O! be some other name:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
— Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
It is all in a name, how you describe something, the language you use. Words put together on a menu to make something sound good, sometimes better than it actually is. Some chefs describe everything, from the fact the plate was chilled to a composite list of all seven micro greens, the name of the farmer who sold the greens and how many miles away the farm is from the actual table at which you are sitting (don’t move your plate).
The goal of any menu is to make it easy for a person to order something they think they will like. In the case of the home cook, the goal is to describe the food you are serving to your lucky guests in a way that make them go “Oh!, Mmmmm! or Ooooh!,” even before they taste it. Most people don’t like surprises (especially when they are paying for them). When I describe a dish, verbally or in writing, I include information on the major flavors, so no one is caught off guard getting something they don’t like, or cannot eat. There is a fine line between being descriptive enough and going overboard, however.
“Roasted Beet Salad with Micro Greens, Caramelized Walnuts and Goat Cheese Mousse” is how I would describe the dish. This hits all the important flavors. I would not include the fact that I used honey, heavy cream, shallots, roasted garlic and lemon. If I did put a splash of Bombay Sapphire Gin in the Goat Cheese Mousse, I would put that in the description, however, not only so I could charge another dollar for the salad and make people go “Oooh!” but also because some folks need to know these things. You can make your food sound much better than it is with flowery gourmet language, too, but I will expand on that topic another day.
Sometimes an old tried and true recipe just needs a title makeover. Years ago while living in Washington, DC, I was working with the Mother of the Bride on the menu I was doing for the Bridal Shower Luncheon at her home in Georgetown. She was actually pretty easy to work with but I will never forget the sound of her voice on the phone as she turned up her nose when I suggested a great Bean Dip that I had been using happily for years as an appetizer option. “I don’t want Bean Dip,” she stated. Well okay, I thought, no bean dip for you. Moments later, I mentioned that I had a great recipe for Mediterranean Bean Pâté. “Ooooh,” she cooed, “that sounds great!”
Mediterranean Bean Pâté
Bean dip is all it is. Sure to please even the Mother of the Bride.
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, pasted
½ cup dry white wine
1 can Cannellini beans (or other white beans), washed and drained
½ cup chicken stock
Zest of one half orange or lemon
Juice of one half orange or lemon
1 sprig fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Parsley for garnish
Method: Cook the onion with the olive oil in a small pot until sweated. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the white wine and orange or lemon juice. Cook until reduced to almost dry. Add the beans, stock, zest, thyme, bay leaves and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook 10 minutes stirring often. Remove the thyme sprig and bay leaves. Puree. Chill or serve at room temperature. Adjust the seasonings before serving. Garnish with minced parsley.