Fragments of The Past: The Art of Naming Dishes

Fragments of The Past: The Art of Naming Dishes

By Peter Szende and Namrata Sridhar

From the start, menus have been a customer’s first impression into the restaurant’s culinary experience. Menus that have been carefully designed have drawn the customer’s eye to specific dishes and provide guidance when selecting a meal. (e.g. McCall & Lynn, 2008)

Restaurant menu experts have begun to find that using consumer psychology to design their menus have a direct impact on guest purchases and total revenue. These experts have noted that how a menu item is named can influence the guest perception of the dish. “A highly descriptive name can help create value by priming the guest with positive affects.” (Yang, 2013, p. 8)

While descriptive menu labels have been in the center of attention of researchers, the history and practice of naming dishes received little attention.

A Brief History of Menus 

In part, based on Marco Polo’s travel notes in China, we could believe that during the Southern Song Dynasty, the commercially lively 13th century Hangzhou had an important restaurant scene where customers, after being seated at taverns, were handed a menu to choose dishes according to their preferences (Gernet, 1962, Szende, Pang, & Yu, 2013).

Similarly, the first menus in Europe appeared at the end of the middle ages. A medieval text written in 1393 “Le Ménagier de Paris,” (The good wife’s guide) presents menus for various occasions and feasts. (Rambourg, 2011). 

However, the Germans will often cite their findings about the ‘first written menu’ from a festive banquet in 1541. According to their account, a long note, “ein langer zedel” was placed in front of the guests with the menu created by the Chef, ‘Kuchenmayster.’ (Kindermann, 1964, p. 202.)

The Origin of Naming Dishes

Nicolas de Bonnefons, a 17th-century writer advised chefs to respect “le vray goust” {the true taste} of all menu ingredients; subsequently chefs began to indicate the origin of ingredients used. (Rambourg, 2011, p. 15)    

In early years, dish names contained basic menu labels only e.g. “chapon aux herbes” or “poulaille farcie” used by Chef Taillevent (Poulain & Neirinck, 2004, p. 66). However, towards the end of the 17th century, it is assumed that French Chef Massialot, began the practice of naming dishes so that they could be universally recognized.

Since then, giving dishes a name (‘appellation culinaire’) has become an essential characteristic of grand cuisines (Poulain & Neirinck, 2004). 

This begs the question, why French dishes needed an additional name? The answer is probably in the complexity of classic French cuisine and the importance of the garnishes. These garnishes were common and integral to French cuisine. “Garnishes consist of various trimmings added to a dish or placed around the meat, chicken, fish, etc., or served at the same time on a separate dish. Garnishes must always blend with the flavor of the basic dish.” (Montagné, pp. 445-446) Garnishes were labeled as either are Simple or Composite and could contain either an individual or numerous components.

The Choisy Menus (1744-1759)

During his reign, Louis XV used the Château de Choisy as a royal residence and a refuge to meet Madame de Pompadour. 413 colorful and richly-decorated menus, many of them hand-calligraphed, commemorating his frequent visits between 1744-1759. The Choisy menus were created in only one copy. Contrary to the current practice of the menu, no menus were distributed to the guests. Louis XV might have wanted to keep the menus as memorabilia. Choisy’s menus were all placed into eight collections keeping as personal memories. The menus were all signed by F.P. Brain de Sainte-Marie; the menu designer’s true identity regretfully remains a mystery (Josserand, 2008).

Many of the menu items indicate the origin of the food, such as “les chapons de Bruges,” or “le marcassin et le chevreuil de Compiègne.” Appellations culinaires appear on the menus as well, referring to the methods of preparation of dishes, such as “à la Strasbourg,” or “à la provençale.” (Rambourg, 2011, p. 15) Some of the menu items were brought in by distinguished guests and the menu items carried their names, such as the wild boar pudding on January 10, 1752: “Boudin de sanglier par le marquis dEcquevilliers (Josserand, 2008, p. 17).

Figure 1. The Choisy Menus (1747 – 1748) – Cover Page Photograph by Peter Szende

Figure 1.  The Choisy Menus (1747 – 1748)    Cover Page
Photograph by Peter Szende
Source: Bibliothèque historique de la Ville de Paris

The Birth of Parisian Restaurant Menus

Beginning in the early 1770s, Spang claims that restaurants utilized printed menus for guests to select their meals. (Spang, 2000) According to an early 19th-century local dining guide, the first Parisian restaurants opened their doors in 1774 (Le guide, 1814, p. 10).

One of the oldest menus that included individually priced items is the Véry brothers restaurant in the 1790s. The menu is structured by categories and several appellations culinaires are present. Some indicate preparation methods, such as the “Tourte à la financière,” or the “Poitrine de mouton à la Sainte-Menehoult aux choux ou aux navets,” or the “Morue à la maître d’hôtel.” 

Figure 2. Restaurant Véry – menu created in approximately 1793. Photograph by Peter Szende     

Figure 2.  Restaurant Véry – menu created in approximately 1793. 
Photograph by Peter Szende
Source: Bibliothèque historique de la Ville de Paris

The previously referenced Paris dining guide also presents some remarkable examples of appellations culinaires. In the menu of the famous restaurant Beauvilliers, we find “Cuisse de dindon grillée, sauce Robert,” or “Deux côtelettes de mouton à la Soubise.” The restaurant ‘Les Frères Provencaux’ offered a large variety of named dishes, such as “Petits pâtés â la Béchamelle” [sic] or “Poulet à la Marengo,” or a “Meringues à la Chantilly” for the sweet tooth. (Blanc, 1814) 

Based on Poulain & Neirinck, (2004, pp 66-67), the usage of appellations culinaires exponentially increased between 1651 and 1833.

Important French Cookery Books

% of recipes that include an ‘appellation culinaire

La Varenne: Le cuisinier françois – 1651 

0.02%

Massialot: Le Cuisinier roïal et bourgeois – 1691

10.2 %

Menon: La cuisinière bourgeoise – 1774

14.5%

A. Carême: L’Art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle – 1833

68.67%

Popularizing Appellations Culinaires – Champion One: Marie-Antoine Carême (1784- 1883) 

Carême was the father of haute cuisine and a devoted codifier of French cuisine; he could be considered as one of the first celebrity chefs who cooked for Georges IV in England and the Tsar Alexander I of Russia.  (Jankowski, 2017).

Escoffier later attributed the foundation for French cuisine and preparation to Carême who allowed it to transcend borders and gain appreciation worldwide. (Ferguson, 2004)

From Ferguson, we learn that “Carême baptized each preparation…sometimes he had the ingredients supplied the names…the variants – of soups, of sauces, and other dishes – allowed him greater scope for honorific, geographical, and historical names.” (Ferguson, 2004, p. 72)

For example, shrimp bisque came with a variety of denominations such as “à la française, à la Corneille, à l’amiral de Rigny, à la Périgord, à la princesse, au chasseur, à la Régence, and à la royale.”(Ferguson, 2004. P. 72)

Carême believed that by these appellations culinaires would be more recognizable for culinary professionals. (Ferguson, 2004) 

Popularizing Appellations Culinaires – Champion Two: Escoffier (1846-1935 )    

“The most famous cook in the world,” Escoffier was considered a champion of French cooking. (Shaw, 1994, p. 9) “Escoffier radically simplified food service by advocating the use of seasonal ingredients and the abandonment of elaborate garnishes. He also streamlined the organization of professional kitchens.” (Britannica, n.d.) Throughout his long career, he invented several infamous dishes that still remain prevalent today.  As Escoffier wrote, “I first put Pêche Melba on the menu for the opening of the Carlton Hotel [in London].” (Escoffier, 1997, p. 115)

Much like the Pêche Melba, Escoffier would name all his favorite dishes after women. The range of women extended from princesses to actresses and singers, as well as demi-mondaines. Other times, Escoffier elected to name his dishes after destinations such as Filets de Sole Walewska that was named after the Villa Walewska in Monte Carlo. (Shaw, 1994)

From the beginning, Escoffier remained adamant that the French names remained untranslatable. Because of the French language’s diverse descriptions, he insisted that French “cuisine would continue to speak French.” (Ferguson, 2004, p. 72)

“The Best Dinner I Ever Ate!” Said the Kaiser.

“The Best Dinner I Ever Ate!” Said the Kaiser. Source: Omaha daily bee, September 24, 1911, Image 35   

The Best Dinner I Ever Ate!” Said the Kaiser.
Source: Omaha daily bee, September 24, 1911, Image 35

Let’s refer to Prosper Montagné again: “Garnishes are numerous and important to French cuisine. They are sometimes named after the man who originated them, or for an occasion, or for a place, or for many other reasons. (Montagné, p. 445) Expanding on Montagné’s attempt to better understand appellations culinaires, see below a few selected categories of naming culinary preparations:          

NAMING CULINARY PREPARATIONS:

SELECTED CATEGORIES

Examples

Notes

1. Names are Based on Geography

béarnaise (e.g. sauce béarnaise)

Béarn is a province of southwestern France.

2. Fantasy or Whimsical Names

demi-deuil

(e.g. Chicken   demi-deuil, or “half-mourning,”) for the dark color given to the chicken’s skin by the slices of truffle tucked under the skin.

3. Dominant color

Carmen or Cardinal 

Pinkish

red shades

4. Historical events

à la Marengo

Commemorating Napoleon Bonaparte’s battle of Marengo   

5. Reference to  a profession, rank or status

à la meunière

In the style of the miller’s wife 

à la financière

A rich mixture; banker’s style

6. NOTABLE FIGURES

5.1. Celebrity Chefs,  Gastronomists and Hoteliers

à la Dugléré

Named after the 19th-century French chef Adolphe  Dugléré

6.2. Celebrities in Art and Literature

Carpaccio

Named after Venetian renaissance painter, Vittore Carpaccio

6.3. Aristocracy and Royalty

Béchamel

Marquis de Béchamel, a general of Louis XIV. 

6.4. Prominent Historical Figures 

Casanova   

Italian Adventurer

6.5. Politicians

Bismarck

Otto von Bismarck, German statesman

6.6. Mistresses

à la Dubarry

Madame du Barry – Courtesan of Louis XV

The table is based in part on principles outlined in Poulain & Neirinck (2004) and Riley (1996). 

The ‘Gringoire et Saulnier’

First published in 1914, Le Répertoire de La Cuisine was written by Théodore Gringoire and Louis Saulnier; the latter being Escoffier’s own student. This little book quickly became a standard reference for the culinary world and the Bible for chefs and restaurateurs. The book contained a short explanation of seven thousand classic garnishes. Appellations culinaires helped clarify the meaning of various culinary terms and it denoted specific garnishes and the method of cooking/preparation. As such, generations of culinary or hospitality students will know with closed eyes what the base ingredient is of various appellations: e.g.      

Appellation

Denotes   

Argenteuil

Asparagus

Crêcy

Carrots

Dubarry

Cauliflower

Florentine

Spinach

Soubise

Onion

Clamart

Peas

Popularizing Appellations Culinaires in the US – Champion Three – Charles Ranhofer (1836-1899)    

Starting in France, many other countries adopted well known French appellations or created their own ones. Delmonico’s, the first fine dining restaurant in the US opened its doors in 1837. In 1862, Charles Ranhofer became their Chef. A French-born and trained Chef who built a remarkable reputation for haute cuisine in New York and invented many legendary dishes such as Eggs Benedict, Baked Alaska (commemorating the purchase of Alaska from the Russians in 1867) or Lobster Newburg. (Delmonico’s, N/D). 

Delmonico’s menu offered in 1838 was presented both in English and French and included some appellations culinaires. Here are a few examples: (Menu items are transcribed as found on the menu)

Appellations Culinaires in French

Appellations Culinaires in English

Potage Julienné

Vegetable soup

Jambon de Mayence

Westphalia do   do

Entre côte de boeuf à la sauce

[Item  is missing]

Petits Patés à la Bechamelle aux truffs

Little pies with truffles

Maquereau à la maître d’hôtel

Mackerel fricasseed

Haricot nouveaux à la maître d’hôtel

Fresh beans with butter sauce

Source: Carte du restaurant, 1838.     
The Delmonico’s in 1897

The Delmonico’s in 1897 Source: New York-tribune, August 29, 1897, p. 10.

Source: New York-tribune, August 29, 1897, p. 10. 
The history behind Lobster à la Newburg. 

The history behind Lobster à la Newburg. Source: The evening times., October 12, 1899. p. 6.

Source: The evening times., October 12, 1899. p. 6.

Challenges with naming culinary preparations 

Challenge 1 – La langue française 

In 1862, when Charles Ranhofer joined Delmonico’s, he switched the bilingual menu to French-only. (Haley, 2011) For decades, this French gastronomic restaurant was clearly the social center for the affluent New York elite.

With time, the concern has become that the French language itself will seriously threaten the survival of appellations culinaires in the New World.

As the world plunged into World War 1, the international society changed. No longer was fine dining merely a privilege for aristocracy. Restaurants acknowledged this change and began to appeal to the growing middle class. (Haley, 2011) Many fine dining restaurants reverted to English-only menus and introduced an array of international cuisine. (Haley, 2011)

However, French restaurants and dishes remained among the leading cuisines. These restaurants continued to appeal to the high-class diners with higher prices and more formal dress codes. (Haley, 2011)

A long debate over the necessity of French menus had begun in American society. Here are three examples:       

A long debate over the necessity of French menus had begun in the American society. Source: The Norfolk weekly news-journal., November 18, 1910, Image 4.

Source: The Norfolk weekly news-journal., November 18, 1910, Image 4.

Source: The Kansas City sun, September 23, 1916 Image 6.

Source: The Kansas City sun, September 23, 1916 Image 6.

Source: Albuquerque morning journal February 17, 1917, p. 5

Source: Albuquerque morning journal February 17, 1917, p. 5

As the usage of French language menus decreased by the end of the first World War, appellations culinaires also diminished.

Challenge 2 – Inconsistency in Naming Dishes

In 1976, Jacques Pépin emphasized the importance of establishing a structure and scope for French cooking and garnishes. However, he lamented that internationally, dishes were produced and named in restaurants without an understanding of the proper garnish to be utilized. (Saulnier, 1976).          

In spite of the existing reference books and culinary guides, due to the uncontrolled nature of naming dishes, the globalization and the proliferation and permutation of designations that were used led to a rather chaotic situation in the world of gastronomy.   

The fading of appellations culinaires in the culinary world. 

Systematically naming culinary preparations in fine dining restaurants had been a norm until Nouvelle Cuisine revolutionized French cooking toward the end of 1960th and in the 1970th. Jacques Pépin wrote in 2003: “Nouvelle Cuisine was, and would remain, the biggest revolution in my culinary life.” (Pépin, 2003, p. 178.)

Nouvelle Cuisine allowed chefs to receive fresh ingredients and condense their menus to focus on specific dishes. This reduced cooking times and overall simplified recipes and dishes. (Pépin, 2003)*

Interestingly, when the first author of this article moved to France in the early 1990th observed many fine dining chefs were still keeping the Gringoire and Saulnier book in their back pockets of their chef pants.      

*Note that an earlier, 18th-century culinary movement was also called nouvelle cuisine.

Epilogue

On November 29, 2016, we had the opportunity to interview Chef Jacques Pépin and Chef Jean-Claude Szurdak at the School of Hospitality Administration at Boston University. At this point, we asked Chef Pépin on his thoughts regarding the importance and relevancy of appellations culinaires in modern-day kitchens. Chef Pépin noted that during his early years in the kitchens, these terms were crucial for the success of the restaurants as they were a universal language. With the rise of Nouvelle Cuisine, Chef Pépin confirmed that there was a decrease in these denominations. This created more complicated menu descriptions and decreased comprehension by patrons.

Chef Jacques Pépin and Chef Jean-Claude Szurdak at the School of Hospitality Administration at Boston University

Chef Jacques Pépin and Chef Jean-Claude Szurdak at the School of Hospitality Administration
Photograph by Peter Szende

PDF Version Available Here


REFERENCES   
Blanc, H. (1814). Le guide des dîneurs ou statistique des principaux restaurants de Paris. (n.p.). 
Auguste Escoffier. (n.d.) In Encyclopedia Britannica online. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Auguste-Escoffier
Carte du restaurant français des frères Delmonico. (1838). New York: T.& C. Wood, Stationers.            
Delmonico’s (N/D). Delmonico’s Restaurant. Retrieved from https://delmonicos.com/about/
Escoffier, A. (1997). Memories of My Life. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Ferguson, P.P. (2004). Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Gernet, J. (1962). Daily Life in China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Haley, A. P. (2011). Turning the Tables: Restaurants and the Rise of the American Middle Class, 1880-1920. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
Jankowski, N. (2017, January 12). How A Destitute, Abandoned Parisian Boy Became the First Celebrity Chef. National Public radio, Inc. Retrieved from 
https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/01/12/509154654/how-a-destitute-abandoned-parisian-boy-became-the-first-celebrity-chef
Josserand, C. (2008, May). Les soupers de Louis XV et les menus de Choisy. Mémoire d’étude – École du Louvre.     
Kindermann, H. (1964). Über die guten Sitten beim Essen und Trinken. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill
McCall, M. & Lynn, A. (2008). The Effects of Restaurant Menu Items Descriptions on Perceptions of Quality, Price, and Purchase Intention. Journal of Foodservice Business Research, 11(4), pp. 439-445.
Montagné, P. (1961). Larousse Gastronomique: The Encyclopedia of Food, Wine & Cookery. Crown Publishers, Inc.: New York.      
Pépin, J. (2003). The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen. New York: Houghton Mifflin.   
Poulain, J-P & Neirinck, E. (2004). Histoire de la cuisine et des cuisiners (5th ed.). Paris: Éditions LT Jacques Lanore.   
Rambourg, P. (2011, January). Le menu du Moyen Âge au XX e siècle : témoin de l’histoire et de la gastronomie. Retrieved from the Bibliothèque municipale de Dijon website: http://patrimoine.bm-dijon.fr/pleade/pages/doc/document_rambourg.pdf
Riley, S. (1996). Eigennamen in gastronomischen Garnituren im Deutschen und Englischen oder: Was sind echte Langenburger Wibele und Yorkshire Pudding? In R. Gläser (Ed.), Eigennamen in der Fachkommunikation (pp.131-154).
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Szende, P., Pang, J.K. & Yu. H. (2013). Experience Design in the 13th Century: The Case of Restaurants in Hangzhou. Journal of China Tourism Research, 9(1), pp. 115-132. 
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Yang, S. (2013). Menu Design for the Food and Beverage Operation. In. P. Szende (Ed.) Hospitality Management Learning Modules. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

About the Authors

Dr. Peter Szende of Boston University School of Hospitality Administration

Dr. Peter Szende has over 25 years of management experience in the hospitality industry in both Europe and North America. He is currently a Programme Lead in Hospitality Management at Oxford Brookes Business School, UK.

Namrata Sridhar graduate of Boston University School of Hospitality Administration

Namrata Sridhar is a graduate of Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration (BU SHA) class of 2019. She currently works for Tock HQ as a marketing coordinator in Chicago, IL. She has also previously worked in a marketing communications capacities at RealFood Consulting as well as EF Education First in both a marketing and operations role. During her time at BU, Namrata also served as the President of the Student Government of BU SHA and was an active member of the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, and the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International.

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