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Words to Describe Food

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 
Hello all! I have been asked to do a class on cooking for a culinary school in my town and next week, we are covering how to write a menu and I was asked to brainstorm with my Chef friends (you all) and come up with a list of words to describe food.

any suggestions?
Chef Isaac... Culinary Arts and Honey are a sweet mix! http://www.sweetascanbeehoneyfarm.com
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Chef Isaac... Culinary Arts and Honey are a sweet mix! http://www.sweetascanbeehoneyfarm.com
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post #2 of 20
It might help if you gave us your menu first.
post #3 of 20
My preference is for the fewest adjectives and adverbs possible: no "crispy," no "garden fresh," no "diver-caught this morning by little old ladies in scuba gear off the Lettie G. Howard out of Nantucket;" the most straightforward description of cooking method -- and then only if it prevents any possible confusion.

I don't want to have to read a book when I'm reading a menu; I just want to know what the main components of the dish are, and if there is anything unusual about it. The food should speak for itself.

I don't have any links to menu sites handy, but if you log on to OpenTable.com and check out a number of the restaurants' websites, you'll see a range of menu styles.

Hope this helps. :)
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #4 of 20
IMO menus should be simple and understandable. No essence of this, reduction of that, etc...The general public is who you have to sell, many of whom have absolutely no clue as to what your talking about.
Also listing every ingredient on every dish on your menu is dumb and asking for trouble-can i sub this for that type of thing. Example; Grilled xxx served over a bed of baby red carrots, baby yellow carrots, baby, orange carrots, baby turnips, fresh spring asparagus, and haricot vert dressed with an aged sherry vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and sel de mer, with a redution of xxx.
And my biggest pet peeve is demi-glace sauce :). So and so served with a xxx and xxx demi-glace sauce. To me this shows an immaturity regarding sauce making and trying to throw the wow factor in for the public.
The KISS principle is your friend.
hth, danny
post #5 of 20
I think it's probably easier to come up with words NOT to use.

Personally, I don't want to be told that a dish is: "tasty," "delicious," "yummy," "mouth-watering (yuck)," etc. Don't tell me how I'm supposed to react. It makes me feel like the food has been pre-digested. :eek:
It also makes me want to ask for what's not "yummy" on the menu. :p
Emily

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Emily

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"If you are not killing plants, you are not really stretching yourself as a gardener." -- J. C. Raulston, American Horticulturist
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post #6 of 20
Thread Starter 
I agree with you all. When I went through the menus class at the CIA, we had lists of words not to use. I beleive in writing menus that are simple however the teacher of this class and my GM do not really submit to this technique which is fine.

i do think that if you can find a true voice to describe food, it can work. for example, a while a go the Food Network had this special show that would go to different restaurants. i cant recall the name but one restaurant they went to was called TRUE in Chicago. The lady who was describing the food described it in a fashion that was so tantalizing and sexy if you will.

the teacher of this class would like me to put together a simple list of words and phrases that can be used as a guide when they write their menus. For example:

tantalizing
on top of
gratineed
enrobed
nestled
paired with
balanced with

i do not agree so much with this method but i would like to think that it would or shall i say should be an easy list to come up with.
Chef Isaac... Culinary Arts and Honey are a sweet mix! http://www.sweetascanbeehoneyfarm.com
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Chef Isaac... Culinary Arts and Honey are a sweet mix! http://www.sweetascanbeehoneyfarm.com
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post #7 of 20
And always remember...nothing is EVER "sauteed or simmered to your perfection."
It's not Dairy Queen.
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It's not Dairy Queen.
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post #8 of 20
Not always so easy, methinks... because each word that you use must be 'generic' enogh to appeal to the broadest population 'possible', that is, your restaurant's "target population". So, if you don't know that, then that is the place to start in knowing what that group of people is like.

I am not a working chef, but one time some years ago decided to make up a Menu for a Thanksgiving Dinner that we were having for all of our children. It was kinda special because it was the first time we were all to be together in quite a few years. The Menu itself, printed up, was a success, as was the occasion. One thing that needs be done, as some have already indicated here in saying to KISS it (keep it simple, stupid.... casting no aspersions your way, it's just an axiom), is to keep adjectives to a minium but just sufficient to describe something perhaps 'special' about the food item. I think that 2 are enough. I'll copyu that Menu here so you may get an idea of what I'm talking about:

ROASTED STUFFED WHOLE TOM TURKEY
PINEAPPLE-HONEY-GLAZED SPIRAL-CUT SMOKED HAM
SOUTHERN STYLE CORNBREAD DRESSING
CREAMY MASHED POTATOES & GIBLET BROWN GRAVEY
BOSTON BAKED BROWN-SUGAR BEANS
GOLDEN HARVEST BUTTERED CORN-ON-THE-COBETTE
BACON-EGG-VINEGAR DRESSED FRESH SPINACH SALAD
WITH RESTAURANT-STYLE CROUTONS
HOMEMADE BUTTERMILK & BUTTER BISQUITS
SMOOTH & CHUNKED CRANBERRY SAUCES
SPICED-RAISIN CHUNKY APPLESAUCE
WHIPPED-CREAM TOPPED PUMPKIN PIE
SALSA YOUR MOMMY MADE & ARIZONA GUNSLINGER
&
lEMON-LIME ICED TEA


Even the kid's kids could understand what it was that they were going to eat, and believe me that provided just enough information that they could already be deciding, all of them, on what thier 'favorites' were going to be.

To some extent it is dependent upon the 'style' and 'class' of a restaurant, how glitzy thier Menu is going to be... and whether the waiter is gonna be standing there an inordinate amount of time translating what's in it for the clients depends on the kind of patronage the place draws... and while this example is just a family get-together type thing, it will usually work, this sort of concept, 'better' than a mere listing of sandwiches & salads (well, entrees & desserts, too), or a whole lotta description belabouring each item. Now, I said belaboring (in English English) that is often done mainly for the entrees... but for the customer it is nice to have a bit of BRIEF adjectival description of the other items on the Menu, too... unless it is just green beans being slung out of a #10 can, eh?

So,

=>Target pop charactersitics (Who are they, what kind of 'airs' do they put on if dining out, or don't they?).

=>What's kinda special about this food item's prep or how might we do it just a bit different than your average run-of-the-mill hash diner?

The words will just begin to 'come to you' cuz you already know them. :D

Good game with it!
~Ken aka Phoenix-TheRealDeal
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~Ken aka Phoenix-TheRealDeal
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post #9 of 20
Isaac, the place you referred to in Chicago is Tru. The menu is surprisingly subtle for such sophisticated fare. My husband and I had dinner there last year with Nicko and Colleen. It was quite memorable! They are on the web at this site: .

Great food, great service, great atmosphere! Great big tab too, but it was worth it.
Moderator Emerita, Welcome Forum
***It is better to ask forgiveness than beg permission.***
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Moderator Emerita, Welcome Forum
***It is better to ask forgiveness than beg permission.***
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post #10 of 20
Where is that teacher used to eating -- chain restaurants of dubious quality?

If you have to tell a customer that a dish is tantalizing, it isn't.

The customer will see that A is on top of B; is that supposed to be an inducement? I thought that other than Gotham Bar and Grill and that book Stacks, tall food went out about 10 years ago.

There is no such word as "gratineed;" there are gratiné, gratinée, and au gratin, and in English, gratinee.

Enrobed? did the dish just get out of the bathtub? And NESTLED? did it get out of the bath and right into bed?

Paired with -- well, that's all right if the next thing to follow is the wine that will be poured.

Balanced with -- as though most flavors are NOT balanced? Well, even though that's true, can you be sure that this particular dish really IS balanced???

Isaac, I hope you are taking this with the tongue-in-cheek humor I intend. In menus, as in all writing, the best advice is: Omit needless words. And all of those phrases are needless, because they do not describe any positive attributes of the food. I'm afraid that the person asking you to put together a list like that can't have much confidence in the power of good food.

Now to finally answer your question: here are some menu phrases that I love to read:

- Prime Beef (fill in the cut)
- Roasted (fill in the vegetable)
- Grilled Whole (fill in the fish)
- (fill in the cooking method) Wild Mushrooms
- Salad of (fill in no more than three ingredients), (fill in no more than two) Vinaigrette
- Warm (fill in the flavor) Cake
- Housemade Ice Cream/Sorbet

:lips: :lips: :lips: :lips: :lips: Now THAT'S tantalizing. :D
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #11 of 20
What exactly is "enrobed"? Sounds kinda dirty :D
RF
"'If I watch out for rocks
With my eyes straight ahead,
I'll keep out of trouble
Forever,' I said."
Dr. Seuss, "I Had Trouble in getting to Solla Sollew"
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"'If I watch out for rocks
With my eyes straight ahead,
I'll keep out of trouble
Forever,' I said."
Dr. Seuss, "I Had Trouble in getting to Solla Sollew"
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post #12 of 20
Thread Starter 
Suzanne,

You crack me up!!!!!! I should send this letter to the teacher. Lol... I am not looking forward to teaching this part per say since I can not teach them they way I prefer writing menus.

I really enjoy keeping it simple. For example:

Pan Seared Talapia
orange glazed aparagus, smoked tomato cous cous, thyme infused beurre blanc


Of course, my GM doesnt really agree with me. Its one of those "No problem. We'll do it whatever way you want it." while, in the mean time, I am thinking "dumb ***".


I do think though that some food writers can really capture the real essence of how a certain dish tastes. I love reading good books about food by writers to whom can achieve this.
Chef Isaac... Culinary Arts and Honey are a sweet mix! http://www.sweetascanbeehoneyfarm.com
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Chef Isaac... Culinary Arts and Honey are a sweet mix! http://www.sweetascanbeehoneyfarm.com
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post #13 of 20
one of the first things I learned about writing menus is not to put any cooking methods in my descriptions. i.e. using the word breaded should imply that the product is pan seared or deep fried. Using the word "style" comes in handy as well, because say for instance your menu says cajun catfish, it has to be cajun, but if you say cajun style catfish, it only has to be sort of cajun.
that's all I can think of for now.
post #14 of 20
Isaac: Except for the spelling errors ;) your tilapia entry looks good to me. I gather we are on the same wavelength -- that you DON'T want to go with all those bogus descriptors. Maybe you can kind of, um, twist the stuff in the handout.

I was at a presentation on food writing today, and one of the speakers (who is a restaurant reviewer for a newspaper here in NYC and has published quite a few books) reminded everyone that florid adjectives are the death of a good piece of writing, and that even Escoffier said "keep it simple" While I don't know if he REALLY said that, it's the best rule to follow, IMNSHO.
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #15 of 20
even Escoffier said "keep it simple" While I don't know if he REALLY said that, it's the best rule to follow, IMNSHO.


Actually, I think it was Bill W. who said that first.
It's not Dairy Queen.
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It's not Dairy Queen.
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post #16 of 20
Well for you my dear Rita , enrobed would be with our clothes on and disenrobed would be , well , alas my dear , please understand that it just wouldnt work between us .
Now for the food response ! Keep it simple , let the food talk and not the menu . When you dine out do you realy talk about the menu you have read or what you have tasted ? If you like the food you will pass it on to your friends and this is how good restaurants are built ! One customer at a time . My 2 , Doug....................
The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity !
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The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity !
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post #17 of 20
Actually, thebighat, I don't think Bill W. ever said that. I think a lot of people who have his book say that. It's still good advice, though. :)

Touche', chefboy2160 :D

RF
"'If I watch out for rocks
With my eyes straight ahead,
I'll keep out of trouble
Forever,' I said."
Dr. Seuss, "I Had Trouble in getting to Solla Sollew"
Reply
"'If I watch out for rocks
With my eyes straight ahead,
I'll keep out of trouble
Forever,' I said."
Dr. Seuss, "I Had Trouble in getting to Solla Sollew"
Reply
post #18 of 20
I'm Soooo tired of lifting my steak off the piled-up mshed potatoes and scraping the potatoes to one side of the plate so that I can cut the steak.

I've started to insist on baked potatoes. It's harder to pile the meat on top of them.:confused:
Dave Bowers
"First, slice an onion..."
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Dave Bowers
"First, slice an onion..."
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post #19 of 20
Nothing worse than seeing blood from a steak streaking down the sides, into the mashies IMO. And the architectural tower of xxx drives me nuts. How is someone supposed to eat that? Height in plating presentation is one thing, but if the server can't even get it to the table.....
danny
post #20 of 20
i am currently writing a few menus for two of my classes. i have found that most of my classmates are using the "evil" terms and descriptions. reading this thread has helped me to get some good ideas for my projects. i am gonna go with the K.I.S.S. method. i think this is the best bet for anyone out there writing a menu. thanks everyone for the assist (and i didnt even come here to seek it lol)
i pledge my professional knowladge and skill to the advancement of our profession and to pass it on to those that are to follow..... ACF pledge
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i pledge my professional knowladge and skill to the advancement of our profession and to pass it on to those that are to follow..... ACF pledge
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