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May 9, 2007 07:37 AM

Snob terminology [Moved from Ontario Board]

Unfortunately, I forget who it was that said that using a French word when an English one will do is one of the truest forms of snobisme.

So, why is it that any form of gravy is often referred to as “jus”?

Any form of chopped vegetable accompaniment to a meat or fish dish is “salsa” (true, this is Spanish)?

Goats’ milk cheese is usually “chevre” (forgive the absence of the accent over the first “e”)? After all, do we call cows’ milk cheese “vache”?

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  1. "au jus" is something pretty specific, and it's not what we would traditionally think of as gravy. Gravy is generally thickened with a roux or some starch. Serving meat "au jus" literally means serving it with the unthickened juices of the meat.

    And chevre is French (or French-style) goat's milk cheese. Just like feta is Greek goat's milk cheese. There are other goat's milk cheeses that have specific names. I don't think calling them by their proper names is snobbery.

    As for salsa, well, it sure is lot shorter to say "mango salsa" than to say "chopped mangos, onions, shallots, garlic and other stuff" on a menu. :)

    4 Replies
    1. re: TorontoJo

      Agreed. I've never seen Au Jus refered to as anything other than Au Jus. It's, as you said, a very specific type of "Gravy."

      That said, Frites?? Why not french fries?? Which is what they are. At least, in the lower end restos.


      1. re: Davwud

        Frites is french for "fries" so they are try to be fancy with that one, sounds more expensive

      2. re: TorontoJo

        In that case, why not call it juice? You can't get more appetizing than "with Cow Juice"

        1. re: TorontoJo

          chèvre as it is used by anglophones (at least North Americans) refers to a specific type of SOFT, fresh goat cheese. In French le (fromage de) chèvre refers to any kind of goat cheese, and indeed cow cheese is vache. There is also ewe's cheese (brebis). Note that the female goat is LA chèvre.

          Salsa (from the Spanish, it also means sauce in Italian) is a very useful word in English, no?

        2. Well I can't think of a better word for salsa.
          It does bug me when people say "bleu" cheese especially when the cheese in question is stilton or gorgonzola or any blue cheese that is not French!

          7 Replies
          1. re: julesrules

            What about chutney or relish??


            1. re: Davwud

              To me a chutney is cooked. I know some salsas are cooked but in general if a restaurant offers me chutney - it is always cooked; if they offer me salsa, it is usually a raw mixture. And I think of a relish as pickle/preserve.

                  1. re: julesrules

                    Just one correction.... Ontarios interpretations of Mexican cuisine aside... the vast majority of salsas served in Mexico's tables would involve a mixture of roasted & raw ingredients... rather than 100% raw (as is the case with Pico de Gallo type salsas that seem to be alot more popular up north than in Mex).

                    1. re: Eat_Nopal

                      I was talking about dishes that don't even pretend to be Mexican - such as, salmon with mango salsa. Maybe we've misappropriated the word, but such is language. When in a Mexican restaurant I fully realize a salsa may be cooked, but outside of one I fully expect a raw mixture (and if I ever get mango chutney or relish instead, I'll be pissed!).

                1. re: julesrules

                  well the french have Roquefort, and if they have gorgonzola and just say Bleu cheese, they are only hurting themselves anyways

                2. Well, I think your examples are basically off base.

                  "jus" connotes a very different kind of sauce or product than "gravy."

                  i'm not sure what you mean about any form of chopped vegetable accompaniment...they're often called relish or chutney or ratatoullie or what have you because that's what they are.

                  When people refer to "chevre" that's because they usually mean "chevre" the actual product and sometimes because they're not aware that there are goat's milk cheese that are not "chevre" (by which most people mean the soft, white, slightly tangy cheese).

                  1. I don't belive that using precise culinary language is snobbish. If I describe something as a jus, I mean the thin pan sauce left after roasting something, and I've never ordered something described as a jus and gotten something else.

                    Ditto the rest of your examples -- salsas are a specific style of fresh vegetable sauce, and I ask for chevre because I want chevre, not some other goats milk cheese. When I want a cows milk cheese I ask for it by name also - swiss or cheddar, for example.

                    I actually think that you trend towards snobbishness when you ignore the common name for something, and use elaborate descriptiveness instead. "A melange of summer vegetables lightly braised with olive oil, basil and red wine vinegar" is a snobby thing to serve. Ratatouille is not.

                    23 Replies
                    1. re: AnnaEA

                      I disagree. That's not snobby, that's practical. Otherwise half the menu readers are going to be asking their companion "what's that?"

                      On the other hand, I enjoy calling the corner of my basement where I keep wine "le cave". Now THAT's snobby ;-)

                      1. re: danna

                        Actually, I love it when a menu includes a term that is new to me...a chance to learn (or maybe even try) something new.

                        1. re: danna

                          I don't get the snob appeal of extremely long descriptions of the food you find at fancy restaurants, partly because I'm also the kind of person who doesn't like to sit through movie previews. Just gimme the grub. I'll tell you if I like it (or my belch will say it for me).

                        2. re: AnnaEA

                          >when you ignore the common name for something,
                          >and use elaborate descriptiveness instead.
                          this may transgress snobbishness but i remember this exchange many
                          years ago:
                          "what is the difference between the 'heirloom tomato' and a regular tomato"

                          "so it's just a tomato"

                          note: the server was obvious uncomfortable with my question because she
                          didnt want to come out and say "it's just a tomato" probably to avoid problems
                          with management, but she also didnt want to bullshit me. so it was a positive
                          experience that became a funny story rather than triggering the "do i look like
                          a bitch" reflex.

                          i think snobbishness is often more about condescention than pretentiousness.
                          i.e. sniffing if you get a cheep wine or mispronounce Gratte Paille or some such.
                          overly ornate, pretentious descriptions are, to me, well, pretentious [assuming not
                          commiting the worse sin of being deceptive].

                          if you really want to split hairs, snobbery can be about "virtual condescention"
                          which is a weaker requirement that actual realized condescention.
                          i'm not a food snob because in addition to good food, i eat lots of 99cent burgers
                          and $2.50 slices of pizza. however i am a newspaper snob, because i think most
                          newspapers and news magazines are crap ... so i dont just have a standard, but i
                          look down on something. a food snob who would never personally eat at mcdonalds
                          may not actually berate other for eating fast fod, simply because it never comes up,
                          but the latent disapproval is there, should it ever arise.

                          1. re: psb

                            to be clear, a heirloom tomato is a "just" a tomato, but not all tomatoes are heirlooms. the term refers to the use of open pollinated seed (the kind you save from generation to generation, hence the word heirloom) rather than hybridized seed on the part of the grower.

                            the restaurant should have explained the difference to the server, who, in turn could have explained it to you.

                            1. re: andytee

                              And, "heirloom" isn't a term of snobbery, its the actual name of the type of tomato in question.

                              1. re: ccbweb

                                ...and to further clarify, there are many, many varieties of heirloom tomatoes. It's my understanding that heirloom tomatoes are quite perishable and therefore don't travel well. So if you're served heirloom tomatoes in a restaurant, chances are they were grown nearby.

                                1. re: CindyJ

                                  I'm sorry but when you're being sold heirloom tomatoes, these days I think it's complete snobbery. No, "heirloom" is NOT part of the name of the tomato in question, with just a few exceptions.

                                  There was a time when the term had an actual definition. I used to go by the 50 year mark since that was the definition a couple of decades back, iirc. I forget what it was before that. Nowadays since people are cashing in on the heirloom tomato craze, sellers have taken to calling any tomato they sell "heirloom" and so the word has completely lost any meaning. Therefore, these days it is correct to say that an heirloom tomato is "just" a tomato.

                                  1. re: choctastic

                                    Unless it, as you not, the few exceptions and is, in fact, an "heirloom"tomato. I'm not talking about people who are lying and calling a product something its not. Which isn't snobbish anyhow, its just deceitful. It hasn't lost any meaning, its just that unscrupulous purveryors are duping customers.

                                    Nothing to do with being snobbish. Its either the correct description of the product or its not, but the term "heirloom" has meaning and when used correctly, isn't at all snobbish.

                                    1. re: ccbweb

                                      no that's not what i meant. Some varities actually have "heirloom" in the name. like "Orange Heirloom" for instance. That said, I've never seen Orange Heirloom at the farmer's market.

                                      I"m sorry I'm going to have to continue to disagree that the word has meaning anymore. Sellers aren't necessarily the problem. Buyers want to see the word "heirloom" or they won't be as likely to buy and so that is why everyone is starting to call all their tomatoes "heirlooms" even if they're growing relatively recent varieties like cherokee chocolate for instance, or early girl. I'm not saying it's wrong since I want people to buy tomatoes at the farmer's market but the word no longer has any meaning except maybe as a synonym for "farmer's market tomatoes".

                                      1. re: choctastic

                                        Again, the term has a definition. It means something concrete. Just because people don't use it correctly doesn't mean it doesn't have an actual meaning. And, on this topic, it doesn't make it something that is snobbish (is that even a word?) to use.
                                        From wikipedia:
                                        "most authorities agree that heirlooms, by definition, must be open-pollinated. They may also be open pollinated varieties that were bred and stabilized using classic breeding practices. It is currently generally agreed that no genetically modified organisms can be considered heirloom cultivars."

                                        So, if the tomatoes do not meet that minimum definition, then the seller is lying. Buyers may be more likely to buy one label over another, but sellers are the problem if they're using the term in a deceitful way. Its like saying that buyers want cars that get better gas mileage or that are hybrids, so car dealers label Hummers as "hybrids." The seller is falsely labelling their product. The problem isn't that the buyer wants a particular thing, its that the seller is lying.

                                        I'd agree that "heirloom" doesn't literally tell you that you're going to get a better quality or tastier tomato. But that's different than the term not having any actual meaning. So, I'm saying its wrong to call a tomato that doesn't meet the definition of heirloom an heirloom tomato.

                                        1. re: ccbweb

                                          Look, I agree that it would be nice if people actually used the word "heirloom" the same way but they don't. Because of this, the word has lost its meaning. No offense but the only reason why people use it now is to give their goods cachet...aka snob appeal.

                                          1. re: choctastic

                                            If I understand your argument, a few dumbasses misuse the term "heirloom", therefore its meaning is null and void? People misuse and distort words in English all the time: that doesn't negate their definitions. I believe "heirloom" in the agricultural / botanical context has a clearly-defined, well-understood meaning to a reasonably educated audience. Some menu writers lie to make their stuff sound better. This kind of unethical marketing is as old as the hills, but I don't think it has the big impact on word meaning that you seem to think it has.

                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                              I've not chimed in at all on this thread, but I agree with you. If I see heirloom tomatoes on a menu I assume that they are true "heirloom" tomatoes. If someone's lying to me about it, I probably won't know any better unless I see some sorry tasteless specimens of tomatoes on my plate. That doesn't mean that there is not the place for the phrase "heirloom tomato" on a menu, or that there is anything snobby about putting it there.

                                              1. re: MMRuth

                                                Heirloom means open-pollinated, simple as that. Misuse negates nothing.

                                                I would prefer to see restaurants list specific tomatoes (Black from Tulas, Mortage Lifters, Hawaiian Pineapples, Garden Peaches, etc) but Heirloom means something too.

                                                When a server or restaurant uses heirloom for tomatoes that are not this (and heirloom does not necessarily equate "funky colored" so it can be hard to tell) I would say that tells you something about the place in question.

                                              2. re: MC Slim JB

                                                I don't think they're lying about heirloom tomatoes in most case. It's confusing and I really don't think most chefs, menu writers or the average farmer really know the difference.
                                                Sure, there is a clearly-defined botanical meaning and then there is a tiny grey area. But even on this board - people who know about food - there's all kinds of questions and misinformation. Most of these folks aren't serious gardeners much less botanists. How would they know?

                                                Consumers have come to believe there's some sort of magic in "heirlooms," but not all of them are as tasty as local, vine-ripened tomatoes from varieties that have been grown for decades.
                                                I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt that many farmers and restaurants are considering these old garden favorites among the "heirlooms" even though they technically aren't. They aren't intending to deceive any more than the consumers are wanting to eat bad tomatoes. It's just that neither understands a confusing topic.

                                                1. re: MakingSense

                                                  The effect is deceitful, though. Especially when it comes to food, you shouldn't call something a particular thing unless you know it. For example, don't say the fries aren't cooked in peanut oil unless you're certain of the information. If you're unsure whether a tomato is an heirloom, don't call it such. Same with organic beef, or free range eggs. These are also things that consumers want and that restaurants want to sell, but you don't name the things on your menu those unless they are.

                                                  Accuracy is important with food. There are allergies, preferences, religious requirements and safety to be considered. So, unless you're certain about what something is or isn't, just avoid the term. You can still call a tomato "local, fresh, never refrigerated, hand-picked..." etc etc.

                                                  1. re: ccbweb

                                                    With "heirloom" veggies, the question becomes what you actually know. There's a lot of argument over varieties.
                                                    People generally agree that Cherokee Purple is a true heirloom but what do you do with Chocolate Cherokee which isn't stabilized? People might honestly get confused by Cherokee which is VF.
                                                    Everybody's been experimenting with these old varieties for generations and while there's general agreement on hundreds of varieties, there's still a lot of cultivars that can get serious gardeners in a tizzy.

                                                    I'd prefer that everyone sell "unbelievably good, locally grown, vine-ripened tomatoes," providing true heirlooms when they know what they're doing, but that ain't gonna happen when many consumers have come to believe that heirlooms are automatically superior, every vendor is chasing them and a lot of people don't know the difference..

                                                    1. re: MakingSense

                                                      i think where this "heirloom subthread" went is hilarious.
                                                      anyway, i dont remember at what restaurant this episode
                                                      unfolded, but i assure you it was a pedestrian enough place
                                                      where heirloom had no meaning and it was just a regular tomato.

                                                      re: dumbasses and misuse ...
                                                      i dont think it is so much a matter of ignorance, but the possible
                                                      lack of a labeling standard. for example it's clear what darjeeling
                                                      tea is supposed to mean. but in reality, who knows what you can
                                                      infer about the orgin of any random tea labelled "darjeeling".

                                                      so i think part of the dispute above is between the prescriptivists
                                                      and the descripitivists who are claiming "heirloom now means
                                                      what ever people want it to mean".

                                                      if i decide to call iceberg lettuce with thousand island dressing
                                                      the House Bespoke Salad made with Special Lettuce and Special
                                                      Dressing... whether you call that snobbish, deceptive, pretentious,
                                                      stupid or just annoying... i dont think anybody can argue it is "wrong"
                                                      or "innacurate" as you could if OJ labelled freshly squeezed was
                                                      actually Minute Maid concentrate.

                                                      1. re: psb

                                                        I'll avoid the heirloom issue and only eat Jersey tomatoes.

                                                      2. re: choctastic

                                                        Thanks, choctastic. Your posting just proves the point.
                                                        Some serious gardening sites call Chocolate Cherokee an heirloom, while others don't. The old Cherokee Purple is over 100 years old. The Chocolate mutation is relatively new and was only recently stabilized by LeHoullier, a reliable collector. Most seed catalogues didn't have it until 2004.
                                                        How many times have we heard heirlooms defined - with great certainty - as "old varieties" of tomatoes "that have been around for a long time"?
                                                        Does the term have any meaning any longer in common usage?

                                                        A vine-ripened tomato from a local farmers' market or your own garden is Summers' greatest pleasure. I agree with you that we should stop worrying about the terminology.

                                                        1. re: MakingSense

                                                          Heirloom is code to me for: they might look lopsided, be really weird colors, kind of expensive and we may just serve you a plate of tomatoes with some little dollop of something on the side, but don't be alarmed, these are really really really good tomatoes and they don't all taste the same. But if I'm at someplace that sells a "tomato plate" and doesn't at least distinguish that it's a variety of different types of tomatoes, I'm going to just order the water. Bottled.

                                                          1. re: Cinnamon

                                                            If all you want to eat are heirlooms, you'll likely miss a few delicious non-heirloom tomatoes and get stuck eating some inferior-tasting heirlooms that are grown only for their unusual color or other factors. You might not even like many of them.
                                                            The conversation above pointed out that there are many non-heirloom, aka hybrid, varieties that have unusual shapes and colors, delicious flavors and a variety of taste sensations while some heirlooms are grown only as curiosities or for other reasons.

                            2. Why is using multiple languages snobbish? Seems a very xenophobic North American attitude. Being able to use words from other languages to name foods is useful and interesting, especially when the food in question is inspired by a different culture.

                              As many have pointed out, your examples don't really make a lot of sense. Chevre is not just any goat cheese, but a specific type of fresh cheese. There is also goat feta, goat brie, and many other goat cheeses. Chevre is one type, just like Manchego (Spanish) or Stilton (English). Salsa is used many ways in Spain. In North America, it tends to refer to a chopped or pureed melange of fruits and veggies, and usually implies some punch, either from chilis, or from onions or the like. Jus ("Au Jus" means served with Jus is a very specific thing as well, and calling it "Juice" would just be confusing - who wants OJ with a Roast Beef? Even Frites, which someone else mentioned, carries a different implication than "French Fries" or "Freedom Fries" or whatever. Typically, I would expect frites to be thin cut, served in a paper cone, with something other than (ot at least in addition to) ketchup as a dipping sauce. Some places misuse the term, sure, but doesn't mean we should abolish it's use.

                              20 Replies
                              1. re: andytee

                                Well, personally I like the way certain words just roll off the tongue. My family just laughs at me when I say things like, "I'm going to the kitchen to begin my misenplase. While I'm in there, I need to depouiller my fond brun. Then I must prepare a white mirepoix for my fumet, and finally, I must thicken the stew with a beurre manie!" Yes, just me and my own little language in my own little kitchen! (Yes, I know. It doesn't take much to entertain me.)

                                1. re: cookingschool

                                  So I was having dinner with a few other women at a friend's home a couple of weeks ago. The hostess had prepared a small platter of crab-stuffed mushrooms -- one mushroom per guest. I remarked, "Oh, what a lovely amuse buche..." Everyone at the table turned and looked at me like I had just landed from the moon of another planet. I think I need some new friends.

                                  1. re: cookingschool

                                    >"I'm going to the kitchen to begin my misenplase"
                                    if somebody said that non-ironically, i feel confident
                                    it would make a bad first impression on me.

                                    >I must thicken the stew with a beurre manie!
                                    maybe you should use "shall" over "must" and work in
                                    some expressions like "comme il faut".

                                    you can strive to speak thusly ...
                                    "i shall arise and go now, and go to the cuisine
                                    and a white mirepoix build there, of celery and oignons made
                                    neuf haricots verts, i will have there, as i prepare my beurre manie"

                                    [apologies to WB Yeats]

                                    1. re: psb

                                      <maybe you should use "shall" over "must" and work in some expressions like"comme il faut".>


                                      1. re: cookingschool

                                        expressions like "okey dokey artichokey" are much more down to earth :-)

                                        1. re: psb

                                          Would it be okay to just say "I'm mise-ing"? I mean, doncha have to mise, even if yur jest cookin' up grub?

                                          1. re: cookingschool

                                            people say mise all the time-- it's just a term, and anyone who cooks professionally (or is a serious home cook) knows what it is. . .

                                            saying that english-speaking people shouldn't use french phrases like "mise en place" when cooking is a bit like saying that american botanists should never use latin words when speaking to each other. makes no freaking sense. that said, hotoynoodle's anecdote below is pretty funny-- reminds me of a new restauranteur who tried to get my dh to do the whole "chef, yes, chef" thing, when they'd cooked together in a bar years earlier. . .

                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                              obviously there is no brightline between precision and and snobbery
                                              but it's closer to a "i know it when i see it" type of thing. if at the close of
                                              dinner of take out chinese or pizza i said "shall we debouch to the parlor
                                              for cigars and brandy" when i dont have a parlor, and am not offering up
                                              any Romeo y Julietas nor any Remy Martin XO but just mean "oh leave the
                                              mess on the table and let go watch tv in the living room", i'm obviously
                                              being humorous. but if some bowtie wearing WF Buckley wannabe fop
                                              said it in earnest, well it would be a snobbish manner of expression ...
                                              it doesnt really matter whether debouch is a perfectly good word in english.

                                              i suppose you can draw a distinction between "natural" snobbery from
                                              the mouth of the manner born ["whom" "shall", all in a posh accent] and
                                              an affected snobbery ...

                                            2. re: cookingschool

                                              The only way to solve this is a hunger strike.

                                      2. re: cookingschool

                                        not to be picky, but it's mise en place. maybe that's why you're family giggles.

                                        i worked for an american chef who briefly went through a phase of trying to call the orders in french. he does not speak french. it was hilarious. he did not see the humor in it like we did.

                                        then again, i think most of us are used to our families having a little fun at our expense!

                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                          But "misenplace" is pronounced the same as "mise en place" -- so unless he was writing his family a note. they'd have no cause to giggle.
                                          I, personally, like to say, "I'm busy misenplacing."

                                      3. re: andytee

                                        Sorry for being annoyingly nit-picky, but Manchego is sheep, not goat cheese.

                                        1. re: Zabalburu

                                          I don't think andytee was saying that Manchego is a goat's milk cheese, rather that its the name of a cheese like Stilton is the name of a cheese or chevre is the name of a cheese.

                                          1. re: ccbweb

                                            du jour - of the day
                                            en croute - in pastry
                                            coq au vin - chicken in wine.

                                            depends on the restaurant - in some they look snobby and in others the words work right.

                                            1. re: smartie

                                              Well, come of these terms although may seem to be pretentious does have a use when being used to refer to a version of the dish that harkens back to an "authentic" version of a dish by that name.

                                              When you see "coq au vin" on a menu, if you know of the dish in question then it is easier to determine what the restaurant may serve as opposed to "chicken in wine".

                                              1. re: Blueicus

                                                Exactly. Coq au Vin is not "drunken chicken". Ratatouille is a pretty specific combination of vegetables and herbs. Gazpacho is neither "cold vegetable soup" nor "salsa soup".

                                                Provencal, saltimbocca, Veracruzana... all of these imply certain ingredients will be in the dish, if not a specific style of preparation.

                                                In other words, it's not snobbishness, it's shorthand.

                                                If you don't know that term or others seen commonly here, why not try to learn them and use them appropriately instead of suggesting snobbishness on the part of those who do understand them and use them correctly?

                                                I'd imagine that one of the goals of the folks who founded CH was to expand both the range AND vocabulary of cooks interested in the foods world around them. Don't want to put words in their mouth, but gotta think they had a higher purpose in creating this than just enabling a bunch of strangers to discuss the merits of Kraft vs. generic mac and cheese.

                                                1. re: Panini Guy

                                                  I agree, Panini Guy, except I'd say it isn't even shorthand....its just the name of the dish or the food. Nothing snobbish about it

                                                  1. re: ccbweb

                                                    I agree. It's like knowing that a bleeding heart is a "dicentra", a foxglove a "digitalis". If you aren't familiar with such names you're lost at many nurseries/greenhouses and reading most gardening books/articles.

                                                    The "common" names for plants often vary with time and region, the Latin botanical names don't. And the same thing is true of many culinary terms.

                                                    I like to teach my grandchildren terms like buerre manie/frissonne/mise en place. They might seldom or never use them, but they'll know what they mean when they hear or read them.

                                                    I agree that you can generally spot a showoff who uses such words just to impress. On the other hand, there are people so insecure and touchy they resent anyone who uses words they don't know. (Remember the man who was fired for correctly using the time-honored Norse word "niggardly" re: his inadequate departmental budget? Even when it was explained to them, some of the dingbats still considered it offensive.)

                                            2. re: ccbweb

                                              yes, thanks for clarifying, ccbweb.