Through an ethnography of elite British chefs, I argue that abstract notions of sustainability pose an irreconcilable issue in the world of fine dining. In recent years, scholars have argued that contemporary chefs are “experts” and “opinion leaders” (Matta 2019) who incorporate sustainable practices into their culinary labor and identities (DeSoucey and Demetry 2016). Instead, I argue that chefs must tame broad definitions of sustainability within the practicalities of their everyday labor. As opposed to sustainability being a clear and taken-for-granted practice, in this article I illustrate how the proliferation of sustainability complicates the practices and subjectivities of chefs in unforeseen ways. In some instances, chefs orientate their professional identities around notions of sustainability. Whereas in other cases, it is treated with scepticism. Drawing on the ethnographic data, I show how the introduction of the Michelin Sustainability Award and the rise and misuse of sustainability within Western societies results in its general meaninglessness. Notwithstanding the tensions this causes, sustainability nevertheless remains a topic the chefs I interviewed must confront. This article highlights these tensions and how a handful of British chefs navigate them. Overall, it reveals the ways in which these chefs attempt to concretize abstract definitions of sustainability in ways grounded within the practicalities of being an elite chef.

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