Challenging institutional logics in Gourmet the making of the New Nordic Kitchen

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Challenging institutional logics in Gourmet - the making of the New Nordic Kitchen

Niels Christian Nickelsen

Associate professor, ph.d.

School of Education

Aarhus University

Tuborgvej 164, building B, room 336

2400 Copenhagen NV.

John Damm Scheuer

Associate professor, ph.d.

Department for Communication, Business and IT

University of Roskilde

Universitetsvej 1, 44.3
4000 Roskilde


This paper focuses on the initial phase of an organizational transformation. More precisely the paper analyses the moment where an institutional entrepreneur produces ideas, which have the capacity to break with existing logics and thus produces the potential for change by challenging existing field logics. The empirical case is the gastronomic field in Denmark and in the Nordic countries - more specifically the paper discusses the cook and entrepreneur Claus Meyers ambitions to realize a food-political vision; The New Nordic Kitchen. The theoretical contribution of the paper is a conceptualization of the way in which an institutional entrepreneur initiates change in an organizational field. More specifically the paper discusses a system of concepts offered by Svejenova et al. (2007). According to Svejenova et al. the Spanish haute cuisine chef of the 3 star Michelin restaurant El Bulli, Ferran Adria initiates field level change by focusing on technical development of haute cuisine through research and development and a systematic and almost scientific approach to gastronomic development. The study of the introduction of the NNK and Claus Meyer shows in contrast that an institutional entrepreneur may initiate field level institutional change by focusing on mobilizing important actors by introducing a new attractive institutional logic.


Research about institutional entrepreneurship focuses upon how actors create, maintain and disrupt institutions (Lawrence&Suddaby2006). An institutional entrepreneur may thus be theorized as a change agent who breaks with the institutional status quo in a field of activity and thereby contributes to transforming existing institutions or creating new ones (Battilana, Leca & Boxenbaum 2009:67). This article focuses specifically upon how institutional change is initiated and takes its point of departure in Svejenova, Mazza´s and Planellas (2007) theory that describes how an institutional change process is set of. The theory is not prescriptive. It is based on a singular empirical study and defines essential and understudied initial steps that shape the potential for institutional change such as creativity, theoretization, reputation, and dissemination.

The main theoretical contribution of this article is a theoretical and empirically based discussion as well as further unfolding and development of the theory of Svejenova et al. We thus wish to explore the explanatory power of this theory in relation to another entrepreneur in the gastronomic field. The intention is to uncover the strengths and weaknesses of the theory and open up possibilities to theorize agency as a source of non-isomorphic variation in organizational fields (Garud et al.2007; Dacin, Goodstein & Scott 2002). The concepts of agency and institutional entrepreneurship thus stand centrally in the analysis.
The case focused upon in this article is the introduction of the New Nordic Kitchen (NNK) and role of the entrepreneur and self-taught Danish TV-chef and part owner of the world famous restaurant NOMA Claus Meyer in this endeavor. The analysis demonstrates the way in which the concept of the NNK challenges the gastronomic field in the Nordic countries i.e. the dominating beliefs within as well as outside the field about what Nordic food is and ought to be. According to Svejenova et al.´s study the Spanish haute cuisine chef of the 3 star Michelin restaurant ElBulli, Ferran Adria initiates field level change by focusing on technical development of haute cuisine through research and development and a systematic and almost scientific approach to gastronomic development. The study of the introduction of the NNK presented here gives an insight into important current developments in the Danish gastronomic field and into how an institutional entrepreneur in contrary to Ferran Adria manages to initiate field level institutional change by focusing on mobilizing important field level actors by introducing a new attractive institutional logic and discourse among important field level actors.

The research question asked in the article thus is; “what kind of work does an institutional entrepreneur do in order to initiate field level institutional change?” By work we understand “the ordering of individuals and organizations aimed at creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions” (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006:215).


Institutional entrepreneurship and institutional logics

Institutional entrepreneurship refers to activities unfolded by actors, who have an interest in a certain institutional arrangement and who invest resources in creating new or transform existing institutions (Maguire, Hardy & Lawrence, 2004, 657). Institutional entrepreneurs are defined as actors, who create change by transforming existing or introducing new sets of institutional logics. Institutional logics are the socially constructed, historical pattern of material practices, assumptions, values, beliefs and rules by way of which actors produce and reproduce their material survival, organize time and space, and attribute meaning to reality (Thornton & Ocasio, 1999, 804). Institutional logics create possibilities and limitations for individuals as well as organizations (Giddens 1984) and institutional entrepreneurs may introduce those by way of storytelling (Zilber 2006) and rhetoric strategies (Suddaby & Greenwood 2005).

Initiating institutional entrepreneurship

This article takes its outset in a theory, which conceptualizes how an institutional entrepreneur initiates change in an organizational field. This theory was developed by Svejenova, Mazza & Planellas (Svejenova et al. 2007) in a study of the world famous vanguard Spanish gastronomic chef Ferran Adria. The theory is illustrated in figure 1 below and will be presented in more detail in the following.

Figure 1. How Ferran Adria initiates change of Spanish gastronomic. Figure 1 is a reproduction from Svejenova et al. (2007)

Svejenova et al. (2007) identify four kinds of activities, that conceptualize the participation and activities of the institutional entrepreneur in field transformation; 1. Creativity, where new ideas are continually developed, 2. Theoretization points to a situation where new ideas are recorded in relation to earlier activities 3. Activities related to controlling the reputation of the entrepreneur, and 4. Dissemination, where new ideas are made public and potentially challenge existing logics in the field! According to this theory the initial activities take place at a micro-level i.e. locally. The reputation and dissemination activities take place at a macro level i.e. at the level of the organizational field. Taking these activities as a starting point this theory gives an account for Adrias work and demonstrates that together these categories of activities conceptualize the potential for transformation of Spanish Haute Cuisine.
The creative comprise that the entrepreneur show will and capability to provide new techniques and concepts. Adria utilizes systematic creativity promoting techniques and organizes his kitchen personnel in a front stage and back stage set-up (Goffmann, 1959:22). ElBulli is for instance closed six months every year, where his collaborators experiment in a laboratory. During the theoretization activity new ideas are recorded in relation to the work already done. This may be seen as a simplification as well as an abstraction activity by way of which categories, abilities and relations are identified (Greenwood et al., 2002). This process embraces objectification (Czarniawska & Joerges, 1996) i.e. the making of records and inscriptions, which maintain and document ideas and thus provide input for later creativity. The theoretization work may be contemplated as a retrospective sense making process by way of which the basis for future activities is produced (Weick et al, 2005). The reputation of the entrepreneur is in the hands of others, but Adria do many things, which according to Svejenova et al. leads to an extraordinary good reputation. There is a differentiation between judgments made by colleagues and critics inside the gastronomic field and judgments made by field-outsiders. In order to develop and maintain the reputation the entrepreneur has to simultaneously project and protect his ideas and at the same time convince others that the ideas are unique. In case the activities of the entrepreneur result in a high status inside and/or outside the field the dissemination of his ideas are made easier and thus his ideas will probably be imitated and he will become more influential. The effect is that the entrepreneur attracts more attention. Adria speaks at selected conferences and offers few but well-chosen interviews. Moreover he publishes exclusive books, which illustrate meals, techniques and experiments, through which copyright is emphasized and plagiarism is limited. The dissemination activities unfold and build the reputation of the entrepreneur by maintaining his visibility in the media, among professional insiders and in the public space. In the public space this manifests itself as paradoxes in relation to existing logics, ideas and identity constructions. It is important to emphasize that this theory is not meant to be prescriptive, but solely provide an exemplifying analysis of Adrias engagement in the innovation of Spanish Haute Cuisine during a period of more than 20 years.

Analytic strategy

The empirical methods of observation comprise desk-research and interviewing. Documents were collected based in CMs website. From this website other websites were sought after in order to map NNK. This strategy provided a number of information and reports for instance ”The Northern Countries as a Global Region of Winners (2005)” (Norden som global vinder region) and ”The Program for New Nordic Food (2006) (programmet for ny nordisk mad). These reports are instances of texts published by institutions, which make themselves spokespersons for other perspectives and interests connected to NNK than those articulated by CM. The reports were analyzed in relation to their particular contribution to the development of the concept, as well as the network through which the reports and initiatives are interwoven. This offered insight into some comprehensive and historical sequences of events as well as a large number of interested actors. After thorough consideration we have chosen to position CM in the centre of this analysis1.

The desk research informed a semi-structured interview with Claus Meyer and was carried out simultaneously. The interview was done in the main residential of the Meyer Group in the Northern Harbor of Copenhagen. The 75 minutes long interview was recorded, transcribed and closely analyzed in combination with the reconstructed chronology of the making of the concept of NNK. It was from the very start analyzed in connection with the categories of Svejenova et al (2007). Moreover the interview drew on the ideas in the so-called ”critical incident technique”(CIT) (Fuglsang, 2007). The founding idea in CIT is to inquire into critical events i.e. pronounced situations and events, which by the interviewed subject is experienced to have striking signification for the formation of priorities. In this connection we were particularly concerned with critical events in relation to 1. CMs career as a publicly well-known gourmet as well as entrepreneur 2. CMs conceptualization and design of NNK! During the writing of this paper still more detailed questions were forwarded to CM, who gave written answers to these questions. Moreover we have been in continuous mail correspondence with the secretary of CM in order to grasp a number of details. CM has read and confirmed the construction of the field offered in this article.


New Nordic food culture?

In the following we analyze CM as an institutional entrepreneur in relation to the making of NNK. In relation to creativity we emphasize predominantly the tension CM describes himself between his childhood and adolescence at Lolland, which is an island in the southern Denmark and some strong identity forming experiences in Gascogne, France as a 19 year old young man:

The fact that I meet Guy
2 in Gascogne is the encounter with a mission in life. It is the culmination of 19 years of culinary darkness at Lolland with frozen lunchboxes. And then a year in Paradise in Gascogne – with fresh Foie Gras, newly collected truffles, forest raspberries and old stone ovens. It was like going from hell to heaven (This and all the following citations refer back to our interview in Danish with CM. It is our translation)

CM makes a connection between his stay in France and the vision of NNK. As many as three times during the interview he stresses that NNK is a condensate of the fruitful travel of many years. The creative tension pronounced as CM speaks about”19 years of gastronomic darkness at Lolland” is standing in opposition to ”the experience of almost eating by the hand of god in France”. CM articulates in this rhetoric dichotomy a powerful creative starting point, which according to himself leads to ”a vocation – not a religious vocation, but almost”. During the interview we ask him to give an account for significant events in his career. The first significant incident he mentions is; ”The time when I meet Guy in Gascogne and write about food culture and the sense of life in Politiken3
. This romantic narrative about his starting point dichotomizes again and again the gastronomic darkness at Lolland with his food-political project, namely ”the truth in the meal”:

The vision is that more of those people who prepare meals ensure a higher degree of perfection in the true meaning of this word. A higher degree of truth-seeking…more authenticity, that the raw materials are non-perishable; sustainable rather than simply cheap or easy. To reproduce some of the experiences you have when you eat in France or Italy; a low degree of simulation- and the feeling that you almost eat by the hand of god.
Notions such as love, health, truth, beauty, multiplicity, art, spiritual, harmonious and authentic are appearing in CMs narrative and the predominant application of this kind of notions illustrate the seductive, persuasive and romantic potential his food-political vision comprise.

The manifest for NNK

November the 18th and 19th 2004 ministers, a large number of elitist gourmets, food industry, nutrition experts and the Nordic kitchen elite are collected in Copenhagen. The goal is to discuss the perspectives in the unfolding of NNK in order to exploit the multiple local opportunities and take taste, raw material, human well-being, traditions as well as new experiments more seriously. The idea is not least to find new ways for the Nordic food industry and to discuss the position of this as one of the significant future industries in the Nordic countries. CM has allied himself with the Nordic Council of Ministers, Copenhagen Business School (CBS) and others. The minister of Food at the time Hans Christian Schmidt; chairman of FDB Ebbe Lundgaard; professor of Philosophy Ole Thyssen and a number of others have presentations at the symposium. 24 hours before the arrangement is initiated twelve leading chefs in the Nordic countries including Greenland, Faroe Islands, Iceland and Aaland meet in order to negotiate the manifest for NNK. CM has made a sketch in advance in collaboration with Erik Kragh Jacobsen from the Danish Gastronomic Academy. The twelve chefs negotiate this sketch for 18 hours and reaches agreement about 10 points, which end up being presented at the symposium as a manifest for NNK. According to CM this is to be seen as a value statement and sounds like this:

We Nordic Chefs find the time to be mature for the making of a new Nordic kitchen, which due to its tastiness and originality may be resembled with the most important local kitchens in the world.

The”New Nordic Kitchen” must:

  1. Express the cleanness, freshness, simplicity and ethics, which we want to relate with our region

  2. Reflect the changing time of the year in its meals

  3. Base itself on the raw materials, which have demonstrated to become particularly eminent in our climates, landscapes and waters.

  4. Unite the demand for taste with modern knowledge about health and well-being

  5. Promote the multiplicity of the Nordic products and producers and spread knowledge concerning the cultures behind them

  6. Promote well-being of animals and a sustainable production in the seas and in the cultivated and wild landscapes

  7. Develop new applications of traditional Nordic articles of food

  8. Unite the best Nordic methods of preparation and culinary traditions with impulses from outside

  9. Combine local self-provision with regional exchange of foodstuffs of high quality

  10. Invite consumers, food craftsmen, farmers, fishers, small and large industries, retailers- and middlemen, researchers, teachers, politicians and government representatives for collaboration regarding this common project, which is intended to be useful for everybody in the Nordic countries.

CM argues that it is important to focus on the Nordic kitchen and not only on the Danish. Denmark is according to CM too small to be on the gourmet world map:

"We try to build a brand which potentially has international impact….. We want the farmers and the food stuff producers to provide articles with a larger value-content. Articles with larger inner qualities – which tells more beautiful stories of origin "(Interview med CM)

The manifest emphasizes initially ”purity” and ”simplicity”, which leads the thought toward an existing international success namely; ”Scandinavian Design”, which NNK obviously draws upon. The manifest also emphasizes: ”Changing seasons”, ”local raw material”, ”animal thriving”, ”sustainable production” og ”local provision”, which refer to the strongly legitimate organic movement. The values of the manifest are as such hardly revolutionary in spite of CMs repeated dissociation from the existing food culture in Denmark and in the Nordic countries:

Somebody has to save Denmark from the shit we stand in up to the neck in relation to food culture! Somebody has to say we missed something along the way!”

The manifest comprises as such rather an attempt to put together a number of clearly heterogeneous actors under one hat. This points to the beliefs, which CM wishes to be part of a Danish/Nordic food culture, whereas ”concentrated butter for cooking”, “chest freezer”, “breadcrumb” and “brown sauce” comprise condensed constituents for what CM wants Danish/Nordic food culture to move away from.

The point is that the written manifest from the symposium is the most precise theoretization of what NNK is all about. The articulation of the manifest is according to CM based on conversations throughout three months with a number of experts and decision makers. At the end it could be written down at the symposium, and as such, in short form, prescribe a potential billion dollar industry. This theoretization constitute a central and illustrative instance of the alliances CM upholds with influential key-actors. Moreover, the manifest documents the transformation and distribution of CMs creativity and visions into a potent international network. The work CM does is made clear by the fact that several of the Nordic elitist chefs, as late as just before the symposium, were dedicated to food articles from France. In spite of this, the manifest is signed by all chefs before the start of the symposium. We are not arguing that CM manipulates his collaborators. Rather, we illustrate the entrepreneurship-work through which, CM realizes his food political vision (beauty), and challenges the existing beliefs in the Nordic food culture (chest freezer) and through that creates paradoxes in the public sphere by providing an alternative: A new and more compassionate and more market oriented Danish as well as Nordic kitchen.

The second significant incident in the career, which CM underlines, is that he already in the beginning of the eighties was a successful and well known TV chef, and that he continued producing TV for six years. He stresses that it is relatively easier to talk with highly profiled actors such as ministers and international top chefs if you have been known and respected yourself during a long time.

"When I call the minister it is an advantage to have a good track record. That you have been in the television and that you have integrity .That you have been a trustworthy player for a long time"
As such the success of NNK, may to some degree be based in the fact that CM was already in the beginning of the nineties a nationally well-known chef, gourmet-writer and entrepreneur. The success may moreover be seen as a result of the fact that the brand "Claus Meyer" already at this time is associated with confidentiality and quality. The construction of confidentiality and quality by CM are made precise based in his outmost ambitious approach to gastronomical activity:

"I am not making Meyers crisp bread unless I have 300 hectare with ecological grain. It is simply too hollow. I have to be involved in the most ambitious grain project in order to attach my name to it"

The ideas concerning NNK takes particularly shape after the establishment of Noma4, a restaurant partly owned by CM, in 2003. This is the case because Noma needs supply of food-articles at a high level. In the following we argue that the publication ”The Nordic Countries as a Global Winner Region” published by The House Monday Morning in collaboration with The Nordic Council of Ministers; The Nordic Council of Ministers program on New Nordic Food 2007-2009”, and ”The OPUS-project” (OPUS-projektet) concerning healthy Nordic food for institutions and schoolchildren are important for CMs and NNKs reputation and for the likelihood of challenging the traditional Danish as well as Nordic meal. This has to do with the fact that these publications support and ensure provision of economic resources for further development of NNK. The upper-mentioned publications thus support the construction of CM. More specifically this takes place by way of the fact that CM is mentioned on the first page in the publication by The House Monday Morning, and he appears in the publication as one out of 27 interviewed Nordic opinion makers. The program of the Nordic Council of Ministers on “New Nordic Food 2007-2009” refers on page two to the symposium of November 2004 and as such to CM as an initiator. The program intends by economic means to support the potentials in the Nordic countries, which were articulated in the publication ”The Nordic Countries as a Global Winner Region”. Moreover the program of The Nordic Council of Ministers on ”New Nordic Food 2007-2009” points to the Aarhus declaration of June 30. 2005, where Nordic agro-foodstuffs industry as well as ministers supported the manifest for NNK and at the same time offered directions for the future work with new Nordic food. The program of The Nordic Council of Ministers on ”New Nordic Food 2007-2009” intends specifically to provide initiatives in this area, as well as point to possibilities of support for NNK. Last but not least the Meyer Group is mentioned, as a central participant in relation to an announcement in the press that The Nordea Fond has granted 100 million DKK for research in children’s health. This research grant is promoted as the biggest ever in the world in relation to food research. CM emphasizes in the interview; catering in the 90ies, as the third most important incidence in his career. Taken to be a product of 20 years of learning CM emphasizes NNK, as the fourth most significant incident in his career.

Based in this analysis we argue that CM by initiating NNK has not only succeeded in maintaining and developing an existing positive narrative and image, but has also been able to strengthen his reputation. The result is that CM and NNK at the moment attract positive attention from decision makers, and that NNK has obtained economic resources from a number of legitimating actors inside and outside the gastronomic field. The logic in relation to the beautiful, the local and the prosaic Nordic as for instance North-Atlantic fish, Swedish moose and Gotland truffles, which according to CM is made visible, is disseminated and is recorded in the manifest (theoretization), as well as by the top profiled restaurant, Noma and the TV series ”New Scandinavian Cooking”, which was broadcasted for a large audience in the US.


Claus Meyers as a field constructor

The purpose with this section is to discuss the insight this analysis provides. To what degree does the applied framing appear to be relevant in relation to analyze and understand the engagement and participation of CM? And which problems do this analysis unveil? By an immediate view the four categories of activities; creativity; theorization; reputation and dissemination seem to be meaningful. By a more thorough observation and analysis these categories are misguiding.

In relation to the category creativity Adria organizes, as mentioned his staff in a front and back-stage set-up. In opposition to this stands CM’s personal narrative, where the creative idea concerning NNK takes its outset in the youth experience of CM himself. Particularly the tension between frozen lunch packets during the childhood at Lolland and the experience of eating by the hand of god as an au-pair in Gascogne stands centrally. Adria’s way of theorizing by objectification and by making archives is different from the way CM does it. Adria’s collaborators write down, document and archive the innovations, which come out of the six months long experimental activities in the laboratory each year. In CM’s case it is for a large part the media as well as other actors, which document and maintain NNK, as an accessible and identifiable work (Lang & Lang 1988, 95). We want to maintain that CM rather than providing theoretization himself ensures a thorough preparation. He collects a number of legitimating actors (elitist chefs, ministers, business and media people) and ensures as such the basis for the NNK manifest, and that the manifest is written down. We are not saying that CM does not write. He does, but our observation of the making of NNK points to the possibility, that in this case it is others who lead the pen. This is possibly a very important point since CM contributes to the production of other actors with strong engagements. Regarding the reputation and dissemination activities there are an analogues difference. Adria and his staff do it themselves, whereas CM fertilizes the soil, convinces and makes others do the writing. The House Monday Morning in collaboration with Nordic Councils of Ministers write the application ”The Nordic Countries as a Global Winner Region”. This publication, as mentioned, seriously evokes interest for NNK among political decision makers. The analysis demonstrates that CM is actively constructing, he mobilizes and is successful in establishing a comprehensive and engaged network in relation to his visions. The conceptions of the ideas on NNK are argued personally, but happen as mentioned based in a comprehensive knowledge of the gourmet field and the food articles industry. The manifest may thus be seen as a ”boundary object” (Star & Griesemer, 1989), which due to its values and visions provides meaning and mobilizes a number of different actors inside and outside the gourmet field all over the Nordic countries.

The artist gourmet and the political gourmet – differences between Adria og CM

This section is occupied with the differences between Adria and CM as institutional entrepreneurs. Metaphorically the differences among the two institutional entrepreneurs may be constructed as the artistic gourmet, who provides sensually conditioned crying of happiness and the political gourmet, who engages with his thought provoking visions. Whereas Adria is an entrepreneur in the kitchen and in the laboratory and sees his primary contribution there, CM sees a significant part of his work outside the kitchen in relation to the media and highly estimated professionals and decision makers. This does not mean that Adria does not find himself among people from the media. He does! But he sees this as an important opportunity to maintain and develop his position as currently the leading chef in the world. Whereas Adria acts as an artistic gourmet, who provides revolutionary and unforgettable sensual experiences for expecting customers at El Bulli, CM may more adequately be seen as a kind of political gourmet, who acts in relation to politicians and others in order to innovate the Danish and Nordic Food culture, and as part of this the methods and production philosophy of producers as well as the eating habits of consumers. This does not mean that the reputation as a very good chef is not important for CM. He points himself to the condition that he has had a good reputation as a writer and as a business man inside the gourmet field for 20 years and that this offers a particular opportunity to get to talk with decision makers and legitimate actors inside the gourmet field.

The readiness of the field

When we ask CM in the interview how he succeeded in collecting all the mentioned activities in one concept he answers:

I remember it as if it was easy…..Sometimes you push and push and nothing happens. At other times you pres just a little bit and thousand flowers come out….we hit something in the spirit of time – a need to find your identity and some love or other for your own region. In this EU, international, global, virtual, internet cosmos perhaps there is a need to look for your roots”

At this moment CM articulates a readiness, not only in the gourmet field, but broadly in the society, to meet the ideas and visions of NNK. The metaphor ”you press just a little bit and thousand flowers come out” is illustrative and interesting in a neo-institutional perspective. Contemplated by way of this metaphor, it is just as much the gastronomic field, politicians, business people and consumers, who call for innovation, as it is CM, who induces and mobilizes the field. The sequence of events becomes understandable when it is seen as a non-isomorphic variation based on the particular engagement and participation of the central actor. The particular engagement of CM in combination with the readiness of the field leads to the fact that NNK enjoys broad support in the gastronomic field as well as in the political, administrative and mercantile fields. We have an embedded actor and the entrepreneurship emerges as a subtle interweaving of the readiness of the field, the actor’s ability to ”read” this readiness as well as his ability to produce seductive narratives, visions, alliances and as such manufacture paradoxes.
Billede 1

n important addition is that CM mobilizes the many interests based on a thorough knowledge about the rules, norms and interests in the gastronomical, commercial and media political fields, which he has appropriated through his many years of practice across those fields. It is this insider position that CM draws on, we argue. We have already documented that a number of field actors are ready to be led astray by the vision about NNK. It is an important point, which we want to emphasize, that this mobilization does not take place automatically or by itself. You may be left with exactly that impression, when you read the early neo-institutionalist theory. Rather this leading astray happens based on the entrepreneurship work that primarily CM, but also others do. NNK evokes an existing momentum in the field. Nevertheless we want to maintain the point that NNK only challenges the existing logics in Nordic gourmet because the institutional entrepreneur CM reconfigures this field and put it together in a new way based in his knowledge about the existing field; his own experience and narrative, and not least his vision about beauty. The status and legitimacy of CM in the gastronomic, business and political fields is supported by him being a known chef as well as owner of a corporation “The Meyer Group”. It is also supported by CM having been a well known and trustworthy agent in these fields for years. This status and legitimacy has given him access to the knowledge of central field actors as well access to important potential allies outside the field. The idea of a billion dollar industry built on NNK is moreover not only appealing and mobilising for Scandinavian chefs who seek more visitors, but also for the food industry as well as for visionary politicians, who looks for long-term non-substitutable competitive advantages.

Nordic origin - or French sensuality?

This analysis of NNK documents a food political field in the Nordic countries, which is ready for exactly the concept, which CM and others launch. According to CMs own analysis this has to do with the general fatigue in relation to EU, globalization as well as the virtual and also a need to draw attention to and articulate your origin and identity. It seems quite obvious that NNK rather than imputing Nordic origin, intends to introduce a particular French sensuality in Northern food culture. CM’s visit to France confronted him with a sophisticated food culture and a developed gastronomic field that was later contrasted with the non-homogeneous and non-vanguard Danish and Nordic kitchen. This combined with his personal story and negative experiences with food culture in Lolland gave him a personal incentive to foster and promote a personal idea – The New Nordic Kitchen - that due to the right timing contributed to and intertwined with developing logics of central actors in the gastronomic, business and political fields. CM´s invention (which is turned into an innovation through its implementation) is the idea of using the French idea of Haute Cuisine in a new geographical setting constructing the NNK as something particular a la Scandinavian Design. Despite the fact that CMs staging of NNK points to something romantic and original we believe it is perhaps more to the point to underline that CM articulates some brand new and epoch-making business opportunities. This is most clearly illustrated by the convincing and solid international success of Noma.

Svejenova´s model reconsidered

This analysis elucidates the creative tension, which CM and the making of the manifest for NNK comprise. In the construction of the field CM points to unwanted logics and toward more desirable logics associated with Danish as well as Nordic food culture. Moreover our analysis points to a number of other actors, which particularly contribute to the good reputation and dissemination of this idea. Among those are The House Monday Morning, The Nordic Council of Ministers and Restaurant Noma. Tested on CM and NNK, Svejenova et al.´s categories by first sight is meaningful, but by a closer investigation something important is missing. Where Adria is an innovative chef, CM is a culture-innovator. Adria intends to develop Spanish Haute Cuisine in order to maintain his position as one of the leading chefs in the world. CM has ostensibly the innovation of food culture as his primary focus; moreover he is a business man. The theory has as an explicit purpose to conceptualize how a very good cook influences the entire gourmet-field. In opposition stands CM, who has the explicit intention to influence Nordic food culture and make it more healthy and beautiful. We may simply state that Adria and CM are different and that they intend to obtain different goals. Svejenova et al’s idea is that the provision and the dissemination of new logics create the potential for field transformation. We believe, what this theory lacks in regard to conceptualizing the unique engagement of CM, is attention towards mobilization of a large and powerful international network, which are engaged by CMs visions. Adria makes presentations at thoroughly picked out conferences and publishes fashionable illustrated books by way of which he accomplishes an extraordinarily high status in the gourmet field. CM puts together a number of well-known actors and in principle he hands over theoretization; reputation and dissemination to others. Based on an analysis of CM as an institutional entrepreneur the theory must be criticized for giving too little attention to the making of alliances and the enrollment of others (Callon & Latour, 1981). In relation to the earlier discussed model (figure 1) theoretization, reputation and dissemination may be collected as bullet points to the major point mobilization of decision makers and highly estimated professionals (see figure. 2).

Moreover, Svejenova et als’ differentiation between ”micro level” and a ”macro level” may be framed differently based on this article. In this case it is only the creativity-activities, which meaningfully may be argued to take place at a micro level, in CMs body, while theoretization, reputation, as well as the dissemination-activities, may better be conceived as macro activities i.e. activities located in the public space and at the field level.

This article is an analysis of the beginning of an organizational transformation and focuses on the kind of work done by an institutional entrepreneur in order to initiate field transformation. Specifically the article discusses the engagement of an institutional entrepreneur, who by way of visions and persuasions breaks with existing logics in a field and creates the potential for transformation by challenging the existing logics, and by mobilizing important actors inside and outside the field. The empirical case is the New Nordic Kitchen and more specifically; the chef and entrepreneur Claus Meyer’s ambitions to realize a food political vision in relation to beauty, sensuality and quality of life.

The theoretical contribution of the paper is a conceptualization and refinement of our understanding of how an institutional entrepreneur may initiate change in an organizational field, and a discussion of a system of concepts presented by Svejenova et al. (2007). We argue, this system of concepts; creativity, theoretization, reputation and dissemination, may be applied and is to some degree useful in analyzing the active field creating participation of an embedded, reflective and knowledgeable actor. According to Svejenova et al.´s study however the Spanish haute cuisine chef, Ferran Adria initiates field level change by focusing on technical development of haute cuisine through research and development and a systematic and almost scientific approach to gastronomic development. The study of NNK and CM’ s entrepreneurial work show that in opposition to Ferran Adria he manages to initiate field level institutional change by making alliances with important field level actors by introducing a new attractive institutional logic and discourse. The idea of a billion dollar industry built on NNK is thus not only appealing for Scandinavian chefs who seek more visitors to their restaurants, but also for the food industry as well as for visionary politicians, who looks for long-term non-substitutable competitive advantages.

The conclusion of the analysis is that a potentially field transforming vision may be produced by an embedded, but reflected human being’s historical experience, geographical shifts, as well as capability to inspire, persuade, seduce and make alliances with other influential actors who act because they are or have been made ready for the kind of change suggested by that vision. The study results in an adjustment of Svejenova et al.´s (2007) theory.

CM’s participation and engagement cannot simply be grasped as something, which is guided by an economic self-interest – neither exclusively as something based on internalized cultural and historical pressures. We want to emphasize and argue for an institutional entrepreneur, who based in his own experiences and dreams articulates a field-mobilizing vision, which contains both historical field dependent elements as well as historical personal elements. This opens for a central question in the neo-institutional theory’s discussion of entrepreneurship namely; how actors who are socially embedded in institutional fields, to some degree define their participation, interests and identities (Friedland & Alford 1991; Clemns & Cook 1999). The analysis show that a potentially field circumventing idea, to some degree may be produced by one singular reflexive human’s idiosyncratic historical experience, as well as geographical shifts. This last point has to do with the fact that the actor brings with him experiences and knowledge from earlier situations and other forms of participation (CMs meeting with Guy in France; frozen lunch packets and the darkness of Lolland, specialized knowledge about the political, business and gastronomic communities). CM´s experiences in France and up-to-date in depth experience with and knowledge about the political, business and gastronomic fields are thus important elements in the construction of the NNK as a field transforming idea. This implies that the “stock of knowledge” (Schutz, 1967, 169) of actors i.e. the already established knowledge is co-constitutive in relation to the actual as well as future participation in institutionalized practices. This again has to do with a certain ontology of actors. Actors may be seen as entities that always have the capacity to interpret, reflect and act in alternative ways in relation to currently existing institutional adaptation mechanisms and isomorphic pressures in a given field.


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1 We hope the reason for this choice is self-evident when reading the analysis, shortly we may add that CM sees himself as initiator for the idea of NNK. A number of references confirm this by pointing back to CM.

2 Guy Sverzut

3 “Politiken” is one of the largest and most important newspapers in Denmark.

4 The Danish Restaurant Noma has just been nominated the best restaurant in the world by the established London Restaurant Magazine. Noma has moved from number 33 in 2006 to number 3 in 2009 – and to number 1in 2010. Although CM owns a part of Noma he gives Rene Redzepi, the daily manager, the entire honor for this extraordinary result.

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