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Jan 1, 2009 07:00 PM

How would you define gourmet and....

Hello everyone,

I have a question and some comments. I would just like to see what people consider gourmet food. I have a friend who considers himself somewhat of a gourmand/ gouremt cook and claims to know good food but.... he does not eat onions, celery, peppers, doesn't like this or that, uses can soup to make a meal (ie: can soup, cheese and potatoes) and puts ketchup on pasta and pizza, jar cheese over baked poatatoes, etc etc. Also, I see on food websites (considered gourmet, fine food) where people have submitted their own recipes and I see things like chicken fried steak, pasta & ground beef casserole...which I don't consider "gourmet". My question is, how do you define "gourmet", not from a dictionary but in your own words. Thanks

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  1. I'd say it's all relative. I visit friends who live in the U.P. of michigan, and make a dinner of grilled steaks, mashed potatoes with roasted garlic, and ears of corn roasted on the grill in their husks. THEY call it gourmet. I just call it dinner. I make tamales and show them how to do it. They call it gourmet, I just call it making tamales. I stuff hand formed burgers with bleu cheese. They call it gourmet, I just call them burgers. Same thing at home. My parents make a roast, and ask if I'll make gravy. They point me to some powdered gravy packet. I use the drippings, red wine, butter, and shallots. They call it gourmet. I call it "gravy." I would let others label what I do as gourmet. I just call it food. Don't care if it's gourmet or not, just care if it's good. Call it what you want. I also don't ever call any other foods "gourmet." It's just food. I don't care what the ingredients are, where they came from, or how much they cost. If it tastes like something I can re-create at home, and it costs a zillion bux, you can bet that I'll be laughing at the chef. I generally can't be pleased at high end restaurants, because for the most part, I can do better in my own kitchen. Gourmet? I say it's an overused word that has lost much of its meaning, so I don't use it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: gordeaux

      I agree with gordeaux.

      A self-proclaimed gourmet is like a self-proclaimed foodie or food snob; they're generally buffoons who find their own words and pseudo-knowledge to be something to bore the rest of us with.

      (Gourmet stores or items with gourmet in the title are similar: overpriced hype; we generally avoid any place/item that has "gourmet" in the name.)

      I'll try almost anything, street food, BBQ in styrofoam, a 6+ course meal which takes hours.

      I generally make what I consider provincial or peasant food--fresh ingredients cooked simply. Some people consider it fancy (another useless marketing term) because it's made from scratch, although I can't think of many items which take less time pre-packaged than from scratch.

      1. re: gordeaux

        "I generally can't be pleased at high end restaurants, because for the most part, I can do better in my own kitchen. "
        gordeaux, i'm with you on this i think many CHers are. it's somewhat frustrating, because i obviously *want* to really enjoy my meal when i decide to dine out, especially at a "good" restaurant. but it's certainly a delight to my friends & family who have discovered that they can save a lot of money and eat just as well (or better!) at my house ;)

        1. re: gordeaux

          Totally agree with you. When people call me a gourmet cook I have to laugh!

        2. How about "perfect"? Like a perfect BLT, a perfect bowl of mashed potatoes, a perfectly cooked piece of fish. And I wouldn't ever USE the word - "gourmet" would be an internal word, I think.

          1 Reply
          1. re: c oliver

            I think absolutes like "perfect" are problematic too. "Perfect" isn't the same for everyone. My definition of perfect pasta is al dente, for others that would be undercooked therefore in their minds, imperfect.

          2. That's a *really* tough question, Lemoncaper. I keep wanting to run to the dictionary, asked us not to, so I'll just mention some of the connations I associate with "gourmet", "gourmand" and, while we're at it, "epicure".

            For whatever reason, I guess just because of how the word was used while I was growing up--when I think its use was more pure--I always relate "gourmet" to haute cuisine--classical French as one example, though not only French. These days, I think the word is over-used, and mis-used, too. Like...every cookware marketer who seems to want to overcharge for its product calls its product "gourmet" cookware, to give it some cache, I guess, but in fact, when we get it home, we might be using it to prepare Caneton en Croute, or Tournedos Rossini, or we might be making corned beef hash or sloppy joes in it. So, I think in the last two or three decades, as American cuisine has reached a certain stature it never had before, the word "gourmet" has lost some of its meaning through manipulation for profit's sake.

            I could be wrong about this, but I thought "gourmand" was as much about how much one eats as it is about what one eats. I thought "gourmand" has a connotation of "gluttony" about it.

            Then there's epicure, and I really don't know what sets that apart from "gourmet", except I think of an epicure as booking flights five years ahead to be sure he's in Japan for the peak of blowfish season (if blowfish has a season--obviously, I'm not an epicure, although I have enjoyed a few "gourmet" meals in my life and have risked coming perilously close to "gourmandise" on a few occasions when especially fine chocolate was involved. ;-)

            As an overall comment, I'd like to say that I have the impression that most of the people I've encountered in my life who actually might be gourmets would say ix-nay on the canned soups and jar cheese. I'm embarrassed myself to have used canned blackberries on a tart tonight, but, then, it is January in New England, so I hope I'll be cut some slack. ;-)

            9 Replies
            1. re: Steady Habits

              Unless they were local, home-canned or "artisanal" blackberries?
              Interesting how 10 years ago I would have thought imported "fresh" berries a very "gourmet" treat in January. Not so much these days!

              1. re: Steady Habits

                Re: definition of gourmand:

                Gourmand does not always connote one who consumes large quantities of food or a gluttonous person. It CAN mean that, but does not imply that. Here's what the American Heritage Dictionary says about the usage of the words gourmet, gourmand and epicure:

                "A gourmet is a person with discriminating taste in food and wine, as is a gourmand. Because gourmand can also mean “one who enjoys food in great quantities” or even “a gluttonous eater,” care should be taken to make clear its intended sense. An epicure is much the same as a gourmet, but the word may sometimes carry overtones of excessive refinement. This use of epicure is a misrepresentation of Epicurean philosophy, which, while it professed that pleasure was the highest good, was hardly given to excessive concern with food and drink. "

                Info source:

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Thank you so much for clarifying that, maria.

                  I guess the reason there is so much ambiguity about how the word is used is because it is ambiguous. ;-)

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    Not so fast there, Maria Lorraine. Since you have now catapulted us firmly into the orbit of dictionaries, here is what my 1971 edition of American Hertitage says:

                    Gourmand: A person who delights in eating well AND HEARTILY (emphasis mine). No other definition given. From the Middle English "gourmaunt;" glutton. And there was no redoubt to the Usage Panel in 1971--that was the meaning, no shading.

                    I think what happened in the 29 years after that was that so many folks started using gourmand when they meant gourmet that gourmand crept into acceptability as meaning the same (tho honestly it started well before 1971). We don't live in a normative world any more. Even the OED accepts that meaning now. But the usage note you cite even says that, if using gourmand, care should be taken to make clear its intended sense. I would argue this is their backhanded way of saying that if one insists on using gourmand to simply mean gourmet, then it is incumbent on one to clarify that gluttony is not intended--in that sense, gourmand on its own does indeed imply gluttony, and the implication is removed only by further qualification.

                    1. re: johnb

                      I've never encountered any automatic association of gluttony with the word "gourmand" in all my gastronomy reading for 30+ years. That could be because that the connotation has been lost on me, or that the gluttonous connotation is not part of the actual definition.

                      Escoffier used the word often in his writings in the early 20th century and gluttony was never associated with his usage.

                      My working knowledge of the word is that gourmand is simply a person with educated tastes and a developed palate, similar to gourmet. If I'm able to dive in and unearth a bit more research -- on a time crunch now -- I will do so.

                      Gourmand at some point became misdefined, misaligned, with gluttony. This may have been because the French word for the appreciation of gourmet cuisine is “gourmandise,” with no connotation of gluttony, and when the French Catholics assembled a list of the Seven Deadly Sins, they mistakenly used gourmandise, which is simply appreciation, rather than the word the Church meant to use, the more precise "gloutonnerie." But that was an error that caused the word to be associated with gluttony, and perhaps the “error” took and became popularized. Misappropriation of words is quite common.

                      Unfortunately, the source for that information is Wikipedia.

                      If what Wikipedia says is true, the timing of what you suggest -- that the word first meant gluttony, and later was confused with gourmet -- would be reversed. Meaning, gourmand meant, and has always meant, one who appreciates food, and only later was the word inaccurately conflated with gluttony.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Well, I don't know about you, but I've certainly encountered the gluttonous shade of meaning in my culinary reading.

                        It is hard to see how the glutton meaning of gourmand could be a recent conflation given that its root in Middle English, as pointed out by American Heritage, is gourmaunt, meaning glutton. That puts it back somewhere around year 1200 or so. To be fair, OED, while finding a Middle English root, says that root is of "unkn. origin."

                        The OED, in its definition of gormandize (of which gourmandise is only a spelling variant, again according to OED) three definitions are given, and the first and third explicitly comprehend excessive or at least exuberant eating ("Eat greedily; indulge in good eating).

                        Brillat-Savarin, in section 57 of "The Physiology of Taste," seems to make clear that gourmandise involves, shall we say, an exuberant mode and degree of food consumption (the passage relates how the French got back their Napoleanic War reparations payments by feeding the Brits, Germans and others "who brought with them a rare voracity and stomachs of no common capacity.")

                        Alan Davidson, in his Oxford Companion to Food, which AFAIK is generally considered to be authoritive, states that "gourmand" indicates a person who is "overfond of eating, greedy, a glutton;" he goes on to note that it also has, especially in France, the milder meaning of someone who loves food, like gourmet.

                        1. re: johnb

                          Good research.

                          The website of the Gourmand World Cookbook Award states that

                          "The origin of gourmand is celtic. In the 13th century Gioraman in Irish meant 'who has good appetite'. Gourmand has a noble meaning, and it is a compliment to be a gourmand. Gourmet is more recent, it comes from the Dutch Grom, meaning young man."

                          According to the same source "In academic French, Gourmet should be used only for wine" since in the 15th century Groom designated the servant who transported the wines. Groom later became Groomet, and from there Gourmet, to indicate a Sommelier.

                          The Celtic origin of gourmand is also confirmed in Origine et Formation de la Langue Française by A. de Chevallet (Paris, 1853): "Gourmand. — Irland. gioraman , gourmand , goulu , glouton, écoss. gioraman, item, employé comme substantif; gioramhach, item, adjectif; de giorr, se rassasier, se gorger. Gall. gormodi, être rempli, être gorgé, être rassasié."

                          Gourmet and Gourmand in English Language Dictionaries
                          The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English defines gourmet as "A person who knows a lot about food and drink and is good at choosing what should be combined together" and a gourmand as "a person who eats too much, esp. one who is more interested in the quantity of food than its quality".

                          The Concise Oxford Dictionary explains gourmand as "greedy feeder, glutton; gourmet" and gourmet as "connoisseur of table delicacies; judge of good food."

                          The three-volume Webster's Third New International Dictionary goes more in depth and defines gourmand as 1. "a greedy and ravenous eater" (synonym with glutton) and as 2. "a luxurious eater" (synonym with epicure or gourmet). Webster also confirms the "boy servant/wine merchant's assistant” etymology for a gourmet, defined as "a connoisseur in eating and drinking."

                          Regrettably, the Wordsworth Dictionary of Culinary and Menu Terms skips the terms altogether.

                          Gourmet and Gourmand in English Usage Guides
                          Fowler's Modern English Usage has a specific entry comparing the use of gourmand and gourmet: "The first ranges in sense from greedy feeder to lover and judge of good fare; the second from judge of wine to connoisseur of delicacies. The first usually implies some contempt, the other not."

                          In the Columbia Guide to Standard American English, Kenneth G. Wilson explains that gourmet is "a French borrowing meaning a connoisseur of food and drink, a person of discriminating palate," and that this is "much more in use in English today than its compatriot, gourmand, which sometimes means a big eater and drinker, or even a glutton, and sometimes simply a heartier sort of gourmet." He finally goes on to proclaim: "gourmand is fading; gourmet is overused."

                          Gourmet vs Gourmand according to Hervé This
                          Enter Hervé This, the founder of Molecular Gastronomy (and of course a Frenchman). In a footnote to the first chapter (Cooking and Science) of his new book Kitchen Mysteries, he writes: "A hierarchy is often established between gourmands and gourmets, the latter ranked higher, in an echelon that values quality over quantity. This is a mistake. A gourmand is one who likes good food, and a gourmet is one who takes delight in wines."

                          Escoffier's Ligue des Gourmands
                          Should the English language rehabilitate its use of the word gourmand? After all, if Georges Auguste Escoffier -— one of the prophets of the Culinary Arts — called his dining club La Ligue des Gourmands, the term cannot possibly have the derogatory meaning it is sometimes associated with. For more information, see La Ligue des Gourmands, founded by Escoffier in 1913, and the book Le Maître des Saveurs, by Michel Gall.

                          Gourmand is broader, and more positive. In English, Gourmet is used more, in the broad meaning.

                          In the 18th Century, French writer Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote "None is happier than the Gourmand" Nul n'est plus heureux que le gourmand."

                          So, context supplies us with the information whether or not the word is synonymous with gourmet or indicates excess. At least, that's my best guess.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            Well, your research energy and accomplishment clearly surpass mine, but I think, putting it all together, we are pretty much on the same page. BTW, I decided to skip getting into the "wine" meaning of gourmet, even tho that is clearly its root, since the use of the word broke out of that box a long time ago.

                            As an aside, even tho the Longman's definitions are more in line with my original view than just about any other, if they really do use the term "combine together" I would write them off--IMHO pleonasms like that should not appear in that which purports to be a dictionary. Think of surge ahead, past experience, software programs (one of my favorites), and hundreds of others. Sorry for the rant, but it grates on me.

                            1. re: johnb

                              Ooooh...pleonasms is its own good word! Agree with you about those!

                2. Can I use a picture? Picasso's Le Gourmet - a young child standing with a spoon in a nearly empty bowl of something by the table. Not rich, or sophisticated, or privileged, but for the moment wholly focused on and appreciating whatever she's eating.

                  1. I'm with Steady Habits: "gourmand" is implies contempt for the person it describes, someone who is a glutton. Gourmet implies connossieurship. Epicure is someone who enjoys good good ( but not to point of gluttony, lest s/he be a gourmand!)