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How do you define "gourmet"?

When someone says this is a "gourmet meal" or this is "gourmet food" what exactly is the criteria?

Is it just about expensive ingredients? Or does the technique or process in preparation play a role in what is "gourmet"? Surely, one can have a "gourmet meal" with inexpensive ingredients, right?

But is there a singular definition of "gourmet" ... or is it just something we know when we see it?

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  1. I looked it up a while back - DH and I were wondering the same thing. From what I read, it's basically using common or uncommon ingredients in a creative way. Though that's pretty nebulous, too. DH used to think that cooking on a commercial stove made one a gourmet cook, but I have disabused him of that assumption by cooking pretty good food on a Kitchenaid.

    And, no, I don't think it has to be expensive (though sometimes it is). There are plenty of interesting and creative things that Chowhounders do with vegetables, for instance, that are inexpensive and surely what many would consider gourmet.

    A can of tuna and some potato chips makes a casserole from the 60's ,but take a nice fresh tuna steak and some tiny potatoes, and you can make something that a restaurant would consider a gourmet dish. It's often in the quality of the ingredients and the preparation and presentation.
    This probably doesn't answer your question, but I think your last sentence is the answer. If we are fairly experienced and educated about food, we just know it when we see it.

    1. A meal that is prepared for a gourmand.

      3 Replies
      1. re: chefj

        I always felt the word gourmand had a negative connotation. Definitions of gourmet vary
        widely. I think is was originally used as a noun but has developed much wider meaning as
        an adjective.

        1. re: ferventfoodie

          What "gourmand" means to you will probably be heavily linked to your age, your religion, or your language, in which case the word may carry heavy connotations of gluttony, thanks to the way the French segment of the Holy Roman Catholic Church defines one of the Seven Deadly Sins. But yes, the word "gourmand", but not the word "gourmandise", usually means someone who likes great food and lots and lots and lots of it! All of which begs the question: Can a true gourmand truly enjoy a tasting menu??? '-)

          1. re: Caroline1

            Justin Wilson used to make the distiction something like ths:

            "A gourmet, he like the best food, the best you got.
            A gourmand, he like to lots of everything, a P-I-G hog!"

      2. For my own definition, it would have to do with the quality of the food - it could be very good ingredients, or an expert preparation. It would imply that there is some sort of preparation - so a ripe, off the tree peach is a fantastic ingredient, but not a gourmet dessert, unless it's prepared in some way.

        So common or inexpensive ingredients would work, *if* they were of good quality, or cooked in a way that made them exceptional. The present of expensive or unusual ingredients or preparation methods would not make it a gourmet meal unless the preparation was also good, other wise it's just a complicated mess, or a waste of good ingredients.

        1. I don't like gourmet cooking or "this" cooking or "that" cooking. I like good cooking.
          - James Beard

          29 Replies
          1. re: eclecticsynergy

            And that exactly defines a true gourmet, though Saint Jim would probably roar at me for saying so. The man adored good food much more than was good for him - a nice steak and a few Manhattans mid-afternoon was his idea of a harmless snack - but his grounding was in the plain but wide-ranging food of his Northwestern childhood: the fried chicken with cream gravy, the freshly-dug clams and the oysters, the tomatoes still hot from the sun, the new potatoes and the peas. It was this lovely, simple fare that made him ready for the wonders of French cuisine, because the stress on fine ingredients carefully prepared is common to both. And the ability to take deep pleasure in a dish of fresh haricots verts, simply steamed and buttered, as much as or more than some elaborate preparation of rare and expensive ingredients, is I think the very heart of what a gourmet is.

            1. re: Will Owen

              Are you defining "gourmet" or "a gourmet"?

              1. re: Chinon00

                A gourmet. I refuse to use it as an adjective under most circumstances. "Gourmet food" is about as meaningless a phrase as there is, because it implies that eating it transforms one into a "gourmet", which is just silly. A "gourmet cook" might be one whose food is pitched towards the finest palates in the crowd, but it's those palates' owners who bring the value into the room, not the merely rich pretenders who might as well be eating at Cheesecake Factory.

                1. re: Will Owen

                  ""Gourmet food" is about as meaningless a phrase as there is, because it implies that eating it transforms one into a "gourmet", which is just silly."

                  I do not know what that means. The food is the food irrespective of the audience consuming it and vice versa. Could you elaborate?

                  Also as I've mentioned down-thread I see the ADJECTIVE gourmet as just another approach or style of food/cooking; like say vegetarian or Thai. And like those and other styles, 'gourmet' style can be executed poorly or well.

                  1. re: Chinon00

                    Of course the food is the food, and that's all it is. To call it "gourmet food" has to mean SOMETHING. What? Any dish that is prepared properly could appeal to a gourmet as well as just some hungry guy with no functioning taste buds.

                    I very much disagree that "gourmet" is a specific style of food or cooking. I know for a fact that Mr. Beard would have adored those grilled trotters we ate in Chartres (since he included a recipe for exactly those in his "New James Beard"), but so do lots of folks who eat at that same restaurant just because it's in their neighborhood and it's not expensive. If Beard would have known about the place and sought it out, would that make it a Gourmet Mecca? Of course not. But he was undeniably a well-established gourmet.

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      "Of course the food is the food, and that's all it is. To call it "gourmet food" has to mean SOMETHING. What?"

                      As I said on another post topic:
                      "There is no hard line between gourmet and non-gourmet. But what I'd expect more often from a gourmet meal . . . are:

                      1) decadence (e.g. Beef filet with demi glace sauce topped with truffle studded foie gras)
                      2) rare and expensive ingredients (i.e. caviar, truffles, sea urchin, Sauternes)
                      3) attention to presentation

                      What I expect from ALL outstanding cooking (gourmet or otherwise) are the use of quality ingredients and refinement of cooking."

                      1. re: Chinon00

                        And no bottle of Heinz on the table.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          Heck, I thought that you told me that Heinz was a "gourmet" sauce! Bogus.

                          Hunt

                          1. re: Veggo

                            Heinz is essential for a burger and basket of fries; and eggs sometimes.

                            1. re: Veggo

                              Heinz 57 Sauce, if that's the Heinz you're referring to, is simply a bottled version (one of MANY) originally presented as a quick alternative to a classic Espagnole/Brown Sauce. I've always been curious what the 57th sauce was on Careme's once famous list of 78 compound sauces.... hmmmm? Could it be???

                            2. re: Chinon00

                              1) decadence (e.g. Beef filet with demi glace sauce topped with truffle studded foie gras) ..............................................Chinon00
                              ....................................................
                              I do believe I rather resent your example of "decadence". Those are the ingredients of a classic Tournedo Rossini, less the traditional crouton the beef filet is classically served upon. The basic bottom line is that in combination they simply taste GREAT together! They may not be Nouvelle Cuisine, or Cuisine Minceur, or in step with many of today's celebrity chefs, but in my book, while it may well be "old fashioned" or even "out of style",, I cannot agree that it is "decadent".

                              For me, if you want to see "decadent", there are plenty of foodcentric shows on TV today that focus on gigantic portions of "heart attack on a plate" type of over indulgence. THAT is "decadent" in action!

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                So obviously I'm not talking about quantity. But to garnish a beef filet with delicacies like truffles and foie gras is decadent as well. It is luxury on a plate.

                                1. re: Chinon00

                                  Again, I will argue my point that luxury ingredients do not necessarily "decadence" make! Tornedos Rossini is a classic dish. I wish you had used another example to illustrate your point. Maybe Careme's sugar or pastry extravaganzas? Or I can also go along with extreme sushi in which hundreds of dollars are paid for the privilege of eating an over-fished segment of tuna is decadent. I think high end American version of "omakasi" and high end "tasting menus" are both equally decadent. But I cannot say that tuna and rice OR tenderloin, truffles, and foi gras in combination are good definitions of "decadent." I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    Do you find the word decadent to be perjorative?

                                    1. re: Chinon00

                                      In a word, yes. But keep in mind that I am 78 years old, and my frame of reference may be somewhat "antiquated." '-)

                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                        It is now ten days later, and this came flashing back to me as I read an on-line description of French Isigny butter. The website described it as "decadent." And I suddenly realized that in today's world of diminishing language, "decadent" is used as if it is a synonym with "opulent." Had you said that those ingredients used in Tournedos Rossini are opulent, I would have agreed 100%. Decadent? I still say no. Just a much delayed afterthought. '-)

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          "And I suddenly realized that in today's world of diminishing language, "decadent" is used as if it is a synonym with "opulent."

                                          No, not opulence but more to excessiveness or indulgence. A Merriam Webster definition is as follows:

                                          dec * a * dent (adj)

                                          3 :characterized by or appealing to self-indulgence

                                          ______________________________________________________
                                          Edit: Opulence and decadence are fairly close in definition per Merriam Webster (i.e. abundance, profusion). So yeah I agree with your comparison.

                                          1. re: Chinon00

                                            I understand 'opulent' to refer to excess in a way that is visibly evident. A restaurant's decor might be described as 'opulent' whereas the food would only be described as such to the extent that it is gorgeously plated (and even that would be uncommon usage).

                                            "Decadent," meanwhile, I understand to be used pretty much as you've used it above. Food is commonly described as 'decadent' (including by reasonably respectable newspapers with decent editors such as the NYT) whereas 'opulent' is rarely used by those same sources in reference to food.

                                            This is the problem with relying too heavily on dictionary definitions to understand words - they often leave out these kinds of connotations. I don't know if 'decadent' used to have different connotations in usage, but its use to describe indulgent food has been acceptable and fairly common for as long as I can remember.

                                            1. re: cowboyardee

                                              When I read the word opulent the first thing that came to mind was jewelry. But then i looked it up and read synonyms for opulence such abundance and profusion; which fell in line with excess. So to be fair I edited my comments. However, I agree with your observation of opulence rarely being used in describing food.

                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                I'm using more of a lifetime of experience with words (I'm a talker and LOVE precise language) rather than dictionary definitions, though they usually back me up. My hard copy dictionary preferences are Webster's New World Dictionary, and the Oxford English Dictionary (unabridged). I have both in my personal library, but arthritic hands have pretty much reduced the latter to a showpiece.

                                                ANYWAY... "Decadence", in its original meaning, was somewhat related to "decay." In other words, starting from a good point and on its way down the slippery slope. That definition stood for many years, but was corrupted in the earlyish (how's that for correct lingo?) Twentieth Century when it was disparagingly used to describe a certain art movement (I think in Paris), but the artists took it up as a badge of honor and turned the tables on its meaning. It was meant as a put down, but as happens with so many things in life, it soon caught on as a "good thing" because the artists adapted it as a badge of honor, and it was misapplied so often it came into the vernacular much the way that "bad" came to mean "good" in teen jargon not so very long ago. But the original meaning is still perfectly acceptable, and it's the version I learned in my very long ago youth.

                                                In my book, words like "decadent," "opulent", and even "rococo" and "baroque" can be used well to describe certain foods. Historically, Careme's extravagant banquet presentations were often baroque AND rococo AND opulent all at the same time, but I would describe none of them as "decadent".

                                                On the other hand, the food that comes most readily to mind as "decadent" is the Swedish delicacy called surstromming. If you'e unfamiliar with this northern Swedish "delicacy," Google it, but don't say I didn't warn you. It is DECADENT!

                                                And if you have never seen a proper Haute Cuisine presentation of traditional Tournedos Rossini, the contents of which were mentioned by Chinon00 as "decadent," it is not decadent, in my book, but is a truly opulent and gorgeous presentation. But most of all, it is drop dead DELICIOUS...!!! One of my favorites, and used to be a specialty of my home kitchen, along with Beef Wellington. Both of which are making something of a come-back. YAY! I'm going to be in style again....!!!! '-)

                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                  "[Decadence] was meant as a put down, but as happens with so many things in life, it soon caught on as a "good thing" because the artists adapted it as a badge of honor, and it was misapplied so often it came into the vernacular much the way that "bad" came to mean "good" in teen jargon not so very long ago."

                                                  The Merriam Webster definition that I provided you doesn't mention "good thing" or "good". Again the definition I provided was: "characterized by or appealing to self-indulgence". To be precise.

                                                  1. re: Chinon00

                                                    Yes. I read what you wrote the first time. But did you read what I wrote? At no place did I say or suggest that Merriam Webster defined Decadent/decadence as "good." I think you didn't follow what I wrote very well.

                                                    The horse is dead.

                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                      Leaving the dictionaries closed for a moment my understanding of the traditional meaning of decandent is as you say decay; but as in moral decay (i.e. hedonistic behavior, satisfying every desire, Caligula-esque, debauchery). So from there the definition has come to include (in addition to the above) to mean merely excessive or indulgent. Having said that this later additional definition of the word decandence does not necessarily equal good or a good thing. It's just an approach.
                                                      We can agree to disagree whether Tournedos Rossini is "indulgent". This 2012 NYT article describes the dish as such as well as "sybarite":

                                                      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/29/din...

                                                      1. re: Chinon00

                                                        I've read the article. I've looked at all of the 10 slide show pictures that accompany it. I am familiar with Chef Soltner by reputation, primarily from thirty or forty (or more?) years ago when he was the headliner at Lutece.

                                                        That said,, SHAME on the guy who wrote the article AND on Andre Soltner for passing off counterfeit goods. Tournedos Rossini was NEVER served on "toast!" Nor was it served directly on a plate. It was classically served on a "crouton" (culinary French terminology of that bygone era) that had been sautéed in butter to crisp its surface and create a moisture barrier so that the rested steak would not make the crouton soggy, as it would on "toast". But once the steak and crouton were sliced through, it did an excellent job of "sopping up" the juices, as intended. The crouton was the exact same diameter as the tournedo (meat). The round cut of foie gras set atop it was just a bit smaller in diameter than the tournedo so there was a margin of nicely crusted beef peering out from under the liver. That was topped with SLICED Perigord truffle. In my ancient cookbooks of the era, Larousse Gastronomique calls for three slices of truffle, but Escoffier only calls for one. As in one large enough to fit the round of foie gras at the same ratio as it covers the tournedo. Neither Larousse nor Escoffier specify the sauce, but in the 50s when I was taught to make Tournedos Rossini by a European trained master chef, the classic sauce was Sauce Perigordine, which is basically a demi glace (and a really excellent demi glace comes with Madeira already in it, so no sense in adding more), and infused with Perigord truffles.

                                                        What they are passing off in this article as Tournedos Rossini puts me in mind of Ford Motor Company reintroducing the "Classic Ford Thunderbird." If it ain't got little round windows in the hard top shell, it ain't a classic Ford Thunderbird! Period. And if a Tournedo Rossini is not served on a crouton, or if the truffle is all chopped up (how do you know it's not canned truffle peels????), then in my ancient opinion, you are being short changed.

                                                        My best advice: Be cautious about what you read in newspapers or on the web. There is a lot of information out there that is just a bit too much to the left or right of accurate for my taste. And that's a real shame, because it is so easy to do research BEFORE writing!

                                                        But I did enjoy the writer's turn of phrase when he wrote of "the voluptuous pleasure of haute cuisine." One of the "voluptuous pleasures" of that era was that you were actually served enough sauce to taste and enjoy it without lifting the plate to your face and licking off the painted streak of a sauce the menu told you was delicious. I really hate taking any body else's word for things like that!

                                                        I guess you're right. We'll just agree to disagree. '-)

                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                            "And if a Tournedo Rossini is not served on a crouton, or if the truffle is all chopped up (how do you know it's not canned truffle peels????), then in my ancient opinion, you are being short changed."

                                                            Per the article the chopped truffles as well as truffle juice are added to the sauce while one or two sliced truffles are placed on top:

                                                            "Toast two buttered spheres of bread. Top them with warm-from-the-pan filets mignons. Crown them with a slice of hot foie gras. Then anoint these little monuments of luxury with a sliced truffle or two and a small waterfall of the aforementioned sauce."

                                                            1. re: Chinon00

                                                              David, you are a very amusing guy. I will leave you to worship at the feet of the New York Times and Merriam Webster. Enjoy.

                                                            2. re: Caroline1

                                                              Interesting. Come to think of it, I have seen 'decadent' used to imply a sense of moral decay in regards to behavior. Though I can't recall ever seeing it used with the same connotations with respect to food. Perhaps its application to food has only become commonplace after the reclaiming of the word. Couldn't say. I'm an enthusiastic but amateur linguist, and my history (even recent history) is spotty.

                                                              I'm sometimes a minority in my stance, but I quite like how terms change connotations and definitions over time, either via the kind of reclaiming you've mentioned or even through simple widespread misuse. I think it makes language richer and more interesting.

                                                              For whatever it's worth, Tournedos Rossini fits my adopted definition of 'decadent' food.

                                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                "I'm sometimes a minority in my stance, but I quite like how terms change connotations and definitions over time, either via the kind of reclaiming you've mentioned or even through simple widespread misuse. I think it makes language richer and more interesting."

                                                                I don't think that the word's meaning has changed it has just been amended. It still means moral decay but other definitions exist for it too.

                      2. As the saying goes, "One man's meat is another man's poisson." I always try to take into account the person using the term, and what they are likely to mean by it. It's a pretty squishy word.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Caroline1

                          Yes to this. I was taken to a "gourmet" restaurant by an enterprising young man who was "Very VERY" serious about food.
                          Applebee's, okay?
                          Applebee's. <facepalm>
                          Fade.

                          1. re: mamachef

                            I suspect the emphasis goes on YOUNG man? A charming story, and I have to assume he will cringe at his suggestion in another decade or two. But also a neat kid anxious to share and give at his own level of development. What a sweetheart! Thanks for sharing, mammachef. We can only wish there were more like him!

                            1. re: mamachef

                              That is SO funny Mamachef! I am sure his intentions were good, if misguided.

                              Perhaps give him a copy of St. Jim's 'Delights and Prejudices" to truly open his mind about serious food:)