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What is terroir?: a real FAQ


John Talbott
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Host's note:

I thought this subject was worthy of its own topic.

Julot said:

I'll leave it to Pti to define terroir and traditional, if she can.

Robyn said:

Judging from what you're written - I guess that the use of the word "terroir" in the Michelin Guide when it is describing the food a restaurant serves is kind of meaningless.  Robyn

Pti replied:

I am not sure I can help there. Terroir is a notion, both cultural and geographical, not a style of cooking. A term like "terroir cooking" in Paris is just as elusive and empty as "country cooking". In some ways restaurants like Gérard Besson or L'Ami Jean are closer to the notion of terroir than L'Ambassade d'Auvergne. Promoting high-quality regional products is being true to the terroir and it could roughly be said that most good "bistronomique" restaurants in Paris are in that category. But I would not define L'Ami Jean for instance as a "bistrot de terroir". I think it is vain to look for that in Paris.

John Talbott

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terroir doesn't translate directly to english but t encompasses three things in one word.

1) location and soil type.. Ie: mountanous region or plane? Is it a country side place or next to he ocean? Etc.

2) climate. This determines mainly what type of produce, etc is available from this certain place.

3) traditions.. This can be savior fare of the chef, traditional dish preparation techniques or just when to eat certain produce.

Those three concepts make up the word terroir

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Does "terroir" in a French restaurant then equate to what we would expect from a top end Kaiseki in Tokyo?

Never having been to a top-end kaiseki, and not knowing precisely what should be expected there, I cannot answer on that point.

Terroir is a combination of geographical, physical and cultural qualities that can be found in products. La Peche's description is quite accurate.

However if your question relates to the unique organoleptic qualities as well as to the definite cultural, even historical dimension that could be expected from the products and dishes served at a top-end kaiseki meal, the idea of terroir could perhaps be relevant, but terroir is not a style of cooking.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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However if your question relates to the unique organoleptic qualities as well as to the definite cultural, even historical dimension that could be expected from the products and dishes served at a top-end kaiseki meal, the idea of terroir could perhaps be relevant, but terroir is not a style of cooking.

The meals I'd enjoyed were very much about ingredients taken in the season, with emphasis upon the specific locale, and about the proper matching of flavours to bring out the natural highlights in a meal. As kaiseki is the meal, and not the technique, then I think we're in agreement.

Likewise, would this also encompass the term of "regionality" that I see in Western Canadian restaurants, where they try to source their ingredients as locally as possible (Sooke Harbour House being an example?)

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However if your question relates to the unique organoleptic qualities as well as to the definite cultural, even historical dimension that could be expected from the products and dishes served at a top-end kaiseki meal, the idea of terroir could perhaps be relevant, but terroir is not a style of cooking.

The meals I'd enjoyed were very much about ingredients taken in the season, with emphasis upon the specific locale, and about the proper matching of flavours to bring out the natural highlights in a meal. As kaiseki is the meal, and not the technique, then I think we're in agreement.

Likewise, would this also encompass the term of "regionality" that I see in Western Canadian restaurants, where they try to source their ingredients as locally as possible (Sooke Harbour House being an example?)

Well the emphasis upon the specific locale certainly bears some resemblance to the notion of terroir, but I am increasingly of the mind that it is a little vain to seek equivalents of "terroir" in other cuisines as terroir is definitely not a style of cooking, and by the way is not restricted to food (it can also be experienced through wine, music, all aspects of populart arts and agriculture). Choosing your ingredients in season and locally is one thing (and a minimal requirement when you want to eat decently), terroir is quite another thing.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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Does "terroir" in a French restaurant then equate to what we would expect from a top end Kaiseki in Tokyo?

I'd say yes and no. Kaiseki in Japan pays more attention to expressing season and personal sensibility than to expressing a distinct locale beyond maybe Japan as a whole. Most of the top kaiseki meals I have had involve techniques and ingredients from all over the place, mainly from Japan but sometimes also from other countries. Many kaiseki places tend to be Kyoto-style even when they are in other regions altogether. Although many dishes may have witty references to traditional local cuisine, this is not a major focus. They may also reference folk traditions, classical literature, you name it.

Kaiseki's spirit is terroir-like in the sense that it encompasses many aspects of Japanese culture beyond food. It is probably the closest non-French analogy.

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