What Makes Something Gourmet? What Is Gourmet Food?
Author: Chef George Krumov
Today, many restaurants try to distinguish themselves by calling their cuisine "gourmet", and offering higher-end product with the best possible service and atmosphere. I think that "fine dining" is a better term in English language to describe that, but lets talk about what makes something gourmet. At what point does something become gourmet?
Many chefs and connoisseurs view gourmet food as a form of art. It is about creating something original that is not seen at the dinner menu of every other restaurant in town. It is about cooking with passion and madness, and putting your heart into the food. Gourmet food is usually presented with a bit of artistic flair, so it is appealing to the eye. Gourmet food is associated mostly with sensory pleasures other than sustenance alone. Many industry professionals spend tremendous amount of time and resources, devoting themselves to cultivating refined tastes. They create a classy restaurant which has higher menu prices but is worthwhile. They are not only offering thing that pertains to food but they also cover the entire experience, with unique presentation, excellent service and pleasant atmosphere. People who want to taste fine foods, and have the means to afford it, can go to great lengths in order to satisfy their taste buds.
There are, of course, many other reasons why people go to gourmet restaurants. For example, people want to be amongst their like-minded peers, to see and be seen, to impress their companions, or even to show off their status.
Many gourmet restaurants are built on places with a great view and ambiance which is apt to the level of excellence they want to maintain. Most of the patrons of gourmet restaurants are not necessarily rich or wealthy, but for those who are, it is not simply a matter of taste buds stimulation. There are a lot of cozy and relaxing restaurants, that are not trying to brand themselves as "gourmet", but nevertheless deliver great food at more reasonable prices. But to those who really want to experience the finest foods, you can learn some cooking techniques and try it in your own house. Simply follow some of the recipes in this web site, and add your creative flair to it.
One thing that I have learned about gourmet food, being a chef for so many years, I have never heard anyone except myself, make the point whether or not gourmet food has to be healthy. It always puzzles me that it is never about health and always about taste. I would never call something "gourmet" if it is not healthy, cooked with some MSG or the many tricky forms of MSG that some so called "celebrity chefs" know very well.
Well, nowadays you can see many things being called "gourmet", for example gourmet pizza, gourmet burger, and I bet you can even find a gourmet frozen dinner in your grocery store. At what point something stops being ordinary tasty food and becomes gourmet? If I personally pick and grind some meat, make my own patties and cook them to perfection, is it gourmet? Can a really good chef, using McDonald's supplies and equipment, cook a gourmet burger? Is it exotic ingredients or unusual combinations that make something gourmet? - I think that a burger, for example, would be worthy to be called gourmet, if it involved some very good cooking care, high quality products, innovative presentation, and last but not least excellent service.
I'm not a frequent "fine dining" person, although I love to cook gourmet food for others. I am happier to cook a lighter Mediterranean-style food at home and achieve the same results as with gourmet food. When I do find myself in one of the gourmet restaurants that people talk about, the food is mostly very good, but never a life-changing experience, or even that memorable. I guess I take into account just the food and not the other, shallower parts of the experience. As I already said, "gourmet" is an entire experience. Gourmet chefs do have some great skills and excellent knowledge of the profession. It may seem to you that a sushi chef just slices the tuna and it tastes great, but you haven't seen how much care goes into preparing the tuna, handling it properly, aging it to the best texture and then finally cutting it. You would be surprised how bad ordinary home cooks are with something as trivial as cutting fish.
What makes something gourmet is a combination of many things: chef's skill, server's skill, fresh healthy ingredients, unique presentation and great atmosphere. Equipment is not a factor, because there was "gourmet" long before the modern kitchen equipment was invented.
Let me make something clear, the best ingredients doesn't necessarily mean the most expensive or the most rare, although there is some correlation. In my book, the best ingredients means the most healthy ones, prepared by a competent chef or cook. Excellent ingredients prepared by an incompetent cook are most of the time a waste of money.
Sometimes, though, it is nothing more than the word "gourmet" placed in front of the name on a box in the grocery store, that makes it gourmet. That is the only explanation for such curiosities, such as box of gourmet herb crackers or a can of gourmet baby corn. In this case "gourmet" is like the king's new clothes. If you say something is gourmet, and say it with strong conviction, people tend to eventually believe it and it magically becomes true in their minds. Maybe they even enjoy it more. It is all good, though. After all, isn't it how everything else work in life.