Gourmet (US: //, UK: //) is a cultural ideal associated with the culinary arts of fine food and drink, or haute cuisine, which is characterized by refined, even elaborate preparations and presentations of aesthetically balanced meals of several contrasting, often quite rich courses. Historically the ingredients used in the meal tended to be rare for the region, which could also be impacted by the local state and religious customs. The term and its associated practices are usually used positively to describe people of refined taste and passion. Gourmet food tends to be served in smaller, more expensive, portions. There also tends to be cross-cultural interactions when it comes to Gourmet, introducing new ingredients, materials and practices.
Origin of term
The word gourmet is from the French term for a wine broker or taste-vin employed by a wine dealer. Friand was formerly the reputable name for a connoisseur of delicious things that were not eaten primarily for nourishment: "A good gourmet", wrote the conservative eighteenth-century Dictionnaire de Trévoux, employing this original sense, "must have le goût friand", or a refined palate. The pleasure is also visual: "J'aime un ragoût, et je suis friand", Giacomo Casanova declared, "mais s'il n'a pas bonne mine, il me semble mauvais". In the eighteenth century, gourmet and gourmand carried disreputable connotations of gluttony, which only gourmand has retained. Gourmet was rendered respectable by Monsieur Grimod de la Reynière, whose Almanach des Gourmands, essentially the first restaurant guide, appeared in Paris from 1803 to 1812. Previously, even the liberal Encyclopédie offered a moralising tone in its entry Gourmandise, defined as "refined and uncontrolled love of good food", employing reproving illustrations that contrasted the frugal ancient Spartans and Romans of the Republic with the decadent luxury of Sybaris. The Jesuits' Dictionnaire de Trévoux took the Encyclopédistes to task, reminding its readers that gourmandise was one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
The term gourmet can refer to a person with refined or discriminating taste who is knowledgeable in the craft and art of food and food preparation.
Gourmand carries additional connotations of one who enjoys food in great quantities.
An epicure is similar to a gourmet, but the word may sometimes carry overtones of excessive refinement.
A gourmet chef is a chef of particularly high caliber of cooking talent and skill.
What is considered gourmet is different depending on the time and geographic region. What is gourmet historically depended upon what ingredients the people of that region had access to and how easily they acquire them. For instance, seafood could be considered a luxury in an area that lacks fish, whereas it would not be seen as such in an area near the ocean or a great river. Gourmet tended, and still does in many parts of the world, to be revered by a person with access to wealth because gourmet food has always been expensive. The expense was the result of a scarcity of ingredients for a particular food in the region at the time. This fact meant they needed to be brought in from far away, which brought a variety of risks to the merchants. Merchants would have to deal with weather conditions, thieves, and broken equipment, intermediaries, and other such factors that could delay or interrupt the shipment of the good at the cost of their lives and fortune. Thus they asked for higher prices. For millenniums, about 10% of the population could eat food that may have been considered gourmet in their time. Potentially 80% of the global population worked in food production and would have eaten more typical meals to survive. The typical meal would be what they could most easily get their hands on. In Britain, for instance, that was gruels, vegetables, small amounts of wild game, and grains.
Another factor would be religious/cultural beliefs and customs, which have a significant impact on the food that was eaten. For instance, Jewish and Islamic cultures have rules for not only what they can eat, but how to prepare the food and what it can be paired with. To eat specific food items they must be Kosher (for Jews) Jhatka (for Hindu) and Halal (for Muslims). One well-known example is that neither can eat pork because they consider pigs to be unclean. Another example is that many people of India generally do not consume beef because many devout Hindus believe the cow is a sacred animal. Buddhism's encouragement of adopting vegetarianism also limits what devout Buddhists can eat. These practices and beliefs encourage what is not eaten in society but also what can be eaten. For instance, the Buddhists have a history of preparing and eating tofu to satisfy their dietary requirements for protein. There is also the role of the state when it comes to these issues sometimes dictating how meals should be prepared. An example of this would be that of edicts of Ashoka who declared that many animals shall be given decent treatment and limited the numbers that could be consumed. Ashoka was a very devout Buddhist and that affected his policies.
This trading from non-local regions, also means, almost by necessity, that there was much cultural exchange between different groups to get these goods. The Columbian Exchange introduced many ingredients and styles to the new world and Europe starting with the expansion of the Iberian Empires. The new world introduced to Europeans tomatoes, potatoes, chocolate, and much more. Another example would be interactions with the Islamic world, which impacted catholic cuisine in the 1100s. These interactions introduced many spices, the theory of the culinary cosmos, and cooking items such as North African pottery. These trades were facilitated by rich merchant states that traded with them, the most notable being Venice.
Gourmet may describe a class of restaurant, cuisine, meal or ingredient of high quality, of special presentation, or high sophistication. In the United States, a 1980s gourmet food movement evolved from a long-term division between elitist (or "gourmet") tastes and a populist aversion to fancy foods. Gourmet is an industry classification for high-quality premium foods in the United States. In the 2000s, there has been an accelerating increase in the American gourmet market, due in part to rising income, globalization of taste, and health and nutrition concerns. Individual food and beverage categories, such as coffee, are often divided between a standard and a "gourmet" sub-market.
Certain events such as wine tastings cater to people who consider themselves gourmets and foodies. Television programs (such as those on the Food Network) and publications such as Gourmet magazine often serve gourmets with food columns and features. Gourmet tourism is a niche industry catering to people who travel to food or wine tastings, restaurants, or food and wine production regions for leisure.
Foodie is often used by the media as a conversational synonym for gourmet, although it is a different concept (that of a food aficionado). The word foodie was coined synchronously by Gael Greene in the magazine New York and by Paul Levy and Ann Barr, co-authors of The Official Foodie Handbook (1984).
- Fooding – a restaurant guide
- Michelin Guide – a restaurant guide
- Specialty foods
- Cotgrave's French-English dictionary of 1611, quoted by Jean-Louis Flandrin, whose chapter "Distinction Through Taste", in A History of Private Life: Passions of the Renaissance (Belknap Press, Harvard University) 1989:289-92, "Gluttons and Epicures", traces the significance of these French terms in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
- "I love a ragout, and I am a connoisseur, but if it isn't good-looking, it seems bad to me." (Histoire de ma vie, 8:ix) for Casanova the immediate question was whether a young woman of literary tastes would have been interesting if she had not been lovely.
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- Deuteronomy 14:6-8
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