portrayed. This was then followed by a phenomenological analysis to help group each essence together into four unique themes - (1) creative harmony, (2) the poetics of creative space, (3) the duality of creative identity, and lastly (4) imaginative episodes. In essence, this study contributes to three avenues. First, this study provides empirical support that culinary creativity is not one that is governed by a sequential/linear process, but rather a patient endeavor of incubation and fueled by continual inspirations. Second, this study enhances current literature on chefs' occupational rhetorics particularly from the viewpoint of an artist, as it is informed by a contradictory, yet inseparable personification of a scientist. This brings to consideration that there is much to consider about the science behind the making of art, and the art in the development of science. Lastly, through the usage of portraiture, this study gained a greater understanding to how chefs experience creativity through several instances of imaginative episodes, which extends and overlaps with the theory of flow.