What is Gourmet?



When I was young and married (and a poor graduate student), I gave a dinner party and served something called five-can casserole. This dish involved cream of mushroom soup, fried canned noodles and canned chicken. The result wasn’t very good. Today, the thought of “canned chicken” makes me cringe.

I’ve been writing this blog for GourmetGiftBaskets.com for a while and started thinking about the word “gourmet.” What exactly does it mean?

Gourmet: The broad definition is a person who has a refined taste, who enjoys high quality, well-prepared food.

The English teacher in me notes also that the word gourmet serves as an adjective (as in Gourmet Gift Baskets, for example) We recognize gourmet wines and gourmet coffees, gourmet restaurants, gourmet cookbooks and even gourmet kitchen appliances. Anything to do with producing and relishing fine foods and drink can rightly be called “gourmet.”

Gatherings such as wine-tastings and dining clubs are gourmet. There is niche industry of gourmet tourism which caters to people of discriminating tastes. Cooking shows – like those on the Food Network — are tremendously popular. The most famous publication, Gourmet Magazine, began in 1941 ended print publication in 2009, but the Gourmet brand continues online (the Epicurious website) and in the general media.

The word “gourmet” is synonymous with the culinary arts. That is, the “art” is an important part of enjoying good food and drink. This means an aesthetically pleasing presentation, attention to detail, the just-right balance of flavors to compliment each other.

Foods which were originally thought of as “gourmet” – like goat cheese and caviar — are now found in ordinary supermarkets. Foods which are not thought of as particularly gourmet (like bacon and salad oil) can become gourmet by special processing or unusual ingredients (honey-cured bacon and macadamia nut oil). There’s the ordinary turned extraordinary. Hamburger meat? No. Cured Angus beef? Yes.

Food which is basic to the indigenous people who eat it (Quinoa, for example), can become gourmet when introduced to a new culture.

The term “foodie” (first used by food critic, Gael Greene in New York magazine and then popularized in “The Official Foodie Handbook”) is a humorous synonym for gourmet.

Common wisdom asserts that there are people who eat to live and those who live to eat, the latter of whom may be called foodies or gourmets.

My husband is a great cook. We love sharing good food with good friends. We like going out to dinner and discovering new restaurants. As I write this, he is playing poker with a group of his buddies. Along with the pretzel sticks and beer, he put out a tray of sweet and spicy baby red peppers stuffed with fresh mozzarella. Maybe we are gourmets. I just know we won’t be eating five-can casserole anytime soon.

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