Why is the industry so determined to make a song and dance out of things that should be considered the norm? When did menus become marketing material? Tony Berry lists a few of the most cringe-worthy buzzwords floating around today’s kitchens.

Marketing people have always had a way with words. Not necessarily a good way, but a facility to use them to some purpose nonetheless. And the purpose is generally to promote and publicise the services or products of those from whom they squeeze their usually excessively large fees.

Success can often be measured by the extent to which the phrases coined by these wordy warriors enter common parlance. They become buzzwords, which is in itself a buzzword, a neologism of fairly recent vintage.

The foodservice industry is awash with them. Everywhere we see dishes described in flowery language and excessive verbiage. This achieves little other than to confuse and puzzle diners. What is intended to enlighten, merely bewilders.

The clever thing is that it is done knowing that few will ever question this excessive prose or seek clarification. That way lies an admission of ignorance and the spin doctors are well aware that few customers are brave enough to so demean themselves in front of their companions or snooty young waitstaff.

Right now my inbox contains a message asking if I have ever wondered what “clean eating” is and whether it’s a trend to be cashing in on. The answer: no and no again. Regardless, I am informed that “at its core” (more wasted words) this purportedly exciting development “involves consuming the most natural and purest form of ingredients possible.” We are urged to “think fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, wholegrains …”

Eh? Isn’t that what we all aim for, and have always aimed for? Who in their right mind would strive to seek anything that wasn’t the freshest available? But in their promotional wisdom, the pushers in the backroom have decided “clean eating” is all the go and it’s a fairly safe bet we will soon be awash in places offering such alleged innovation. Amongst their most loved ingredients are sun-blushed tomatoes (they are no longer sun-dried apparently), chards of skin, toffee or anything else than can be crisped and toasted, pucks, trios (why no quartets or septets?) and grain-fed, hand-reared or any similar cosy phrasing designed to soften the realities of how that steak reached our plate.

One dictionary defines buzzword as an important-sounding and usually technical word or phrase, often of little meaning, used chiefly to impress laymen. Precisely.

The latest in the long line of culinary labels to achieve this objective is the bucolic sounding “foraging”. Any chef worth his salt (natural or pink and gathered from remote mountain lakes) now forages for their ingredients. It is no longer sufficient to have them delivered to your door or even venture out to the market.

To stay ahead of the game – and to convince punters that the food set before them is superior to the fodder served elsewhere – it is necessary to don wellies, waders and work boots and go tramping via paddocks, streams and woods gathering the fruits, greens, herbs and nuts wherever Nature has spread them. Whistling I Love to Go A-wandering and wearing straw hats, dirndl skirts and trousers tied with string is optional but might help enhance the back-to-nature image.

Tosh! What under-staffed, overworked and busy kitchen has time to go traipsing off in search of fish, fowl and greenery? Foraging indeed. The most that can be expected is a quick dash out the back door to grab a few herbs from the window box alongside the outdoor dunny. And even then, where’s the noticeable difference in what ends up on the plate from what is achieved by simply having a good supplier? The only likely difference is the higher price charged by those able to persuade diners that a bit of foraging (it hurts me even to type such a meaningless word) merits extra dollars on the bill.

In tandem with these attempts to make the ordinary sound extraordinary, numerous chefs seem to think they are setting themselves above the opposition when they stress their dedication to using fresh ingredients. Time and again we hear them boasting of the freshness of their product. And the media lets them get away with it and repeats these claims as if they are something special. What else should anyone expect of a kitchen other than to use fresh ingredients?

Not even the Restaurant Australia’s praiseworthy triple-chef promotion of the country’s culinary excellence escaped the use of weasel words. To negate our prawn on a barbie image it served up “fire-roasted seafood” which is … er … prawns on a barbie.

What it is to have such a way with words. Like the chef visiting an upcoming industry event to serve a “plated breakfast”. Gee whiz; how’s that for an innovation?


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