Interview with Denis Saillard, doctor in history and associate researcher

02 Mar 2018

Denis Saillard is doctor in history and associate researcher at the Centre for Cultural History in Contemporary Societies (CHCSC) at the University of Versailles/Saint-Quentin (Upsay) and at the Cercle (university of Lorraine). His research examines the history of representations and social practices linked to gastronomy (food, cuisine, diet). In 2015, in partnership with Didier Francfort, he published Le goût des autres. De l’expérience de l’alérité gastronomique à l’appropriation (Europe 18th-21st centuries), Nancy University Press, and with Françoise Hache-Bissette, “A table!” Médias et médiations de la gastronomie, in Le temps des médias, n° 24, spring 2015.

  • How did you become interested in the history of food?

I was intrigued by the role played by food in a given society. It is frequently a subject of conversation in France, and most people attach a great deal of importance to meals. After my thesis, I specialised in cultural history and realised that the history of food had greatly evolved in France. I wanted, therefore, to apply cultural history methods to the field of food, to determine the way in which food is portrayed and social practices. I initially focused on France, before studying how culinary practices and recipes spread from one continent, or one country, to another.

  • How do you see the current popularity of all things culinary and our modern-day relationship with food? Do you think that we are searching for meaning, identity, but also a means of sharing, through food?

The popularity of cuisine is receiving ever increasing media attention, particularly on the internet and television, but it is not clear whether it is more important today than during the 20th century. A large proportion of the French population, for example, do not appear to cook on a regular basis. It is true to say, however, that it is a theme which is omnipresent in today’s media. The eating habits of an individual or a social group can mark out their identity. However, if we consider the act of cooking alone, it is the notion of sharing which clearly overrides all else: the act of cooking is often carried out for others. Finally, food around the globe is increasingly associated with pleasure whereas in numerous societies it was, above all else, a necessity for human beings; it is without doubt this aspect which demonstrates the clearest shift in recent decades and which could satisfactorily explain the current popularity of cuisine.  

  • What have you learned from your role teaching at HEG and what would you like to transmit to our students?

Broadly speaking, I thoroughly enjoy interacting with those I meet. Therefore, when I give a lesson or a conference I am also learning, especially as those on the HEG programme come from all around the globe. I am always curious to try to understand how, that with which we are familiar in France, is perceived and understood elsewhere, how the different experiences of each individual can enlighten each and every one of us.

  • Could you share a taste sensation with us that you truly cherish?

I am not trying to be Proustian, but it is true to say that this question immediately transports me back to my childhood. The flavour of blackberry and pear tart, which I savoured as a child as summer drew to a close in the Jura Mountains, springs to mind. At the same time, when I think about the delicious flavour of these two fruits combined, I always get snapshots of the end of the summer holidays, the beginning of the new school year and, of course, blackberry picking in the forest, hard work yet so exhilarating.

  • What research or publishing projects do you have planned for the future?

Along with my colleagues, Françoise Hache-Bissette and Faustine Régnier, I am continuing the research programme on Médias et médiations de la gastronomie (Gastronomy media and mediations) for my university research centre and the Maison des sciences de l’Homme (MSH) Saclay. How are food and cuisine discussed? How are they portrayed (cinema, television, photographs, adverts, etc)? On top of the academic articles for my university work, I am currently involved in a number of publishing projects, notably the catalogue for a photography exhibition, Les Français à table depuis 100 ans (French dining experience over the past century), which will be on display at the MUCEM in Marseille from mid-July 2018; and for 2019 a striking work, in partnership with two photographers, on modern restaurants.

We sincerely thank Denis Saillard for answering our questions.

Institut des Hautes Etudes du Goût, de la Gastronomie et des des Arts de la Table

  • Phone: +33 6 60 46 40 81
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