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[personal profile] petermarcus
One of the things I love about high cuisine is the constant evolution. Carême and Escoffier wrote many books and articles in order to standardize the mother sauces that make up French cuisine...then listed hundreds of ways to alter them to show creativity. They used an almost scientific approach to figure out what makes up the core elements of every French sauce, then used an engineering and even artistic approach to modify the core.

They were French, of course, and many of the sauces were named in the last couple hundred years. France went through a flowery period, and a rational period, at various times giving the world Impressionism and the basis of the metric system.

So, there are poetic "Mother" sauces, and others with franco-centric descriptive names, like Sauce Espagnole -- so named because it needs tomatoes, which Spain was known for at the time, or possibly because it can need ham, which Spain was also known for.

Derivative sauces are also either flowery or named for the chef who supposedly invented it:
* Sauce Aurore (Mother Sauce: Velouté(stock and roux), but with tomatoes). Aurore is "dawn" in french, and the sauce is a pale pink.
* Sauce Robert (Mother Sauce: Espagnole, with mustard, onions, demi-glace). This goes back before the mid 1500s, and was probably named after the original chef, which "Robert" is debatable.
* Sauce Béarnaise (Mother Sauce: Hollandaise, with tarragon), probably originating in Béarn, France
* Sauce Chasseur (Mother Sauce: Espagnole, with demi-glace and mushrooms), translated to "Hunter's Sauce" as it's used with wild game.
* Sauce Mornay (Mother Sauce: Béchamel, with cheese), the classic Mac-N-Cheese sauce. Thought to be named after Philippe de Mornay.

Each of these (and hundreds of others) are well known, but don't necessarily give a novice a clue about the ingredients. Sure, Chasseur means "hunter" and maybe that sauce does go well with game, but it doesn't say that it's made with tomatoes, stock, mustard, onions, roux, beef and veal bones, etc. But if someone doesn't know French cuisine, what does Mornay or Robert mean to them?

In the late 70s/early 80s Nouvelle Cuisine hit the States. The pendulum swung to the other side, and the ingredients, and sometimes even the techniques of classic high cuisine were shunned. No complications above all else. Simple presentation, simple ingredients. No roux, no cream, no lard (though butter, thankfully, was just fine). One of the offshoots of this, because it was so nouvelle, was the lack of history behind the dishes. Mornay didn't name the sauce after himself, history did. Similarly, Paul Bocuse and Wolfgang Puck weren't about to name Sauce Bocuse and Sauce Puck to a single sauce, when they were cranking out different meals each week in their restaurants. Customers were becoming more interested in the ingredients as well, for good reasons (no carbs/fat) and bad reasons ("I don't like asparagus"). So, Nouvelle Cuisine introduced and popularized the concept of naming a dish after the description of ingredients, instead of creating a flowery, poetic (or eponymous) names.

These days, menus say:
"Maine lobster ravioli with a Spanish saffron, California champagne cream sauce with shaved French black truffles, local organic chervil, and red Hawaiian sea salt."

There's nothing inherently wrong with this. If you check out I do it all the time myself, even though I'm a culinary Francophile. But, sometimes I think there's something missing from the simple descriptive names of French cuisine.

Christey was at a Florist convention in Boston tonight (her Aunt is a florist bigwig) and the menu kinda spawned this post:

It all sounds seriously good, but other than "Mousse Bomb" (and man, I'd like to see that!) and maybe the word "torte", everything is a description, not a name. Even to the word "noodles".

Maybe we foodies should start coming up with outlandish, French-like flowery names for dishes. "Sauce Ethereal" or even "Halibut Latitude 28". If one or two names out of hundreds actually catches on, maybe it'll bring back some of the romance to cooking.

We can always list the ingredients underneath :)
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January 2012

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