A few months ago we went off on the Top 10 Foodie Words We Hate, a post that generated a lot of feedback, for which we are grateful. It also, as you might expect, generated a lot of other words that are happily vilified by many of us who spend far more time, sadly, writing about baguettes with foie gras butter than actually eating them. A follow-up post seemed necessary. Because while it is perfectly true that this whole procedure is just as suspect (bourgeois guilt! elitist prescriptivism!) as many of the words in question, it's still kind of fun. Turn the page for the next 10 words on the list.
1. Gourmet: Unless you're Ruth Reichl, this word seems to have quite lost its meaning. (And maybe even if you are.) The term — derived from the Middle French, an alteration of gromet, a servant or wine taster — used to indicate a person who was an excellent judge of food and drink, but lately you can find it almost anywhere, on packages of otherwise nameless food at truck stops, in grocery stores describing micro-departments haphazardly stationed between rows of soup cans and vinegar bottles. True, Condé Nast did trademark the term, but I don't know how much good that did anyone.
2. Decadent: If you are writing about the works of Oscar Wilde, using this adjective makes sense. Not only can you use it, you can even capitalize it. But if you're writing about a piece of chocolate cake, then maybe you need to get out more, ideally in West Hollywood. Desserts can be ornate and elaborate, over-thought and excessive, and they can certainly (perhaps even by definition) be self-indulgent, but unless you've been working in pâtisserie-and-set-design for Sofia Coppola, maybe pick a different word. While we're on the subject, sinful, which also seems to be used an awful lot to describe chocolate desserts, seems equally overwrought. If there are sins involved in the making or consumption of Valrhona, they're likely to have been committed by a questionable pastry chef.
3. Food porn: Food is not pornography, and to equate the two does a disservice to both, if such a thing is possible in the case of the latter. Pictures of beautiful food are pictures of beautiful food, no matter how erotic you make them. Okay, sure, you can arrange your carrots and Santa Rosa plums in such a way as to have them resemble actual pornography, but if you do stuff like this for fun, maybe you're in the wrong business. Exploit your food in different ways maybe. Like by eating it.
4. Succulent: There's no getting around the fact that, when you're trying to describe nicely cooked food, you quickly run out of good adjectives. You get tired of using the same handful, and they soon become redundant anyway. How many times can you use the word earthy to describe a good baguette or a pan of sautéed morels? But some adjectives just seem wrong, out of place, incommensurate with any plate of food. Succulent is one of them. Maybe if you're describing desert plants, but not, please, a dish of osso bucco, regardless of its moisture content.
5. Garden-fresh: We got a lot of comments and emails about this one, and rightly so. If one is describing a plate of asparagus or Bloomsdale spinach, one hopes that it is indeed fresh and, one would assume, from a garden. That it would be fresh from the actual garden seems not only obvious but repetitive and, well, downright idiotic. Where else would it be fresh from? The back of a produce truck? Even a market stall is at one or two removes from the field. The degree of freshness is directly proportional to the garden, and so it seems unnecessary to qualify it. Kind of like oven-hot cookies, which, come to think of it, people use too. Unless you bake your cookies on the hood of your car, just think of something else.
6. Mouthfeel: The only people who should be allowed to use this word are dentists. Like when they're asking you how to articulate — badly, after far too much Novocaine — what the interior of your mouth feels like now that the root canal is finally over. Not, please God, to describe a spoonful of crème brûlée.
7. Rustic: This is a not unpleasant adjective, but lately its been repeated to the point of parody. Unless you're using it in reference to the place name (i.e., Rustic Canyon, which is a neighborhood on the Westside, which predates the restaurant), the word is another of those that seems to have become unmoored from its meaning by rampant overuse. Rustic, meaning rough or unsophisticated, has relevance when applied to a pie crust that has been loosely formed and pushed over a handful of blackberries instead of being rolled, primped and meticulously pressed around a formal tart. Rustic, when used to describe something purposefully artless, exemplifying informal qualities rather than sophisticated plating or culinary techniques, makes sense. But not as a blanket term applied as indiscriminately as, say, artisanal.
8. Resy (and other inane abbreviations): Not unlike resto, this shorthand for reservation is increasingly hard to take. How difficult is it to say or write 'reservation' anyway? Abbreviations and acronyms are terribly useful things, like when you're writing about the European Vegetarian Union, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, India Pale Ales or bacon-lettuce-and-tomato-on-toast. But if you need to abbreviate the word for “sandwich,” then perhaps you're not yet equipped for solid food.
9. Natural, or All-Natural: This is another word that has come come untethered from its meaning. Read the labels on half of the bottles and cans and bags and boxes of edible items on the market, and they're touted as “natural.” Well, what isn't? Sure a jar of Blenheim apricot preserves is natural, but so is Robert Redford and so is a gram of cocaine. Google the word and you get 630,000,000 results, which tells you exactly nothing, as does the word in question. And all-natural is bad, worse really, for the same reasons. All of them.
10. Handcrafted: If you're a salumi maker, or more specifically, if you're a certain salumi maker named Paul Bertolli, the use of this word is perfectly sensible. But if you're describing a dish on a restaurant menu, it begins to be a little suspect. Yes, perhaps if you're delineating between pasta made in a restaurant's back rooms, rolled out as thinly as a Modenese grandmother would, instead of dropped extant from a box; but otherwise it just sounds silly. One hopes that chefs are making their food by hand. That's usually what they do. Robots are expensive.