HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >

Discussion

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

LOCKED DISCUSSION

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!!!!!

                                                                                      3. I would classify 'fancy French' as an idiom, or something close to that. Sometimes the phrase is 'fancy sounding French words'. 'Fancy' in this usage does not mean the word is special in French, but rather that it can sound fancy to an English speaker. It is similar to highfalutin.

                                                                                        http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/atoz.htm

                                                                                        10 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                                          OK, I started this thread a couple of hours ago and there are now 81 responses! lol

                                                                                          "'Fancy' in this usage does not mean the word is special in French, but rather that it can sound fancy to an English speaker."

                                                                                          But that's just my point. Why does it sound "fancy?" Like I said, maybe to an 8 year old, but to adults?

                                                                                          1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                            It sounds fancy because French is a romance language, named so because it sounds more romantic than say, English, German, and other Germanic languages.

                                                                                            Doesn't it sound more fancy to say, "Quels sont les noix vous?" than, "What are you nuts?" Say it fast, too, it sounds much more fluid and pretty than the English translation.

                                                                                            1. re: Phurstluv

                                                                                              Maybe it sounds fancier, but it doesn't actually mean anything... :)

                                                                                              1. re: Phurstluv

                                                                                                Romance languages aren't called Romance languages because they're more suitable for kissing and more. They're called that because they derive from Latin, the language of the Roman civiliation.

                                                                                                1. re: Indy 67

                                                                                                  Thank you Indy 67; I was just about to say the same thing.

                                                                                                2. re: Phurstluv

                                                                                                  But many languages are Romance languages (Italian, Spanish, etc) and are not considered "fancy."

                                                                                                  I wonder if these French cooking terms are considered fancy because French restaurants in the US were traditionally high end, while Italian and other ethnics were more accessible?

                                                                                                  1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                    In some uses 'fancy' may refer to a profession culinary term.

                                                                                                    There was a time when known French language and culture were a sign of being educated and well bred.

                                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                                      I think it's all in the context. If you ask the 18 year old pimply faced waiter at Apblebees, if the veggie side includes "haricort verts", then your an ass.

                                                                                                      Asking about haricort verts on Chowhound....not an ass.

                                                                                                3. Maybe the French are now saying "does your mise en place contain EVOO?"
                                                                                                  Sometimes we just sound stupid when the words don't fit the situation.

                                                                                                  1. French words are used in cooking. Alert the media.

                                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                      Umm, don't you mean they are used in haute cuisine?

                                                                                                      1. re: gaffk

                                                                                                        :) These are great examples besides being fun.

                                                                                                        1. re: gaffk

                                                                                                          I tried to argue in another post that 'fancy' meant these words were fancy sounding to English speakers. But if all these terms come from haute cuisine (high 'class' cooking), maybe they also sound fancy in French as well.

                                                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                                                            no, in French they just sound like words.

                                                                                                      2. You know, maybe some posters are disparaging what they feel is "fancy French" because they've heard it used in the same way some of the contestants on Chopped do. For example, referring to some concoction they've come up with as "confit" when it's not even close to confit. Annoys me beyond belief.

                                                                                                        Kinda like putting lipstick on a pig...

                                                                                                        I always get a kick out of it when the judges call them out on it!

                                                                                                        Lucy

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

                                                                                                          I agree with you, Lucy. My husband always used to comment that "who cares what they call it," and if these were home chefs bringing a dish to a potluck, he might have a point, but when it's a restaurant chef who is presumably preparing a menu, he'd better be able to communicate to the diner what exactly they'll be eating.

                                                                                                          Of course, I don't say boo because it's the only food/cooking show he'll watch, and I don't want to dissuade him.

                                                                                                        2. as a translator, I love you ttommyy. You made my day.

                                                                                                          The French use English words EVERY SINGLE DAY.
                                                                                                          I refuse to say "diced onions, carrots, and celery" when "mirepoix" will suffice.
                                                                                                          And when it comes to wine, I've never heard pinot "black" instead of pinot noir. And what shall we call an eclair or a baguette? Shall we stop asking for a "reservation"?

                                                                                                          And if we get rid of mise en place, I vote to remove the word "smorgasbord" from our vocabulary.

                                                                                                          15 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: PotatoPuff

                                                                                                            Better watch out PotatoPuff..... we will start calling you Pierogi.

                                                                                                            1. re: sedimental

                                                                                                              And sedimental will become that brown gunk at the edge of the water.

                                                                                                                1. re: sedimental

                                                                                                                  Would you prefer that brown gunk at the bottom of the wine?

                                                                                                                  1. re: gaffk

                                                                                                                    Yes. that was my idea when I named myself after sediment. It sounded much nicer than "brown gunk".

                                                                                                                    1. re: sedimental

                                                                                                                      But sediment is so fancy and pretentious, it's a wonder anyone even picked up on its meaning.

                                                                                                              1. re: PotatoPuff

                                                                                                                Gosh PotatoPuff, don't you know an eclair would be called a long skinny thing made out of the same dough you use to make a cream puff??? (tee hee)

                                                                                                                'course you could shorten the dough part by simply saying pate au choux. But that's gettin' pretty durn fancy if you ask me!

                                                                                                                Lucy

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

                                                                                                                  pate au choux? bless you!

                                                                                                                  or perhaps i should say à tes souhaits ;)

                                                                                                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                                                                    Or maybe Jai Shri Krishna? Standard greeting of my DIL's Gujarati relatives... I believe it's roughly equivalent to God bless you.

                                                                                                                    I like it better than Gesundheit.

                                                                                                                    Lucy

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

                                                                                                                    Or you could shorten that to napa buns (elongated cabbage buns).

                                                                                                                  3. re: PotatoPuff

                                                                                                                    What do say if the mix is 'onions, tomatoes and bell peppers'? or if the mix contains garlic? dice ham?

                                                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                      Mirepoix sometimes does contain ham.

                                                                                                                      Anyway, the chef would probably say, "Préparer un mirepoix d'oignons en dés, des tomates et des poivrons".

                                                                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                        Sofrito, save for the ham part.

                                                                                                                        1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                                          Yes, that's the word I had in mind.

                                                                                                                          There's an interesting list of various national combinations in this WIki article on 'holy trinity'
                                                                                                                          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_tri...

                                                                                                                          http://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/n...
                                                                                                                          has an interesting catalog of various food related sayings and phrases.

                                                                                                                    2. Quite simply, using fancy words makes the food taste better.

                                                                                                                      Like a cocktail is not a cocktail in the wrong stemware, Garnishing with a "rough chop" of basil, rather than a chiffonade would taste like a Martini that you called a "Glass of gin"

                                                                                                                      1. Geeze... You people are CRAZY!!!

                                                                                                                        Lucy

                                                                                                                        P.S. So am I...

                                                                                                                          1. Years ago in the New Yorker I saw a cartoon which is still one of my favorites.
                                                                                                                            A waiter in fancy clothes presents a customer with a large plate holding a large charred block.

                                                                                                                            "Oui, monsieur, it is a fried telephone book. We gave it a French name, and you ordered it."

                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                            1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                                                              Sounds like the Prairie Home Companion's "Cafe Boeuf, which Keillor pronounced "berf"". My favorite installment was when the snooty French waiter announced he was moving on to a better restaurant, in "Bwaazzz" (Boise).

                                                                                                                            2. Well, historically (in the 19th century, that is, and up to the mid-20th really) menus would always be translated into French whatever was being served. So instead of a menu saying 'roast beef, roast potatoes and boiled peas' (I take a very un-French meal to make the point) it would say 'roti de boeuf, pommes de terre et petits pois à l'anglaise'. There are even funnier examples of really British things (to stick to my own national perspective) like steak-and-kidney pudding or whatever being clumsily translated into French because French was seen to be the only acceptable language of cookery. Menu archives are fascinating for this reason (look at the Titanic's menus, for example).

                                                                                                                              Now we've MOSTLY got over using French words for things just because it's considered 'elegant'. But there are some cases where it still hasn't happened, so I think it's fair enough for chefs to point out that it's 'just a fancy French word for xyz' because traditionally, French words were used where English ones would do PRECISELY because it was considered 'fancy' and fashionable and elegant.

                                                                                                                              There's a continuing reaction against this, one example of which is that crème brûlée is increasingly listened on UK menus as 'burnt cream'. (This is also to emphasise claims of it being as much an English invention as a French dish, though, I suppose.)

                                                                                                                              35 Replies
                                                                                                                              1. re: chochotte

                                                                                                                                Hi all,

                                                                                                                                Just for fun, take a look at the link to the White House Cook Book in the thread linked below.

                                                                                                                                Compare the 'regular' Menus and the Special Menus, which include General Grant's Birthday Dinner and Mrs. Cleveland's Wedding Lunch.

                                                                                                                                Very few French words in the regular ones. Were the dishes in the Special Menus all that different?

                                                                                                                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/557851

                                                                                                                                Lucy

                                                                                                                                1. re: chochotte

                                                                                                                                  Foodtimeline has a 19c menu from a saloon in Tombstone
                                                                                                                                  http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodpione...
                                                                                                                                  " Gambling and concert saloons as well as hotel bars offered their well-heeled customers fancy fare printed on equally fancy menus, often in broken French..."

                                                                                                                                  The menu includes things like:

                                                                                                                                  Columbia River Salmon, au Beurre Noir
                                                                                                                                  Filet a Boeuf, a la Financier
                                                                                                                                  Pinons a Poulett, aux Champignons
                                                                                                                                  Cream Fricasse of Chicken, Asparagus Points
                                                                                                                                  Lapine Domestique, a la Matire d'Hote
                                                                                                                                  Casserole d'Ritz aux Oeufs, a la Chinoise
                                                                                                                                  California Fresh Peach, a la Conde

                                                                                                                                  "This dinner will be served for 50 cents."

                                                                                                                                  1. re: chochotte

                                                                                                                                    Gotta' admit, the French win on this one: creme brulee sounds delicious; burnt cream, not so much. And yes, I know it's the same dish, but I think there must be a better substitute than burnt for brulee.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: gaffk

                                                                                                                                      "Gotta' admit, the French win on this one: creme brulee sounds delicious; burnt cream, not so much."

                                                                                                                                      Yes, to your ears it sounds better because the French words are "foreign" to you. It's as if we are conditioned to automaticvally think something in another language (especially French) sounds better. But if you were a native French speaker, you to would be hearing "burnt cream" when you heard the words creme brulee. My point is that they may sound fancy, but to the native speakers they are just plain, everyday words.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                        Does that apply to Italian as well? I just read that your favorite comfort food is a fancy Italian phrase meaning 'noodles and beans'. :)

                                                                                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                          lol Past fagioli sounds fancy by no stretch of the imagination...it's actually kind of harsh sounding to me. And even worse is the Italian-American bastardization: pasta "fazool."

                                                                                                                                          But back to the point...my beef (boeuf?) is not with calling things by their foreign names; it's saying they sound "fancy" just because it's in another language. I used the words "pasta fagioli" because that's what the dish is called; it's synonymous with that paricular preparation of noodles and beans. If I had just written "noodles and beans" no one would have known I meant the particular dish I am referring to. But in no way am I thinking that "pasta fagioli" sounds fancier or better than "noodles and beans."

                                                                                                                                          1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                            The name of the dish is actually "pasta e fagioli".

                                                                                                                                            1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                                                              which reminds me of Charlie Weaver's favorite dish: donkey fazoo ( I'm showing my age....sorry)

                                                                                                                                            2. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                              Using French or a French derived word to sound fancy, educated, or high class has deep roots in English - back to the days when French speaking Vikings (Normans) displaced the Saxon lords.

                                                                                                                                              Add to that the dominance of the French in what was thought of as fine dining for at least a century (1850-1950). French is the language of haute cuisine. Many professional cooking terms (and techniques) come from the French.

                                                                                                                                              Would you have this beef it we habitually talked about 'fancy Italian words'?

                                                                                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                "Would you have this beef it we habitually talked about 'fancy Italian words'?"

                                                                                                                                                Most definitlely. And probably even more so since I speak some Italian and to me they are just words; there's nothing fancy about them. I have nothing at all against the French or their language; my point is simply that so many people think things sound "fancy" in French (and other languages) when it reality, to those native speakers, they are just everyday words.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                                  but does it matter whether the words sound ordinary to French speakers or not? If I think they sound fancy, and (most) of my listeners agree, why can't I use that adjective? Same goes if I just think all French speaking is fancy, or that people who insist on using French are being fancy (or elitist or show off or what ever).

                                                                                                                                                  Anyways, I think you are reading a lot more into that phrase than most users.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                    When I was a kid my friends and I would think some foreign words, especially French, sounded fancy. Now as an adult I just can't wrap my head around the concept of French words sounding "fancy." But that's just me; obviously there are many, many people who do which prompted me to start this thread. I'm in no way saying everyone must think like me; I just posted this to let off a little steam and see what others think. :)

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                                    well, italian restaurants often describe a dish as "al forno," "alla milanese," etc, and may mix english and italian food names on menus: "roast chicken al prosciutto. . ."

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                      You know, nobody says a word about the French and Italian words used in music.

                                                                                                                                                      Are they somehow less uppity?

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                        Only the allegro or grandioso pieces.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                          or latin terminology used in science/medicine. at some point folks have to look at the history of any discipline, and give a name to objects and techniques. the fact that many objects and techniques in the *culinary* field are named after their (french) origin isn't really a fluke. in this day&age there is room for everybody's culinary terms, though-- wok hai next to sofrito next to chiffonade next to, whatever-- beans on toast.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                            "in this day&age there is room for everybody's culinary terms, though-- wok hai next to sofrito next to chiffonade next to, whatever-- beans on toast."

                                                                                                                                                            I agree wholeheartedly soupkitten. My original beef when I wrote this post was that I find it silly when people think these foreign (especially French) words are "fancy" while in actuality they are just words. Unfortunately the thread quickly turned into a lot of posters thinking I was upset with the actual use of these particular foreign words and phrases, which is far from the truth.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                                              if only people actually *read* the OP before they replied, eh?

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: linguafood

                                                                                                                                                                Yes, that would be nice. But I do realize that some people just jump into the fray when a post has gotten a lot of responses and inevitably wind up responding to an offshoot thread. Oh well...

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                                                  um, i read your op, and your follow up posts. if the hungarians had more to do with gastronomy, there would be more widely used hungarian cooking terms. i don't think it's helpful to draw a bull's eye on the french, although perhaps you didn't consider that when you posted the op. some of the sentiments expressed here have been pretty ugly.

                                                                                                                                                                  many specific terms are precise in their meaning, and there is no succinct expression for them in english (which i only use as an example because that's how we're communicating--you could as well say russian or cantonese or hindi). someone offered "rough chop" as an alternate for chiffonade, and that's incorrect and inadequate.

                                                                                                                                                                  your beef appears to be the word "fancy" when used by people who are demonstrating/educating culinary techniques and introducing novice cooks to a new culinary term. which likely will be french. if someone were giving an introductory anatomy class, s/he may just as well say, wrt: pollex, "in anatomy, it's just a fancy latin word for thumb." educators often try to draw people's attention to terms in this way. instead of saying it was a civil war battle, the teacher will cue a class: it was an *important* civil war battle. it's a *special* technique. it is a *fancy* word. helps people focus on a specific term, technique, or event, they want to be able to repeat it and feel more educated, and they don't want to be intimidated, so the accompanying explanation is helpful.

                                                                                                                                                                  have you ever taught a cooking class?

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                                    All of the phrases that the OP listed are defined in the Larousse Gastronomique. May be 'fancy French word' is just short hand for 'a formal French culinary term (as defined in the LG)'.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                                      "have you ever taught a cooking class?"

                                                                                                                                                                      Yes, I have.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                                                        so how do you introduce a new (to them) culinary term to a class of novice cooks? do you just use the term and hope they pick up the meaning? do you introduce a foreign language term by explaining in english what it means? hand out a glossary sheet? wave off any questions and tell everyone to google it?

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                                          For example, if I am cutting up basil to add to a tomato sauce, I would I say, "This particular cut is called chiffonade; that is a French culinary term for when something is cut into long strips. The root of the word is chiffon, which when translated into English, means rags or cloth. You can see by the way I've cut this basil why the cut is called chiffonade; they sort of resemble strips of cloth or rags."

                                                                                                                                                                          Am I doing something wrong?

                                                                                                                                                                          My problem is when an instructor uses the word "fancy" assuming the students will be intimidated by the French term and therefore assumes he has to put them at ease by belittling the term and using the word "fancy." I think it is unneccesary and does the French language a disservice.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                                                            I see 'fancy' as just an informal synonym to your 'culinary term ... root word...'. In a classroom your long winded version is great; on a TV show the producers might object, saying that you are being too formal - unless the Cooking Channel execs are looking for an instructor that is the polar opposite to Nadia G. :)

                                                                                                                                                                            Does any one remember how Julia introduced French culinary terms on her shows?

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                                                              no you aren't doing anything wrong, i was only curious. i do think you are overthinking the word "fancy." i think many people, especially folks trying to teach cooking techniques under media-imposed time constraints, are just trying to get a few points across during a cohesive demo and just use this word that offends you-- or "french culinary term," or "french word," as shorthand for "i am now introducing a specific term that you may not be familiar with"-- they are not trying to intimidate their students or belittle culinary terms or trash the entire french language-- i mean really, that's a bit much. i don't think it's necessarily a given that the average novice cook speaks any french or has been to france or any former french colony. heck i live in a former french colony, and nobody speaks french around here.

                                                                                                                                                                              everybody's teaching style is different, and if a high school history teacher wants to come in dressed like george washington, i think it's more important to see if his stunt actually grabs the students' attention and enhances their learning. i am less likely to get caught up nitpicking whether he's using a period timepiece or whether his old-timey-look buckle shoes have inauthentic synthetic soles or not, i'm more interested in the impact he makes as a teacher, and whether the students retain anything valuable from the class. just my opinion.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                                                "i do think you are overthinking the word "fancy." "

                                                                                                                                                                                I think we need to revisit my original post and realize that I take exception with the phrase "it's just a fancy French word for" as well as the word "fancy." To me, it's as if the person saying this is talking down to his audience and at the same time disparaging the French language. And I still stand by original thought that in the end...French words are just words; nothing more or less.

                                                                                                                                                                                OK. Uncle. I give up. Those are my last words on the subject. I never thought this post would get up to 174 responses. Thanks to all for your input.

                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                                                                +1 to ttoommyy's comment @ 9:30

                                                                                                                                                                                It's not a fancy word, it's a French word.

                                                                                                                                                                                That's all.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                                  okay, so if i understand you correctly: you think that everyone worldwide speaks and understands french, or should? i personally have never used the phrase "fancy french word"-- i demonstrate the technique first and then introduce the term. i don't really care if people retain the french name for the technique, as long as they get the technique and it is useful and interesting to them-- but imo people like to learn the term, especially if they like the technique. i am wondering, if this is SO offensive, what people should do about it-- should we immediately burn the cookbooks of any cook who uses the word "fancy," switch off their show when applicable, disregard anything they are trying to convey as an insult to an entire country, and/or their entire audience? should a red phone ring on eric ripert's desk every time someone publicly utters the phrase "fancy french word?" do we ignore the fact that televised cooking shorts are heavily produced media pieces, same as any other show on tv? why not nitpick to death a tv chef's basic technique, rather than "their" (more likely, their exec producer's) choice of word/phrase during the demonstration?

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                                                    But you're simply confirming both ttoommyy's and sunshine's point of view. You clearly understand that a chef's use of a French word isn't fancy. It's nothing nore than the routine vocabulary of people who have been trained to cook professionally, especially those trained classically in French cuisine.

                                                                                                                                                                                    No one says "fancy engineering term" when an engineer uses the phrase "nominal" instead of the more common term "right-angle." No one says "fancy medical term" when a doctor says "resolving hematoma" instead of "a bruise that's healing." I can't think of another profession where a person in the field is accused of using fancy language when he is doing nothing more than using the agreed-upon vocabulary of the field.

                                                                                                                                                                                    I remember the beginning months and years of the space program. The astronauts and engineers were using new words that meant nothing to the layman. However, we were so dazzled by the space program's achievements and so eager to share in its excitement that we learned the jargon of the program.

                                                                                                                                                                                    It's frankly sad that cooking has gotten saddled with accusations of snobbery or pomposity when people use the classic jargon. The cooking of Edna Lewis takes just as much skill and just as much reverence for the raw ingredients as the cooking of a multi-starred chef. I suspect Ms Lewis had as much respect for her peers who said "mise en place" as those individuals had for her without the French terminology.

                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                                            "i don't think it's helpful to draw a bull's eye on the french, although perhaps you didn't consider that when you posted the op. some of the sentiments expressed here have been pretty ugly."

                                                                                                                                                                            No I didn't and I don't think I should have had to.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                                                              No it's amazing how people have misinterpreted your original post and really taken you to task for opinions that are largely opposite of how I read the intent of your original post.

                                                                                                                                                      2. re: ttoommyy

                                                                                                                                                        What a great point you make and I hadn't actually ever thought this out either. You're right that "creme brulee" sounds so much better to us non- French speakers because we're not literally translating it in our heads as "burnt cream". Great comment ttoommyy!

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: schmoopy

                                                                                                                                                          Bless you schmoopy for understanding this.

                                                                                                                                                  3. If you've been trained or have attended a culinary school based on French techniques you learn the terminology and tend to use it. But then there's just plain old showboating. Professional vs. amateur. No offense intended. Literally SOME French terms would be lost in translation.

                                                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: letsindulge

                                                                                                                                                      during the first couple of weeks at culinary school, we had some general introductory classes before the regular schedule started. And one of them was French cooking terms. You started using those terms on day one and they became a natural part of your vocabulary. After that, I have worked with many chefs and cooks from different countries and they were all trained to use the same French cooking terms. Made it a lot easier when not everyone's native tongue was English.

                                                                                                                                                      I wonder if the Anglo Saxons were thinking the same thing about the fancy Norman words being used. It's cow! Not boeuf!

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Sooeygun

                                                                                                                                                        We still use the Norman derived 'beef' (and 'pork')

                                                                                                                                                        Some sources attribute 30% of our (English) words to French.

                                                                                                                                                    2. I grew up on mamaliga, a Romanian corn meal mush. We ate it fried, baked with cheese. Yum. No one paid it any mind but use the Italian "polenta" and everyone genuflects.

                                                                                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                      1. re: ola

                                                                                                                                                        and it's roots even deeper in the Americas, being called corn mush, Indian mush or hasty pudding - with a certain overlap with grits. The French also have their version and names (Las pous), as described in Wolfert's SW France book.

                                                                                                                                                        I suspect 'polenta' got it's elevated status with the introduction of northern Italian cooking to American restaurants and cookbooks. The older Italian-American cooking was inspired more by southern Italian regions.

                                                                                                                                                        There are plenty of threads about incorrect usage of Italian words and food names. On Chow defenders of 'correct Italian' out number (or at least out-shout) the defenders of French or other languages and cultures.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                          the first time I ever considered making polenta, I was reading through the recipe when it hit me...it's cornmeal mush like my grandma used to make! (Hoosier girl here)

                                                                                                                                                          Sure stripped the glamour out of THAT term!

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                            Same here, Sunshine.

                                                                                                                                                            Plain ole' cornmeal mush. Which is pretty darn good chilled, cut and fried!

                                                                                                                                                            Lucy

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

                                                                                                                                                              Fry them in goose fat, and you can call them Armottes. They'll go great with your baked beans, err cassoulet.

                                                                                                                                                      2. Knowing some of those "fancy French terms" can also go a long way toward getting you a meal you want to eat if you ever get the opportunity to visit a French-speaking country.

                                                                                                                                                        1. Not only were the French the innovators in establishing formal culinary terms, but French was for a long time the formal language of diplomacy - through most if not all of the 19th century.
                                                                                                                                                          It was more common then for French to be the second language of English-speakers than it has been for the last half-century. It's my understanding that learning a foreign languarge is no longer part of the typical high school curriculum in America Although we now know that younger children learn foreign tongues more easily than teenagers and adults, I get the impression that if young children are being taught another language it is most often Spanish or Mandarin. So French words are more "foreign" to younger Americans than to baby boomers. Another factor contributing to the characterization of French terms as "fancy" is the complex spelling. Compared to other romance languages, there are multiple ways of signifying the same sound. This makes the language more daunting to learn than its close relatives, Italian and Spanish. German is considered more difficult than the romance languages, because it has three genders and the umlauts are hard sounds to learn, but the spelling rules are straightforward. If you hear a correctly-pronounced German word, you can spell it.

                                                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                          1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                                                                            Good point, grey. French is still the official language of the UN.

                                                                                                                                                          2. This thread about French being "fancy" brings to mind the old joke (gag from a movie/play?) about the pretentious English speaker who throws "quel fromage!" into the conversation (meaning "quel dommage") to sound sophisticated.

                                                                                                                                                            1. i *still* want to know if a red phone should ring on eric ripert's desk every time someone utters the phrase "fancy french word." :)

                                                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                                                                                                                                Oooh, if he'll call me on that phone, I'll take back all of my postings and try to use "fancy French food" at least twice a day ;)

                                                                                                                                                              2. This thread seems to have gone off on a tangent based on a misunderstanding of the OP and then resolved itself, so we're going to lock it now.