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    Modern menu clichés; distinctly overdone and somewhat sickly

    I was recently surprised to see people taking part in a spoof version of Master Chef for the recent Comic Relief – surprised because this new series of Master Chef is so over the top that it should be beyond parody. Emotional contestants weeping over the amazing journeys they have made, prima-donna professional chefs shouting the odds, and, of course, a liberal slather of the new language that the programme has helped to create.
    The new language is all about the adjectives. The last lot of menu phrases to pass into laughable cliche (jus, reduction, veloute etc) did so because they were pretentious, foreign words for things that just sounded less exotic in English. In Master Chef land, though, the joke is the use of multiple, complex describing words; here, adjectives are as much in abundance as the seared scallops. One is never enough; things must be chunky, hand-tossed, locally-sourced, triple-coated and baked boiled or fried.
    This language has been used on gastro pub menus for some time, but it was when I saw a menu featuring ‘outdoor reared sausages’ that I began to think about how over used and meaningless certain phrases have become. How exactly do you rear sausages outdoors? (This particular menu had a Master Chef cliché in every single dish, from its pulled beef brisket to its Cornish brie. There were so many words in the descriptions of each dish, you could use up your entire lunch hour just reading the menu).
    The best phrases are the ones that try to make something ordinary or unhealthy sound better. My favourites are ‘pan fried’ (What else would you fry it in? Does this mean that the oil is good for you?) and ‘double fried’. (Does this just mean fried beforehand then dipped back into the chip pan to crisp it up?) ‘Line caught’ fish always amused me too. Does it make people feel better if they know that their fish suffocated after having its mouth pierced by a sharp hook, rather than dying in a net with its fishy pals? 
    I’d love to predict this gobbledegook’s imminent demise, but the sad truth is that these phrases are filtering down so that they appear on menus that clearly offer food of less-than-Master Chef quality. How long, I wonder, before Greggs offer West Country seared beef served on bread home baked with locally sourced flour?

    Reader Comments (5)

    I want to know my fish is line-caught, because it is more sustainable - it implies a reduction in by-catch. However "line-caught" doesn't tell me if it was long line or pole and line caught - pole and line is preferable.

    April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

    I agree with Sarah - I like to know that the fish I'm eating is sustainable, so saying line caught on the menu is useful information. As is outdoor reared pork (fair enough, the sausages weren't outdoor reared!).
    And double fried chips are better than single fried ones (triple cooked = even better).
    Maybe Sheila just needs to know a little bit more about food and cooking...

    April 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteralexthepink

    I take your point about line caught fish - I am a vegetarian and so I prefer my fish not to be caught at all. But Alex, you seem to have missed my point. Although with my apparent lack of foodie knowledge and with my tongue lodged firmly in my cheek, perhaps I will never fully appreciate the qualities of a triple cooked chip.

    April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSheila Speed

    But Heston Blumenthal himself, creator of the triple-cooked chip, has said that the perception of the food begins with the menu. He admitted that if he'd called his snail porridge "snail oat risotto", it would never have become the iconic dish that it did. Thus the point about the chips is that the menu doesn't call them "crunchy", or heaven forfend, merely "chips".

    Alex - assuming we're talking about Blumenthal's triple cooked chips, tripled cooked is in fact the same as "double fried". The first stage of the triple cooking is parboiling.

    And simple "line-caught" tuna is NOT eco-friendly. The hooks on the line catch all sorts of bird and other species. It's only worth it it's LONG-line caught (which hardly any is) and "bird-friendly."

    My favourite example of this nonsense was that I once saw "straw-fed" pork on a menu at the Wychery in Edinburgh. I know a bit about pigs, and I know very well that you can't feed any animal on straw for very long, as it has very little nutritinal value. So I asked the waiter if he could explain how come the menu said "straw-fed". He said he'd go to find out, but never came back.

    April 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBilly Batty

    Sheila, I recently went off on a rant about that on my blog; you'll enjoy it, I'm sure! My food writing pet peeves list just keeps getting longer!

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