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ALISON PEARLMAN

About

How did I, a Ph.D. in art history, turn into a food writer? The path wasn’t straight. 
My first books—Life Death Love Hate Pleasure Pain (2002), a collection catalog co-authored while Assistant Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and Unpackaging Art of the 1980s (2003), a revisionist history of controversial art trends in New York—followed the art historical trail. It never ended. I teach art history today. For interpreting the visual and material culture that we see—and see through—every day, there is no more incisive discipline.

But, all along, I also took inspiration from personal experience and popular culture. My work as a fitness trainer to finance my dissertation resulted in “AB (dominal) EX (pressionism): Notes Toward an Art Criticism for Bodybuilding” for Cakewalk (2000). Living with an actor in Los Angeles, where I moved in 2001, compelled me to pen the prize-winning “The Other Bohemia” about a little-known subculture of the entertainment industry for Southwest Review (2003).

Tapping my life inexorably led me to restaurants. They were objects of fantasy as a child, and socially revealing theater to my adult eye. My fascination led me to start a blog about the social significance of restaurant style, The Eye in Dining, and to write books about restaurant design and aesthetic experience. The first was Smart Casual: The Transformation of Gourmet Restaurant Style in America (2013), which uncovers the cultural roots of recent upsets to norms in casual and formal restaurant design, from the cuisine to the architecture.  In my new book, May We Suggest: Restaurant Menus and the Art of Persuasion (2018), I consider how contemporary menus of the widest variety try to influence what we buy, how we dine, and how we feel about both.