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Newsweek: Why Is "Housemade" Replacing "Homemade"?

Hey guys,

Andrew Romano from Newsweek here, hoping to harness the collective wisdom of the Chowhound community.

Basically, I'm wondering if you've noticed the recent proliferation of the word "housemade" (and house-cured, house-infused, etc.) on menus? I'm thinking of writing a short item on how and why (the neologistic) "housemade" is replacing (the grammatically correct) "homemade" at a certain type of restaurant, as if the latter has become meaningless through overuse but the former is somehow a true sign of au-courant, handcrafted authenticity.

I'd love to know your thoughts on the subject: What's the difference? What does "house" evoke? Why are chefs so eager to deploy the word? And why now?

Thanks so much,
Andrew
aromano@newsweek.com

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  1. I've always assumed that "homemade" means the food was made in someone's home and "housemade" means it was made in a restaurant. After all, people refer to the "front of the house" and the "back of the house," or you get something, "on the house, so it makes sense to me. Maybe others will have different thoughts.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Glencora

      I agree with Andrew here. I thought "homemade" got overused and lost its impact -- people rolled their eyes when they heard it -- and that therefore a term was needed that brought back the original meaning. "Housemade" sounds kind of silly, though.

    2. Homemade evokes images of Great Aunt Emma lovingly stirring a pot of soup. I think housemade tries to conjure up those same images, while being more technically correct. After all, not many people actually call a restaurant home, even if they refer to the front-of-house and back-of-house.

      4 Replies
      1. re: phofiend

        I think you guys are exactly right, in that a restaurant is technically more of a house than a home.

        BUT...

        Restaurants have been using "homemade" for a long time--as in, Babbo's Homemade Orecchiette with sweet sausage and rapini ($19). And not in a strict literal sense, because no one thinks Babbo is a home.

        So what I'm interested in is why "housemade" seems to be replacing "homemade," or at least gaining momentum, as the artisanal adjective of choice.

        Are restaurateurs suddenly deciding to become more linguistically exact? Or has "homemade" been devalued by places like Chevy's, which boast of their "homemade bleu cheese dressing," leading a certain kind of chef to rely on a fresher term ("housemade") to distinguish what he or she does and convey the DIY ethic that's so popular these days?

        Take Brooklyn's Dressler, for example. The menu includes Housemade Gnocchi with asparagus and morel ragout; a Harvest Moon cocktail with house-infused orange vodka, asperol, lemon and lime juice; a Cheddar Burger with brioche bun, tomato, onion, housemade pickles and fries; housemade Pecan Sticky Buns; and Fruit And Yogurt with housemade granola.

        That strikes me as a little intense--and as something we wouldn't have seen a few years back. Then again, I may be nuts :)

        1. re: aromano

          Your Dressler example does sound extreme but perhaps becausse it's taken out of context of the full menu. I DO like knowing, especially with pasta, when it was made in-house (oops!). And housemade is more correct than homemade. I think menus get really extreme (and we see it ALOT here in NoCal) when every item tells me the exact farm or ranch it comes from. TMI (too much info) And then again you MAY be nuts :)

          1. re: aromano

            I am with Glencora. I think "homemade" has been rendered silly by the fact that everyone knows that the product is not actually produced in the chef's home.
            However, "housemade" does imply that it is made "in-house", as in, IN the restaurant, by ITS very own cooks.
            Housemade sounds more technical and verifiable, while Homemade sounds phony... we know you just didn't make it in your apartment kitchen! There are grocery store pasta sauces with "homemade" written on the label... come on!

            1. re: aromano

              I'm copying over my initial post from the other thread and then will reply to this post.

              "I've not noticed it, but I do think of the word "homemade" as meaning, "made at home" - as in "someone's home".

              If one thinks of the expression "on the house", the concept of "housemade" makes sense to me." (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/619905

              )

              I do think that it there can be overkill to the point of pretension. If I'm at a very high end place, I pretty much expect that most, if not all, items will be made "in house".

          2. truth in menu. Starts it - then a need to let consumers know we aren't opening a bag and reheating something creates the housemade term. Had to laugh reading aromano post . Enough already - I'm not even interested anymore.....( with the description not aromano) I had a little note at the top of our menu- saying all our sauces, soups etc were made in house. Then I could infrequently bust out the housemade without seeming so very redundant.
            Its a shame we can't all assume they make the food at the restaurant.

            1. I moved this reply from the clone thread that was locked down.

              MMRuth is right; and I'd bet that most people here would feel the same way: Restaurants offering "homemade" are being dishonest or just asinine. Perhaps more Americans are returning to homecooking - and to homemade foods. Such people might be expressing irritation at restaurant claims of "homemade". A reasonable response by restauants would be to offer "house made" as opposed to "delivered by Sysco".

              11 Replies
              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                It strikes me that homemade may be a broader, less place-specific, more widely applicable term at this point. Babbo's homemade orrechiette might be "homemade," but homemade could mean "made in the home of Mario Batali's mother," or at Raffeto's on Houston, or whatever. "Housemade," on the other hand, leaves no room for confusion: those parsnip chips you're munching were made here, in house. Housemade describes the place where something is made; homemade describes a method of making something (ostensibly by hand, in a domestic or intimate setting).

                That said, I wonder: are you excited when you see that something is "housemade"? Does it affect you differently than "homemade"?

                1. re: aromano

                  I don't want to hear either term. In part because I never eat where the food is NOT housemade.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    I know what you mean, Sam, but there are restaurants that don't do all their own baking and I don't have a problem with that. And I think restaurants will differentiate between the pastas that are made inhouse and the others. But, yes, there's quite a difference between that and the Sysco truck at the back door.

                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      One of my favorite local restaurants makes their own bacon and pancetta, not something one would expect, even in most great restaurants. I think it's perfectly reasonable to use "housemade" to let diners know the origin of these items.

                      1. re: pikawicca

                        One thing I've noticed is that "homemade" will more often refer to a dish, while "house-made" is more frequently used to refer to an ingredient. For example, "homemade macaroni and cheese" versus "house-made fettuccine in alfredo sauce."

                        I agree that house-made as a synonym for "made in-house" can be useful when used appropriately. If a menu in refers to house-made pizza, I worry. Even "house-made sauce" on the pizza is suspect - it implies that using something straight from a can was considered as a viable option. But when I see house-made sausage as a topping for the pizza, my ears perk up.

                        As to "homemade," I agree with other posters that the word has no meaning in a restaurant context. It's just puffery. Like the "reliable" in Bob's Reliable Used Cars. House-made, on the other hand, says to me that whatever it's referring to was made in-house.

                        Of course, if house-made gains sufficient cachet in the absence of an official definition, it may become as meaningless as homemade. When a chain restaurant starts promoting house-made hamburger buns that rolled off an assembly line on the other side of the country, you'll know this has happened.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          Even the car dealers don't take the risk of leading us on. There are 1,230 Google entries for "Bob's Used cars" but none for "Bob's Reliable Used Cars".

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            And a search for "reliable used cars" just brings up Consumer Reports. What's the world coming to?

                            At least we still have plenty of "Honest John's Used Cars" and the like. Hyperbole is not dead.

                        2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          Uhhh...Sam... some of us remember your accounts of binging at gas station food counters.

                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                            Holy s&^t, you're completely right. My answer to aromano had to do with when I eat in restaurants! I'll eat out in DC a few times each trip and there only at places where it is all "house made". When I'm in the field somewhere, there is nothing but 100% house made. But, indeed, my hotel dining watching US TV and shopping the gas station for corn dogs and "burgers" and getting a bottle of JB on an LAX or SFO or Miami overnight - what can I say but "heaven"!

                        3. re: aromano

                          I was raised during those terrible years when marketers, sensing the profundity of their own bullshit, switched from calling processed & packaged products "homemade" to the barf-inducing "homestyle".

                          It is because of this paradigm that to my mind, the term "homemade" always evoked truth-- that this dish was made in someone's home. Contrast that to the "homestyle" which brings up all these terrible connotations of something being made in giant vats in a factory in order to approximate someone's home cooking, somewhere.

                          "House made" (two words) doesn't bother me in the slightest, since a restaurant is not a home-- it's a house-- in this case, a house of gastronomy, and so the phrase rings true. "Housemade" (one word) starts to set off my bullshit detector. In a big national chain restaurant, seeing "house made" will do it for me too.

                          I do have to agree however with the earlier posters who questioned the need to specify what is made in house, since it implies that the rest of the menu is not.

                          Mr Taster

                      2. I've never heard of the term. Occasionally I've seen something described as "made in-house".
                        "Housemade" sounds to me it was made in a (residential) house, thus violating all sorts of food safety regulations...