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UK food writing rant


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I sit here, all day, trying to find words to describe food so it's probably unsurprising that my perspective gets a little out of kilter, but sometimes the red mist rises in my eyes and word rage is upon me again.

I've ranted at length, on these very boards about certain words that should be expunged from the foodwriter's vocabulary by a wrathful God. Anyone who refers to an eating establishment as an 'eaterie' should be blinded with brochette skewers and people who type the word 'simply' or 'pop into' should have their fingers fed slowly through a blunt mandoline then plunged into lemon juice - such matters are now generally accepted.

<RANT> ...But the time has come to speak out again. Recently, a hideous corruption of the language has crept into common use and unless we act in a concerted and organised manner will become a permanent part of our usage - floating in the limpid waters of our glorious language like a turd in a swimming pool. I refer - of course you are ahead of me here - to the term 'Flavour Profile'.

If 'Flavour Profile' is intended to indicate something more complex than simple flavours then we have the perfectly acceptable English 'taste'.

But unfortunately there is more. 'Flavour Profile' implies a sort of graph or visual tool which, in some way tames the unruly sensations of the mouth into a measurable and exchangeable absolute. It implies that the complexities of mixed flavours can be quantified and passed around like so much filthy currency.

Next time you feel you're going to type 'Flavour Profile' try this simple thought experiment. Think of another simple human need that, like eating, can be raised to the level of sublime pleasure - think about sex. Would you be comfortable describing your reaction to sexual contact as an 'Erotic Response Profile'? Certainly not - At least not if you anticipated anything other than a restraining order and counseling for your second date.

Attempting to express sexual response as a 'profile' makes one sound like an emotionally stunted sociopath. I would argue that 'Flavour Profile' is symptomatic of a life-draining trend to turn the sensual pleasure of eating into a form of competitive, joyless, scientific 'connoisseurship'.

It is the final humiliation that we've taken this accretion to our bosom enough to replace the 'u'.

Brillat-Savarin had no need for 'Flavour-Profiles', no more did Elizabeth David.

Let's stop this right here.

</RANT>

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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If 'Flavour Profile' is intended to indicate something more complex than simple flavours then we have the perfectly acceptable English 'taste'.

What we have is the perfectly acceptable English "flavour" (aka "flavor" where I live). Quite aside from the awkwardness of the phrase, Occam's razor says the real problem is that it uses two words where one would do just as well. I've pulled the following examples from eG Forums posts where I, guilty as charged, have unthinkingly used the phrase "flavor profile."

Just a tablespoon can noticeably improve the flavor profile of a whole pot of chicken soup.
Sturgeon as a fresh fish is a meaty, firm yet tender, white-fleshed marvel with a subtle but complex flavor profile
And all the various vegetable sides possess the commingled flavor profile of old-style stewed veggies
I'd also recommend adjusting the spice mix a bit, because the old New York kosher-style pickle flavor profile involves a few flavors in addition to garlic.

In every one of these instances, it would have been preferable simply to cut the word "profile." Thus,

Just a tablespoon can noticeably improve the flavor of a whole pot of chicken soup.
Sturgeon as a fresh fish is a meaty, firm yet tender, white-fleshed marvel with a subtle but complex flavor
And all the various vegetable sides possess the commingled flavor of old-style stewed veggies
I'd also recommend adjusting the spice mix a bit, because the old New York kosher-style pickle flavor involves a few flavors in addition to garlic.

In addition to its inefficiency, and in addition to the unfortunate mechanization of food that Mr. Hayward describes, I see another problem with the phrase: it's an affectation. It uses a fancy word where a normal word will do. And, as a result, its fanciness encourages laziness, as in "the old New York kosher-style pickle flavor profile involves a few flavors in addition to garlic." The flavor profile includes flavors! Lazy. Worse, "a subtle but complex flavor profile." That's just an excuse for not describing the flavor. Shame on me.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Where have you seen the term used? Surely this is an American thing isn't? But it is horrible. And while we're on the subject...

Alton Brown saying "application" on Iron Chef America when he means "cooking method".

Anyone saying "flavourful" - which, roughly translated means "I have no idea how to describe what I'm eating".

Every food pundit on the bloody planet using the phraseology "The sweetness of the...." or "the saltiness of the...." etc

Chefs saying "caramelised" when they mean "cooked" and all the other half baked pseudo scientific cobblers they seem duty bound to come up with these days (yeah, thanks a bunch Mr Harold McGee)

Yet another bloody explanation that searing meat doesn't really seal in the juices ("doesn't it? Really!? Well, f**k me old boots. Any more revelations up the sleeve of your suspiciously pristine chef's jacket? Care to explain what galangal is by any chance?).

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Where have you seen the term used? Surely this is an American thing isn't?

Assuming anybody who spells it "flavour profile" is British or at least Canadian, it's definitely part of British writing. Google gives 58,000 examples.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Apologies, you're quite correct. There are many examples, but its just not a phrase that I've been particularly aware of in mainstream food writing in the UK, but I'm sure I will notice it from now on.

From the google results, it does appear that flavour profile can be legitimately used in the context of food chemistry e.g. here and also when viewing a flavour from side on. (OK. I made that last bit up.)

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... its just not a phrase that I've been particularly aware of in mainstream food writing in the UK, but I'm sure I will notice it from now on.

I'd never heard of it but will probably find it subconsciously slipping into my copy as a pathetic way of trying to impress the people of Leicester. It's all Hayward's fault.

I can't imagine letting eaterie through though.

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can't say i've ever come across flavour profile myself but certainly agree with eaterie.

i am yet to be convinced that 'flavoursome' is not a made up word too.

Well, if we're going for the comprehensive list...

'Suppers' (usually qualified with 'quick', 'speedy' or 'simple')

'Indulgent'

and any mention of 'Busy Mums'

We seem nationally unique in our desire to couch everything in the patronising tones of a women's magazine

And, of course, we can reserve a small corner of the foodie Room 101 for the 'ness' suffix when used with 'combines', 'cuts through' or 'contrasts' as in

"The xxxness of ingredient 'a' combines/cuts through/contrasts with the xxxness of ingredient 'b'"

This particularly vacuous tic is shown at its best in the now de rigeur 'get an idiot punter's opinion' section in shows like Heston's.

My particular favourite was the knuckle-dragging mouthbreather in the pizza episode who said he liked "...the way the breadiness of the base combines with the cheesy tomatoeness of the topping".

Great.

Thanks for that. :sad:

Edited by Tim Hayward (log)

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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And, of course, we can reserve a small corner of the foodie Room 101 for the 'ness' suffix... This particularly vacuous tic is shown at its best in the now de rigeur 'get an idiot punter's opinion' section in shows like Heston's.

Food TV will eat itself - given a voice, the audience simply (that's for you Tim) repeats back what they've heard for years on the telly. (And its not just food - I recently had the misfortune to be sat next to a bunch of football supporters on a train. We're they shouting, swigging beer and beating up innocent bystanders? No, they were discussing individual performances, tactics and managers as though they were sat between Ian Wright and Alan Hansen during an outside broadcast from Anfield.)

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Hi Tim,

While I think your mission to stomp out pomposity in food writing is admirable, I'm not convinced that the term flavour profile (or its close relative taste profile) is always necessarily an egregious affectation. A flavour or taste profile to me can signify a complex whole that goes beyond mere flavour or taste to encompass a tone or style of a dish, its balance, mouthfeel, weight or structure, all elements that may go beyond mere flavour or taste.

Of course, I may simply be trying to defend the indefensible, for as it happens, I'll put my hand up and 'fess: an article of mine on matching wines and foods published just this month uses the very offending phrase (mea culpa, mea culpa, I'm wearing my hair shirt as I write this):

This is often a difficult task, for different dishes may have completely contrasting taste profiles, combinations of acidity and sweetness, as well as tone, weight and structure. Finding wines that will work with such competing dishes...

The sentence reads fine if I were to replace 'taste profiles' with 'tastes' but it doesn't quite have the same meaning to me.

Well, there, I've outed myself, guess I'd better go and sulk off to my local eaterie...

Marc

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Chefs saying "caramelised" when they mean "cooked" and all the other half baked pseudo scientific cobblers they seem duty bound to come up with these days (yeah, thanks a bunch Mr Harold McGee)

Its the bloody customers, they are hungry for new descriptions, i am toying with putting "cooked" in place of every adjective on the menu tonight! You have to use "caramelised" when you have "glazed" on the line above. I (well my boss is!) am even guilty of using the term "pot roast" to describe so called caramelised items.

my personal annoyance is the good food guide (mainly) saying "well timed" in reference to fish cookery.

Matt Christmas.

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Yet another bloody explanation that searing meat doesn't really seal in the juices ("doesn't it? Really!? Well, f**k me old boots. Any more revelations up the sleeve of your suspiciously pristine chef's jacket? Care to explain what galangal is by any chance?).

The difference is that most chefs would be able to tell you what galangal is, but you could watch Ready Steady Cook and a few times a week hear that someone is sealing in the juices.

As I understand it, he hasn't really called himself a chef, he is a scientist who cooks with his understanding of science.

Maybe i'm not getting the jist of what you're saying.

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flavour in sequences!! its a new dish i am working on it involves both profiles and symphonies, just call me Mozart.

Well said Peter.

Slightly off point but Fay Maschler once came in and ordered the only two assiettes on the menu and then moaned that they were assiettes and that a single preperation would have been better! Maybe she didn't know what an assiette is in menu speak or maybe she just thought she was ordering a plate of veal and a plate of raspberries!

Matt Christmas.

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Hi Tim,

While I think your mission to stomp out pomposity in food writing is admirable, I'm not convinced that the term flavour profile (or its close relative taste profile) is always necessarily an egregious affectation. A flavour or taste profile to me can signify a complex whole that goes beyond mere flavour or taste to encompass a tone or style of a dish, its balance, mouthfeel, weight or structure, all elements that may go beyond mere flavour or taste.

Of course, I may simply be trying to defend the indefensible, for as it happens, I'll put my hand up and 'fess: an article of mine on matching wines and foods published just this month uses the very offending phrase (mea culpa, mea culpa, I'm wearing my hair shirt as I write this):

This is often a difficult task, for different dishes may have completely contrasting taste profiles, combinations of acidity and sweetness, as well as tone, weight and structure. Finding wines that will work with such competing dishes...

The sentence reads fine if I were to replace 'taste profiles' with 'tastes' but it doesn't quite have the same meaning to me.

Well, there, I've outed myself, guess I'd better go and sulk off to my local eaterie...

Marc

i know i am a humble chef but what does this all mean apart from to serve as a perfect example of food writing pomposity, i know that that is sort of the point but well illustrated.

Matt Christmas.

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Its the bloody customers, they are hungry for new descriptions, i am toying with putting "cooked" in place of every adjective on the menu tonight! You have to use "caramelised" when you have "glazed" on the line above.  I (well my boss is!) am even guilty of using the term "pot roast" to describe so called caramelised items.

my personal annoyance is the good food guide (mainly) saying "well timed" in reference to fish cookery.

Aaaargh! Don't get me started on roasting.

We used to have roast potatoes, roast lamb, roast bloody monkfish and roast beef. For chrissake, according to the French 'Rosbif' is our defining national characteristic. But it wasn't enough. Some pewling tit with temporary power over menu typing and with literary ambitions exceeding his skills started referring to 'roasted potatoes' and it was suddenly all over the place like a fungal rash at an orgy.

Recently I was offered 'pot-roasted chicken' at some mercifully forgotten shitehole. It is but a short, miserable and inevitable slide from pot roasted to pan-fried.

And that way madness lies.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Am reminded of Clive James's campaign against situations, as in "the Ugandan situation" (meaning Uganda) and "the electoral situation" (meaning the election). This dilution of the language is so commonplace we barely notice it any more, and it will happen for as long as journalists are pseudish, lazy, and paid by the word. Food writing is merely the tip of the insipid metaphor.

Nevertheless, I feel compelled to lodge a few lines in defence of eaterie. I rather like the word. Its unspecificness carries an arch, condescending tone that restaurant or cafe cannot convey. In fact, the genericness of its meaning profile leads me to use it in all sorts of different discussion situations.

Edited by naebody (log)
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Am reminded of Clive James's campaign against situations, as in "the Ugandan situation" (meaning Uganda) and "the electoral situation" (meaning the election). This dilution of the language is so commonplace we barely notice it any more, and it will happen for as long as journalists are pseudish, lazy, and paid by the word. Food writing is merely the tip of the insipid metaphor.

Nevertheless, I feel compelled to lodge a few lines in defence of eaterie. I rather like the word. Its unspecificness carries an arch, condescending tone that restaurant or cafe cannot convey. In fact, the genericness of its meaning profile leads me to use it in  all sorts of different discussion situations.

You reduce me to quiet sobs. If there's one man I idolise more than the fantastic Alan Coren it would have to be that polymath scourge of the crystal bucket, Clive James. Now Alan's gone, do you think we should get a small party of us together to go round to Clive's and check he's OK? If he weren't so proudly antipodean he'd be our finest remaining national asset.

Naebody, if you want eaterie, mate, you can have it with pleasure. Just for reminding me of the greatness of Clive. I herewith rescind my fatwah on eaterie.

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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Read in american accent please: pan fried to pan seared to wok fried.  i am toying with "induction warmed" that should put people off.  What the fuck else are you going to fry something in?  a bowl?

Pah! In your cupped hands, dammit. If you were a real man. ;)

Tim Hayward

"Anyone who wants to write about food would do well to stay away from

similes and metaphors, because if you're not careful, expressions like

'light as a feather' make their way into your sentences and then where are you?"

Nora Ephron

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As I understand it, he (Harold McGee) hasn't really called himself a chef, he is a scientist who cooks with his understanding of science.

Maybe i'm not getting the jist of what you're saying.

My rather flippent point was that, apparently in the wake of McGee's writings, every Tom, Dick and Harry TV cook seems to feel the need to provide some scientific explanation for what they are doing, most of which fall apart under even the most cursory examination. The "galangal, a type of ginger" remark is a seperate example of regrettable cookery TV cliche.

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Pah! In your cupped hands, dammit. If you were a real man. ;)

If you'll excuse the horrible name dropping, I recently met Barry Mcguigan who recounted a few Hell's Kitchen anecdotes. The most memorable was Marco shouting for ceps from the pass, losing his patience and running over to Mcguigan's station, scooping the still frying 'shrooms from the pan with his bare hands, rushing back to the pass and placing them accuratley on the waiting plate.

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I prefer eatery as it appears in the names of a few U.S. restaurants.

The term is not new, it goes back to the 1920s so has a long history in common use. I believe it also is used in a few little songs............

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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