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"It's just a fancy French word for..."

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Chiffonade, bouquet garni, court bouillon...the list goes on and on. Why do TV chefs, and a lot of people for that matter, always say, "It's just a fancy French word for..." No. They are not "fancy" words...they are just words...in French! Maybe when we were 8 years old French was a "fancy" language, but we're adults now and French words are just that...words!

Thanks for listening. I feel better now. :)

  1. Damned French. They've got a different word for everything.

    2 Replies
    1. re: laststandchili

      Oh, that Steve Martin...he's a real card!

      1. re: laststandchili

        Hah! My husband and I never get tired of this... cracks us up every time!

      2. But we're in America now, and we speak english here. Why not use the english word instead?

        70 Replies
        1. re: mucho gordo

          Ok. What would you use for mise en place in English, for example? 'ready to cook'?

          1. re: linguafood

            I studied french for 4 years but english words are still primary with me. It's more natural for me to say: I've got all the ingredients ready and I'll start the dinner now" rather than: "everything is mise en place and..........".

            1. re: mucho gordo

              But mise en place is used as a noun most of the time, as in "here's my mise en place". "I've got all the ingredients ready and cut up in a bowl" take quite a bit longer.

              I guess I find it efficient. It's not like we're giving all those paste non-Italian names, either.

              1. re: linguafood

                Well, some of the pasta types are getting called English names -- I hear "angel hair" and "bow tie" at least as much as "capellini" and "farfalle."

                1. re: momjamin

                  I see bow tie on domestic pasta and farfalle on imported. Makes sense to me...

                  Lucy

                  1. re: momjamin

                    Perhaps, but don't mess with my penne, rigatoni, ziti, pastina, manicotti, etc., capisce? ;P

                    1. re: momjamin

                      I agree with you, but these are food terms, not cooking terms. Many French cooking terms really do mean something that cannot or should not be translated. On the other hand, I could not imagine using English as a substitute for musical terminology - Italian is the language of music in the same way that French is the language of fine cooking. Now I think I'll sing an aria while I sauté some onions. :-)

                      1. re: boredough

                        I'd never really thought about that distinction but you've got a point, an extension of which is that German is the language of philisophy/psychology, e.g. Weltanschauung, Schadenfreude, Weltschmerz.... I tend to use whatever language expresses the idea most efficiently. I'd characterize the French cooking terms as concise, not fancy.

                2. re: linguafood

                  I use the term mise en place, despite some moderate teasing from my 40-ish children. I 'spose it's because that's what I was taught in cooking school (French) meaning prep.

                  When I'm baking I get all ingredients out and ready, warm the eggs, soften the butter, etc. Same idea.

                  Someone who isn't used to the term might well say prep. To me it means the same thing.

                  Lucy

                  1. re: linguafood

                    What would you use for mise en place in English, for example?
                    ~~~
                    Prep.

                    1. re: kmcarr

                      Not bad! Short n sweet. Not sure I could get used to it, tho.

                      1. re: linguafood

                        I'm kinda with you here, lingua. It's a matter of what you're used to. I would have a difficult time saying anything but, "my meez is ready, chef." But a great deal of that is connected to the fact that i've been in "the life" all my life, and though I know it as a restaurant term, it translates perfectly for ME although, yes, for the suburban housewife it might sound pretentious.

                      2. re: kmcarr

                        It's pretentious. When would you need to use the phrase? Would you say to your spouse, "Darling, everything is mise en place; I can start dinner now"?

                        1. re: mucho gordo

                          My mom, a by-no-means pretentious American, has always done her mise en place before meals.

                          I think this is exactly what the OP means. Why, if it's a French term, do Americans refer to it as "fancy." But if it's Spanish, Italian, German, etc. nobody bats an eyelash?

                          1. re: gaffk

                            But, my point is when would you or your mom need to use the term or phrase?

                            1. re: mucho gordo

                              Perhaps the examples sunshine gave are better.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Yes, agreed. I think sunshine hit the issue perfectly.

                                But I'll answer mucho's question. Mom will say something like, OK, time to get the mise en place done; or, if company is coming, I want to serve something that allows the mise en place to be complete and the kitchen clened before the guest arrive.

                                Me, I say prep (but I'm lazy).

                                1. re: gaffk

                                  I can't imagine your mom or anyone else actually saying that. Most people would say prep or something similar and it's not a question of being lazy.

                                  1. re: mucho gordo

                                    I say it and I don't believe I have a pretentious bone in my body. Also say chiffonade, bouquet garni, etc. Just because you don't doesn't mean someone is putting on airs, ya know?

                                    1. re: mucho gordo

                                      Well, I've known her for 46 years now and yep, she says it. (I know she was a big fan of Julia Child, maybe she picked it up there?) I don't find it odd or pretentious. When she says it, I know exactly what she means. As a matter of fact, most people seem to understand what she means.

                              2. re: gaffk

                                "I think this is exactly what the OP means. Why, if it's a French term, do Americans refer to it as "fancy." But if it's Spanish, Italian, German, etc. nobody bats an eyelash"

                                Ding, ding, ding, ding...we have a winner!!! I;ve never once heard someone say, "Oh, I feel like having dim sum; that's just a fancy Chinese word for small, individual portions of food."

                                1. re: ttoommyy

                                  I don't think it's "Americans." I think it's TV shows. I don't refer to French terms as "fancy."

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    It's not hard to find 'fancy french' on the web

                                  2. re: ttoommyy

                                    I will never think of dim sum the same way! Hysterical!

                                    1. re: ttoommyy

                                      Too true! I'm going to start calling it tapas (pronounced ta-pah') de chinois.

                                    1. re: mucho gordo

                                      It's pretentious for YOU. Not for many others.

                                      I'm more used to using "mise" vs. "I've prepped all of the ingredients for this part of the meal." I also use bouquet garni, chiffonade, et al. Use the term with which you're comfortable. If someone doesn't know what it means, they should have the wherewithall to ask.

                                  3. re: linguafood

                                    "stuff in place" is what I always think of when I hear Mise...

                                    1. re: linguafood

                                      Unless you're stir-frying, I find the whole mise en place concept totally insane for home cooks.

                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                        Wow, not me. If I'm not super-organized then guests arrive and it/I go off the tracks. I even go so far as to line things up in order on my counter :)

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          I'm of the "chop and drop" school: while one ingredient is cooking away, I prep the next. I find this a much more efficient use of my time than prepping everything in advance. If we're having company, the cooking is basically done before anyone arrives, but that's just my cooking style.

                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                            But what if the first thing you need to "chop and drop" is garlic, which is supposed to only saute for 30 seconds, and the next thing you are supposed to "chop and drop" is two onions? The two onions are going to take considerably more than 30 seconds to chop. That's one reason I do it (although I just think of it as prep work, as I'm not a professional). The second reason I do it is, if I get everything prepped in advance, I know I've prepped the correct items in the correct amounts. If I do it on the fly, inevitably I forget something or use the wrong amount. I guess I'm just not very good at multitasking in the kitchen. So for me, to NOT do it is insane.

                                            1. re: lisavf

                                              this is crucial for things like stir-fries...soups and stews are more forgiving, but the stuff that's cooked quick means you gotta "get all your sh*t together" ahead of time or it's going to end up charred.

                                        2. re: pikawicca

                                          Try baking without having all your "mise en place". It's a pain in the ass, too. And it's not insane for home cooks. It's just another way of organizing and planning ahead.

                                          1. re: Phurstluv

                                            Got that right, Phurstluv!

                                            Especially for baking, at home OR professionally.

                                            On a different note, for anyone who doesn't agree, just know when you're on that line and have tickets into next Tuesday, you darn well better have your mise en place done.

                                            Lucy

                                            1. re: Phurstluv

                                              The dirty little secret of mise en place is that it kills many ingredients, among them fresh herbs, grated cheeses, and citrus juices. All of these things begin to deteriorate as soon as they're grated/chopped/whatever. After they've sat around on your counter for 30 minutes or so, they've lost their zest.

                                              1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                                                You mean......... Foutaises!
                                                Celery doesn't go bad in 30 minutes!

                                                1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                                                  Well, don't you notice how your herbs look kind of sad after sitting around, chopped, for a while? Taste freshly grated parm and parm that's been grated for an hour. Likewise, lemon juice. I was a non-believer until I did the taste test, and I'm not asking anyone to depend on what I say. Just try it for yourself. Grated citrus zest is the best example.

                                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                                    Well, as a matter of fact, my herbs don't look sad at any point in their life in my kitchen. Perhaps that's because they are held in the fridge, bottom inch or so of their little stems cut off, joyfully displayed in a glass of water, tented with a plastic bag. Parsley can be 5-6 weeks old and it's better than it was in the store. When they eventually do become sad, it's time for them to meet their ultimate destiny in the garbage bin. I don't cook with 'sad' ingredients.

                                                    Parmesan grated for an hour? How doggone long does it take you to get ready to cook?

                                                    Citrus zest... Sorry, I don't buy that at all.

                                                    Lucy

                                                    1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                                                      Just gotta add something here...

                                                      Pika,

                                                      Do you really, truly believe lemon juice for hollandaise can be squeezed "a la minute" when the batch you're making involves three dozen egg yolks, six pounds of butter. six ounces of lemon juice and twelve ounces of water???

                                                      Oh, that has to be done, finished, before 7:00 AM because that's when the folks start wandering in for their Eggs Bennies breakfast.

                                                      Don't forget the poached eggs either. Or the English muffins.

                                                      Lucy

                                                      1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                                                        The day I'm making hollandaise with 3 dozen yolks, I'll give m-e-p a try.

                                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                                              That's really funny! Hahahahahahaha...

                                                              You got me, Pika!

                                                              Lucy

                                                  2. re: I used to know how to cook...

                                                    RIGHT???? Okay, Pika, not to pile on the rabbit, many herbs should be chopped "a la minute", but a mere 30 mins or less in a ramekin or bowl on your counter, in a home kitchen, will NOT destroy the ingredients' essence.

                                                    Do you really believe that most restaurants chop your parsley, etc, for your dishes after you order them??? Why do most sous chefs and prep cooks start their days at 6 am?? Their prepping the individual ingredients ahead of time. Trust me, Chefs like Thomas Keller would not have their sous' doing this busy work ahead of time if they knew the ingredients would begin to deteriorate.

                                                    1. re: Phurstluv

                                                      many herbs should be chopped "a la minute"
                                                      ~~~~~~~~~
                                                      uh-oh, there's that fancy French talk again ;)

                                                      1. re: Phurstluv

                                                        RIGHT???? Okay, Pika, not to pile on the rabbit, many herbs should be chopped "a la minute", but a mere 30 mins or less in a ramekin or bowl on your counter, in a home kitchen, will NOT destroy the ingredients' essence.
                                                        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
                                                        True that. Otherwise, professional chefs who cook in restaurant kitchens would be screwed. Pika, do you really believe that some of the ingredients being used in restaurant kitchens are prepped a la minute?

                                                  3. re: pikawicca

                                                    I totally got into mise en place when my kids were babies. I was chopping veggies for dinner while they were locked into high chairs at lunchtime, 'cause I knew they'd be melting down for the hour before dinner.

                                                    1. re: pikawicca

                                                      sometimes you make a bit of the mise en place by default - letting butter sit out to soften, or putting out eggs for them to get to room temp...

                                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                                        Why is mise "insane", pikawicca? I just made beef stroganoff for dinner tonight, and I had a small dishes with the minced shallots, the sliced mushrooms, the 2 Tbsp. of cognac, the 1/4 cup of beef stock, the seasoned beef tenderloin. Boom, boom, boom - all ingredients are added at their time, without something overcooking because I'm busy prepping another ingredient.

                                                        Perhaps you call that "stir-frying", but I don't see how it's not useful for many home cooks.

                                                        1. re: LindaWhit

                                                          I'm just saying that what you describe takes a lot longer for than home cook than the method I use. While the beef is browning, I'm chopping the mushrooms. I've got the bottle of cognac standing by, as well as the container of stock, ready to be added when needed. Why would I dirty extra dishes by pre-measuring these ingredients?

                                                          When baking, I assemble all ingredients (in their containers) to the left of my mixing bowl(s). As I add them, I move the containers to my right. This way, nothing is overlooked and I haven't wasted any time.

                                                          As to what goes on in restaurants, I can't imagine that they prep fresh herbs, cheeses, and zests all before service. But I will check with a chef friend of mine tomorrow.

                                                          1. re: pikawicca

                                                            But not everyone has the room in their kitchen to be able to have the ingredients in their original containers near where they need to use them - I most certainly don't! I have very little prep room between my stovetop and the sink - it's easier to prep and use appropriately sized mise dishes for the prepped foods vs. having the container of mushrooms, etc.

                                                            And when a recipe says sauté minced shallot for a minute, and then add a half lb. of cleaned and sliced mushrooms, there really isn't time to prep all of those mushrooms before they need to be added.

                                                            Nor can everyone cook without measuring. Some of us are good at saying a couple of glugs of wine is 1/3 cup; many are not.

                                                            1. re: LindaWhit

                                                              I am blessed with lots of counter space, enabling me to cook in a very different way than when I was confined to a galley kitchen. All cooks should feel free to adapt the cooking style that best suits them.

                                                            2. re: pikawicca

                                                              Whether you call it that or not, what you do is a type of mise en place. You don't have to measure everything out & dirty extra dishes.

                                                          2. re: pikawicca

                                                            If I don't get everything ready - especially when baking - I will undoubtedly realize, mid-recipe, that I am missing something and need to go to the store. It also makes complicated recipes run more smoothly because you have what you need right there and do not have to frantically chop something while stuff burns...

                                                        2. re: mucho gordo

                                                          I gather it's because the technique is French so we keep the word or phrase.

                                                          1. re: ttoommyy

                                                            Maybe I'm missing the definition of the phrase. I never studied french cooking but I did learn early on to have all the ingredients ready. I would hardly consider it a french technique.

                                                            1. re: ttoommyy

                                                              I'd say the quintessential example of mise-en-place is in stir-frying. I'm sure there are Chinese language terms for it but they might be harder for English speakers to spell and pronounce.

                                                            2. re: mucho gordo

                                                              Okay...as soon as you come up with one-word substitutes for things like saute, chiffonade, bain-marie, souffle, tapenade, puree...

                                                              The French IT industry overwhelmingly uses English terms for IT things (despite the best efforts of the Academie Francaise) because it's technical terms used in the native language of where the technical terms originated. Windows...email...etc.

                                                              So we use French words for a lot of cooking terms, because that's where the technique/recipe was created.

                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                100% agree with you. And if it's referred to as "a fancy French word for..." I would guess the speaker is casually defining it for someone who doen'ts know what it means. Making the listener/watcher not feel like a dummy. And the examples given, once understood, are mostly shorter than writing out an equivalent English phrase.

                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                  You are mentioning techniques. Gathering the ingredients is not a technique. Let's not confuse the two. I have no problem with sautee, puree, etc. I'd still like to know when or where one would need to say 'mise en place". Nobody seems able to answer that question.

                                                                  1. re: mucho gordo

                                                                    Actually, gathering the ingredients and having them ready to proceed with the recipe certainly is a technique. It's the first step. If incompletely or incorrectly done the cooking will not proceed as it should.

                                                                    As for when or where one would need to say mise en place, well, I'd say in instructing or describing to another how the dish (or complete meal, for that matter) should be done to achieve optimum results.

                                                                    Anyhow, it seems the OP is simply taking exception to a term used by a great many people. Why? I dunno...

                                                                    Lucy

                                                                    1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                                                                      No, I don't think the OP was taking exception to this, or any, French term. The way I read it, the OP was taking exception to people referring to common cooking terms as being a "Fancy French word."

                                                                      I had never really thought about this before reading this thread, but as I said upstream it does seem a little odd that when a term is French, Americans consider it "fancy" or even, as Mucho described, "pretentious." Yet we do not have this reaction to Italian, Spanish, German, etc. words.

                                                                      (And your screen name still makes me crack a smile :)

                                                                      1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                                                                        sure it's a technique...just as "running around the kitchen like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to find the cornstarch and the white pepper and I swear I had an egg in the refrigerator" is a technique.

                                                                        It could also be called "getting your sh*t together" but that's not quite as poetic.

                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                          I guess everything *does* sound better in French ;)

                                                                          1. re: gaffk

                                                                            Sorry, I said OP, I meant mucho gordo.

                                                                            Lucy (I really did used to know how to cook!!)

                                                                            1. re: I used to know how to cook...

                                                                              No apology needed . . .just trying to clarify my understanding of the OP.

                                                                    2. Maybe they say that because 90 or so percent of Americans are unfamiar with the terminology. The French have an Academy devoted to maintaining the "purity" of their language. Maybe we need to be like the Germans who concoct some horrific compound words to avoid using Latin-based ones e.g. "Dreikugelwirbelwannenbrennraum". Put that in your Bain Marie and poach it.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: Akitist

                                                                        Ha. Germans create compound words because they CAN. Not because they're afraid of using Latin-based ones.

                                                                        And I have no idea what that dreikugeldingensbummens is you mention '-)

                                                                      2. Granting the Daniel Webster Award to TV Chefs is on par with granting Sainthood to Hollywood celebrities. Who cares what they say? Heck I do not care what half (I am being generous here) of them cook. If the word, be it French, Latin, German, Yiddish, or any other language gets the point across efficiently, I'm for it.

                                                                        And let's not forget all those other pretentious Gallic words...French Fries, French Toast, French Kiss and French Roast coffee. Wow sounds like a great Sunday morning with Mrs J.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: jfood

                                                                          I agree jfood. Whatever language a word or term is in, I'll use it if it bets communicates my point or sentiment.

                                                                          If anyone can find English equivalents of shnorrer, schmuck, shyster, mishegas, ungapatchke and more I will be happy to use them but I've yet to discover English words that communicate the essence of the Yiddish as perfectly.

                                                                          And the same with French cooking terms. I will continue to say mise en place, chiffonade and bouquet garni with elan.

                                                                          1. re: laylag

                                                                            and shmear, for that matter

                                                                        2. My wife and I were in an upscale steakhouse in Philly and our when our weasel-like waiter told us about some specials, he said, "and this one comes with haricots verts". Then he peered over his nose and said very condescendingly, "Do we know what haricots verts are?"

                                                                          And then he says, "It's just a fancy French way of saying green beans."

                                                                          12 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Philly Ray

                                                                            My reply would have been: I know that condescending means no tip.

                                                                            1. re: Philly Ray

                                                                              To which, I hope, you replied, "Well, there goes your pourboire. Do we know what a pourboire is?"

                                                                              "It's just a fancy French way of saying tip."

                                                                              1. re: Isolda

                                                                                Parfait!!! Hope that wasn't too pretentious of me to say so en français. ;)

                                                                                1. re: Isolda

                                                                                  I was thinking I wouldn't even know how to respond to such a condescending waiter . . . that would have been the perfect response.

                                                                                  1. re: Isolda

                                                                                    ...or "embrasse mon queue you little shit....hows that for haricots vert"

                                                                                  2. re: Philly Ray

                                                                                    What a loser! Actually, haricots verts are a specific type of french green bean bred to be thinner and smaller than your usual say, blue lake green bean.

                                                                                    Yeah, that guy would have gotten about half his standard tip, if that.

                                                                                    1. re: Phurstluv

                                                                                      Unless of course, they were serving run-of-the-mill Green Giant green beans cut on the bias, and really the only thing "fancy" about them was the French label on the menu ;-)

                                                                                      1. re: momjamin

                                                                                        A local restaurant's blog mentioned they were serving fresh "varicose verts"--yum.

                                                                                          1. re: whs

                                                                                            I've always hated big veins in my green beans, so I'd probably avoid that restaurant.

                                                                                      2. re: Philly Ray

                                                                                        "It's just a fancy French way of saying green beans."

                                                                                        Aaarrrgghhhh!!!!!