Ten menu clichés
Have you noticed how very flowery the language on restaurant menus has become?
It seems that chefs (or possibly restaurant managers) are trying to outdo themselves and that there’s some secret competition to see who can develop the fanciest language.
There was time (see the image above) when restaurants were content to describe their food plainly.
You would be unlikely to see ‘stewed tomatoes’ on a menu these days – it would more than likely be ‘luscious vine-ripened Italian tomatoes simmered in natural organic jus’ or some such nonsense.
Just imagine the menu above if one of today’s culinary poets got hold of it.
If nothing else, it would have to be ten pages long.
A good example is ‘grilled to perfection’. Almost everyone mentions this when asked about menu clichés. Understandably.
Anything that claims to be done ‘to perfection’ is probably a misnomer, but there’s also the fact that perfection is rarely achieved one hundred percent of the time. Anywhere.
Here are ten of the most irritating menu clichés
This is surely one of the worst. Menu items now have things ‘drizzled’ onto them. We’ve become so used to it, we’ve probably forgotten that ‘drizzled’ is quite an unappetising word, really.
Nevertheless, chefs today are busy drizzling balsamic this over that. A simple ice cream is probably drizzled with chocolate sauce. Sometimes, to add insult to injury, sauces, oils and vinegars are ‘lavishly’ drizzled or ‘lightly drizzled’. Do they have a particular member of the kitchen staff who is responsible for drizzling?
These drizzles might well be infused, these days. So many menu items are. Items could be herb-, beer-, chili-or vodka- infused. You name it, they’ll make an infusion from it. I suspect it’s used when they really mean ‘marinated’.
An infusion, after all, means that something – usually dried such as tea or dried herbs – have been soaked in water. ‘Beer-infused burgers’ makes no sense whatsoever.
Or even worse, ‘homemade’. That always gives me vision of the chef cycling work with homemade goods in basket that he has made in his horrible scruffy kitchen at home. But ‘housemade’ is just as bad. Your ‘housemade mayonnaise au poivre’ is probably Hellman’s with a pepper grinder waved over it.
And really, I expect everything in your restaurant to be housemade especially at those prices. Otherwise I could have introduced the Hellman’s to the pepper grinder at home.
CATCH OF THE DAY
If I am at a waterfront restaurant in quaint fishing village in the South of France, I might believe that your fish of the day was caught locally this morning by gnarled, traditional fishermen who delivered their fresh catch to you this morning. But the further away your restaurant is from the ocean, the less likely I am to believe that it really is the catch of the day.
And besides, don’t think that no-one noticed the delivery truck outside your door earlier bearing the legend ‘Fred’s Finest Frozen Fish’.
If it’s not infused, housemade or drizzled with something, then it’s likely to be ‘roasted’. When did ‘roast’ turn into ‘roasted’? When did roast potatoes transform themselves into ‘roasted potatoes’? Everything that has seen the inside of an oven (and sometimes not even that) is now ‘roasted’.
One is a verb, one is an adjective. ‘This is some roast (adjective) corn. I roasted (verb) it in the oven’. Somewhere along the line, someone decided that a roasted parsnip sounded posher that a roast parsnip.A parsnip by any other name…
Menus today abound with artisan this and artisan that. Bung in the odd ‘artisan’ or ‘organic’ and you’re well on your way to creating the perfect clichéd menu. ‘Artisan’ refers to person who works in a skilled trade making goods by hand. So yes, by a stretch of the imagination, bread from a local bakery could be describes as ‘artisan’. Just.
Are your cheeses really artisan? Are they truly handmade? And as for ‘artisan pizza’…. But yes, it’s a lovely marketing word that means nothing in a menu context.
What does ‘scampi’ mean? It means ‘shrimp’. There is really no such dish, traditionally, as scampi. Correction, there are many. It’s just a word used to describe a variety of shrimp dishes. A scampi dish in Manchester will be completely different to a scampi in Naples.
In Naples you’ll get shrimp in garlic and butter, in Manchester the shrimp is more likely to be breaded, fried and served with tartare sauce. So, because ‘scampi’ means ‘shrimp’ those menu poets who are writing ‘shrimp scampi’ are actually writing ‘shrimp shrimp’.
I know that many people, myself included, want to eat lighter food these days. But that’s the point – ‘lighter’ not ‘liter’. But I’m puzzled when I try to figure out why menu poets write about ‘housemade lite salad dressing’ or ‘drizzled with lite tomato infusion’.
A little creativity is supposedly permissible in the naming of products and businesses (like the regrettable Dunkin’ Donuts) but just because there are beers that have ‘lite’ in their trade names, that doesn’t means that the spelling of’ ‘light’ has been revolutionised.
The menu poets like French, there’s no doubt about that. That’s why we often see the curious amalgamation ‘bleu cheese’ instead of ‘fromage bleu’ or ‘blue cheese’.You can’t have it both ways; you’re either French or you’re not.
So ‘au jus’ has come to mean any sort of juice in menu-speak. ‘Au jus’ refers to meat in its own juices. So no, you can’t have ‘vine-ripened roasted tomatoes au jus’. Sorry.
Chef Marco Pierre White rants about this and I don’t blame him. Carrots don’t have babies. Parsnips don’t have babies. Cats have kittens, dogs have puppies, people have babies.
But in menu-speak, we often see ‘baby vegetables’; more than likely roasted, infused and drizzled with lite au jus.
Having spent many years in a busy design studio preparing websites, printwork and, yes, menus, I have also spent an inordinate amount of time arguing with clients. No, you cannot write ‘RSVP please’, ’10: a.m. in the morning’ or ‘ATM machine’.
Chefs are great at cooking. Restaurant managers are excellent at organizing. Neither of these skills make them literate when it comes to designing and writing menus. This book solves many problems but it’s not just for professionals.
If you love eating, cooking or writing about food, this book is must. You never know when you’ll need to distinguish between a macaron and a macaroon….
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