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Jun 13, 2008 03:11 PM

Is it important to give your dishes a cool name?

OK, there's this thing that's been bugging me and it all started with Richard from Top Chef giving whimsical names to his dishes. It seems like a very modern trend. He calls his cut bananas "banana scallops". And he had a poultry dish with different parts of poultry and called it "which came first". Throughout the whole season, he comes up with whimsical names for his dishes.

Of course, it's more than just naming the dish; it's adding some humor and personality to the dish. Thomas Keller has a super-fancy "Coffee and Doughnuts" and has his "tongue in cheek" dish as well. But I think there's a limit to what you can do. "Banana scallops" is OK if the dish looks like it came out of the ocean with foamy sauce and panko crumbs for sand. But by itself, it's a bit much. C'mon, it's a F'n cut up banana! And in themed restaurants, you'll have a "jungle salads" and stuff like that. What's your opinion on making up names for dishes? Cool or uncool?

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  1. My personal feeling is that the deliciousness of the food is paramount, the name doesn't affect the deliciousness significantly. There are dishes with names that might have historical or biographical interest, which might be fun, again has no big impact on deliciousness.

    1. I agree that taste is the most important thing. However, I find "intellectualizing" food can be fun, but only if it tastes good.

      At Fleur de Lys in San Francisco, I had their dessert burger which was comprised of chocolate ganache as the patty, sweet brioche as the bun, strawberries for tomatoes, kiwi as the pickles, mango jelly for the cheese. It was accompanied by fries made of ice cream and a shake. Was it cute? Yes. Was it humorous? Well, not a big guffaw humorous, but, yes, it made me chuckle. Yes. Was it tasty? No. And I will never order it again.

      1. I used to do recipe development for a grocery chain and did quite a bit of demo's to support the program. I'm pretty straight forward with titles - personally I'm interested in the flavor, method, nutrition, etc. A catchy name isn't really a draw for me. But once they had a marketing person create the names for my recipes and jazz up the descriptions it did make a huge difference in the number of participants who came to the demonstrations. (She was really into the naming - for kicks sometimes she would propose a name & I would use that as the starting point. Made it interesting when the assignment was something I just wasn't excited about!)

        If you are fairly serious then a name isn't going to really have much effect. If you are just somewhat interested, then a catchy name is like a good shop window - it might persuade you to check it out, but the goods still have to be good for you to buy.

        It was an interesting learning experience. I'm better at the names now, but it still is contrary to my nature.

        1. Important? Not in the least. Depending on the wit of the chef it could be amusing or it could be just tacky, but either way it's absolutely unimportant.

          Personally I have only two "named" dishes, both perennial favorites with my friends: Bob's Serious Chili (says it all), and Bob's Balls, a name given by my friends, not by me, to my go-to party dish of green olives baked in very spicy cheese pastry.

          7 Replies
          1. re: BobB

            Would you post your olive recipe on the Recipe section and then place a link to it here? The Balls sound tasty.... wow, I can't believe I typed that.

            1. re: cheeseguysgirl

              I tried to use the Post A Recipe feature but couldn't get it to work (it froze up after I had finished writing it - very frustrating!), so I gave up and posted it in Home Cooking at

              Let me know how they come out. I've had a couple of friends ask for the recipe and they got mixed results. One thing to watch is that everything must be completely at room temperature before you start, and the other is that the type of baking sheet you use has a tremendous effect on the baking time and how likely they are to burn. I've found I get the best results with double-layer insulated non-stick cookie sheets (mine are Ecko Baker's Secret).

              1. re: BobB

                I tried your link above, and cannot get it to work. Maybe this one will-- I really look forward to trying them-- thanks!!


                1. re: cheeseguysgirl

                  Wow, looks like my original attempt to post it worked even though my page froze up. That's the right recipe.

                  The link above didn't work because it included the period I typed at the end. I just tried to correct iot and it got even more messed up.

                  1. re: BobB

                    Bob, I've been making that recipe for (eek) nearly 15 years at my parents open house on Boxing Day. We call them cheese olive balls but I like your name much better :-).

                    BTW they freeze well -- just pop them in on the cookie sheet before cooking and transfer to a container when frozen.

                    1. re: grayelf

                      I know, I didn't invent it, I just spiced it up. As I recall the original had only a few drops of Tabasco and no cayenne.

                      1. re: BobB

                        I'm going to try them with more spice and some Worcester next time and serve them as Bob's Balls in your honour. Here's the recipe I use:

                        Cheese olive balls
                        makes 6 dozen

                        1 cup flour
                        2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
                        1/2 cup butter, softened
                        1 tsp paprika
                        1/2 tsp salt
                        1/4 tsp Tabasco
                        Well drained stuffed green olives

                        Combine all ingredients except olives and mix well. Wrap each olive with 1/2 to 1 tsp of mixture. Freeze uncooked if desired.
                        To bake: Bake in 425F oven for 10-12 minutes, longer if frozen

          2. OK if it's smart and clever, like 'Thomas' English Muffin' at FL, seriously annoying if it's just trying to be cute, like a dessert called

            5 Replies
            1. re: babette feasts

              The first thing you read about a dish is its name, so I am of the opinion that the name is very important. This extends beyond restaurant food as well; in Peter Singer's "The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter", he includes the renaming of Patagonian toothfish to...Chilean sea bass. He, and whatever marketing scheme came up with this, seems to think people would be less inclined to eat something called "toothfish." I agree.

              1. re: Ette1010

                i wonder if they'll rename sheepshead fish --- (read the comments for a laugh)

                1. re: Ette1010

                  Too bad they didn't keep the original name; we might not have been running out of them by now.

                  There's an idea: when a food species becomes endangered, name it something dreadful or disgusting!

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    I grew up in Sheepshead Bay. The some of the local fisherman used to say it became extinct by over fishing/pollution/development. I didn't think it still existed.


                    1. re: MrsT

                      my nephew served sheepshead five years ago, caught in the gulf of mexico, off sw florida. he loved his fishing hobby, but is giving it up because of all the government regulation. very sad for me ;-(