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Flickr: Jonathan Caves

Chefs like to create a mystique when they write menus. They often do this to get a “wow, that sounds fancy” response from diners. Many times menu verbiage is confusing, unless you are hip on contemporary restaurant terms. And often you are let down when you find out that lardons simply means bacon and crème fraiche is often just sour cream. Much of the confusion comes from the French usage of culinary terms that get bent to fit an American interpretation. Other menu verbiage is just plain silly, bordering on ridiculous.

1) A Lardon Cheeseburger?

Let’s start with the bombardment of French terms that have become so pervasive on American menus in recent years. Lardons is the French term for bacon. Of course, lardons in France means cooked pork belly that has been diced, which ends up in various dishes such as coq au vin (chicken with mushrooms, wine, and bacon) and frisee aux lardons (greens with bacon), to name a few. Most American restaurants that use the term lardons have some allegiance to French cooking, so don’t expect to see the term replacing bacon on items like bacon cheeseburgers and bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches. A lardon cheeseburger just doesn’t have the same appeal.

2) What The Hell is Crème Fraiche?

Crème fraiche seems to be everywhere these days–even at the neighborhood pub. Inexperienced waiters tend to call it everything from cream fray-shay to cream frack–it’s pronounced crème fresh. In France, and at most upscale American places, crème fraiche is made with heavy cream and buttermilk that is held in a stainless steel bowl at room temperature for a few days until it becomes dense and stinky. Many restaurants in America cheat and just use sour cream instead of the real thing. But most American palates can’t tell the difference, mostly because it’s just a component of a dish and not a stand-alone item.

3) Confit This, Confit That

The term confit usually relates to duck confit (pronounced kohn-FEE), which means the birds have been salted and cooked in their own fat, and then stored in their solidified fat, acting as a preservative. Ducks that are prepared in this manner (and the French use geese, too) can be held under refrigeration for several months. The only problem with the American usage of the term confit is that it often refers to vegetables and fruit that have no fat. We’ve all seen lemon confit and fennel confit and leek confit on menus in recent years–a real stretch that pisses off French chefs.

4) Where’s the Compote?

The term compote, at least in France, relates to fresh fruit that has been slow-cooked (so the fruit holds its form) with simple syrup until it has a thick consistency. But many American chefs take liberties with the term–you see it in various forms, sometimes not even made with fruit. “The braised monkfish is served with beet compote tonight?” “What?” I’ve heard unsophisticated waiters call it “fruit compost” and “fruit commode,” neither of which sounds very appealing. “Yeah, I’ll have the composted fruit on my French toast, please.”

5) There’s Garlic in the Aioli?

Garlic aioli is one of the biggest redundancies you will ever see on a menu, considering that aioli is essentially garlic mayonnaise of French origin, and it seems to be on just about every American menu these days. So, calling it garlic aioli is fundamentally unnecessary. Plus, American chefs love to add other ingredients to aioli, calling it everything from roasted red pepper aioli to sesame aioli to chive aioli, which really infuriates true French chefs, who originally designed the stuff to mask the stench of rancid meat.

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