Culinary diplomacy, also known as gastrodiplomacy, is a type of cultural diplomacy, which itself is a subset of public diplomacy. Its basic premise is that "the easiest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach." Official government-sponsored culinary diplomacy programs have been established in Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Peru, and the United States.
The terms "culinary diplomacy" and "gastrodiplomacy" have been in use since the early 2000s, and have been popularized by the work of public diplomacy scholars Paul Rockower and Sam Chapple-Sokol. An early mention of the concept was in a 2002 Economist article about the Thai Kitchen of the World program. In a 2011 article published in the Taiwanese journal Issues & Studies, Rockower wrote that "Gastrodiplomacy is predicated on the notion that the easiest way to win hearts and minds is through the stomach." Chapple-Sokol wrote in a 2013 article in the journal The Hague Journal of Diplomacy that culinary diplomacy is "the use of food and cuisine as an instrument to create cross-cultural understanding in the hopes of improving interactions and cooperation."
The two terms "culinary diplomacy" and "gastrodiplomacy" are used interchangeably by many, though some scholars have differentiated the terms. Rockower, for example, claims that gastrodiplomacy refers to a tool of public diplomacy, while culinary diplomacy serves as "a means to further diplomatic protocol through cuisine." Chapple-Sokol writes that both of these fall under the broad categorization of "culinary diplomacy," and differentiates between public and private culinary diplomacy. The former refers to culinary diplomacy being used as a tool of public diplomacy, and more specifically cultural diplomacy, while the latter "occurs behind closed doors," akin to Rockower's definition.
The Global Thai program, launched in 2002, was the first government-led culinary diplomacy initiative. Its intention was to build the number of Thai restaurants worldwide; according to the Thai government, the number went from 5,500 in 2002 to more than 10,000 in 2013, as well as to encourage more people worldwide to eat Thai cuisine.
That program was followed by Thailand: Kitchen of the World, an eBook published to promote the program states the following:
Thai food and Thai cuisine from the past to the present are distinctive in their charms and characters. The cuisine is a proud heritage of the Thai people that they believe is second to none, and it has been handed down through generations. Apart from the delicate blend of tastes and the rich nutritional value, the elaborate arrangement of Thai food and the decorations with fruit and vegetable carvings make it all the more inviting. At the same time, Thai food and Thai cooking reflect the wisdom and culture of the Thai nation. Today, Thai food and Thai cuisine stand ready to make Thailand a proud Kitchen of the World.
South Korea launched its own culinary diplomacy program in 2009, a $77m investment entitled "Korean Cuisine to the World or "Global Hansik". The goals of the program, run by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, are to promote the unique nature and health qualities of Korean cuisine (hansik), as well as to increase the number of Korean restaurants worldwide to 40,000 by 2017. Projects undertaken by the Korean government include the opening of a kimchi institute, working to establish Korean cuisine as a course in internationally recognized cooking schools, and the launch of a touring Korean food truck.
Since 2010 Malaysia has undertaken a similar project by running the "Malaysia Kitchen" Programme. The programme, carried out by the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation, has focused most of its efforts to promote Malaysian cuisine in Australia, United States and United Kingdom. Malaysia is an especially appropriate country to conduct culinary diplomacy due to its history as a culinary crossroads and its current mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian populations. The approach, which has employed celebrity chefs such as Rick Stein and Norman Musa in the UK, has had significant impact in increasing awareness of Malaysian cuisine and Malaysian restaurants through product promotions and cooking demonstrations at supermarkets, food festivals and an annual night market at Trafalgar Square, London.
An official Peruvian culinary diplomacy program started in 2011, with Peru's application for its cuisine to be included in UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage like Mexico. The Cocina Peruana Para El Mundo campaign has also been promoted by Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio, the owner of multiple restaurants worldwide as well as a co-creator of the documentary Perú Sabe, along with Spanish chef Ferran Adrià.
In September 2012, the United States officially launched its Culinary Diplomacy Partnership Initiative. More than 80 chefs, including White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, former White House Executive Pastry Chef William Yosses, and Spanish-born chef José Andrés, were named to be members of the "American Chef Corps." The initiative is organized by the United States State Department Office of Protocol. One goal of the program is to send members of the Chef Corps to American embassies abroad on public diplomacy missions to teach about American cuisine.José Andrés, executive chef and owner of minibar, Jaleo, Oyamel, Zaytinia, China Poblano, é, Micasa, and America Eats Tavern
Dan Barber, executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill Restaurant and Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Rick Bayless, owner of Frontera Grill and star of PBS series Mexico: One Plate at a Time
April Bloomfield, Chef at The Spotted Pig and The Breslin, and owner of two Michelin stars
Cristeta Comerford, White House Executive Chef
Duff Goldman, Executive chef of Baltimore-based Charm City Cakes
Roland Mesnier, former White House Executive Pastry Chef
Marcus Samuelsson, Chef and owner of Red Rooster in Harlem, New York City
Walter Scheib, former White House Executive Chef
Ming Tsai, Chef at Blue Ginger and television personality
Bill Yosses, former White House Executive Pastry Chef
At the summit of culinary diplomacy is Le Club des Chefs des Chefs, or the Leaders' Chefs' Club. Created in 1977 by Gilles Bragard, former CEO of Bragard Uniforms, the club annually brings together more than 25 chefs of heads of state to meet and discuss their work. Current club members include Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford from The White House, Chef Bernard Vaussion, formerly of the Élysée Palace, Chef Mark Flanagan, Chef to Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom, and Chef Machindra Kasture, Chef to the Indian President.
The 2013 meeting of the Club was hosted by White House Chef Cristeta Comerford and took place in New York City and Washington, DC. The Chefs met with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as well as United States President Barack Obama.
The 2014 meeting of the Club was hosted by Buckingham Palace chef Mark Flanagan, where the group met Queen Elizabeth II.
The 2015 meeting of the Club took place in Switzerland and Italy, where the Club visited Expo 2015 in Milan.