Monday, June 1, 2009

Food Language - Homemade vs Housemade

The June 1st issue of Newsweek magazine includes an article about the current trend that has restaurants labelling menu items with the neologism "housemade" instead of the well-known adjective "homemade."

In regards to the word homemade, Chef Brian Bistong from Braeburn is quoted as saying, "The word has lost its meaning, it sounds either amateurish (Aunt Edna's homemade pie) or hokey (Chevy's homemade ranch dressing). Housemade has more cache."

The article also states that many chefs "insist that the shift from homemade to housemade is a mere linguistic correction; one dines 'on the house' after all."

The Baltimore Sun restaurant critic, Elizabeth Large, posted the following comment from a friend on her blog -

"What's with restaurants calling things 'homemade' anyway? Does someone live at the restaurant? Did the chef make it at home before coming to work?"

Large responds that the reason restaurants do this is that "they want to convey that their food is just like the food that you could lovingly fix for yourself at home, only better."

In regards to the difference between "homemade" and "housemade," Large points out that
"'housemade' isn't any more or less accurate when you think about it; a restaurant isn't a house either."

In my opinion, the difference between the two words is a simple matter of subtle semantic innuendo and status. A Ritz Carlton restaurant is far more likely to have a "housemade" item on their menu than a Big Boy restaurant is, just as a Big Boy restaurant is far more likely to have a "homemade" item on their menu than a Ritz Carlton restaurant is.

By the way - I don't know about you, but I can't stop chuckling at the name of the restaurant critic from the Baltimore Sun.


Carlos said...

"...they want to convey that their food is just like the food that you could lovingly fix for yourself at home, only better."

Does anyone really believe that drivel? It has nothing to do with being "lovingly fixed," and everything to do about money. Sadly, because we’re generally a stupid society, many of us will fall for this ruse.

On a related note, I went to a fabulous restaurant in Charleston Thursday that was about as close to homemade food as I’ve ever had at a restaurant. From the atmosphere to the plates, everything was fantastic.

Anonymous said...

For years a handwritten sign on a Mexican Restaurant stated, "HANDMADE
TAMALES" I guess that would take care of the Housemade and Homemade controversy...both would be handmade?

Anonymous said...

Housemade or Homemade vs. "From Scratch" -
Many catering menus and restaurant menus will state "made or baked in-house." Keep in mind that prepared frozen or canned items that are baked or finished "in house" also fall in this category of “Housemade or Homemade.” The words can be are interchangeable but they can be deceiving. What a consumer needs to ask is if all ingredients that comprise a dish or dessert item are prepared "from scratch." THIS means beginning with the BASIC unadulterated ingredients and relying on the chef’s/cook’s/baker’s talents to create from there - THEY CREATE IT ON SITE WITH THEIR OWN HANDS AND EQUIPMENT. IF you are paying large bucks for your dining experience or an establishment has built a reputation based on scratch cooking, you should have “from scratch” prepared food (sauces, breads, dressings, soups from stock, etc…).
Also, if an establishment boasts or refers to their cook as a CHEF or even better, EXECUTIVE CHEF, MASTER CHEF or MASTER PASTRY CHEF, one should ask for their credentials. These distinctions are certified titles which are earned by many years of service and hard work and bestowed by a governing body of Certified Master Chefs. There are fewer than 70 Certified Master Chefs and less than 20 Master Pastry Chefs in the US. The distinctive title of Master Chef or Master Pastry Chef is meticulously documented and followed by a stringently executed 7-8 day test which they must pass to earn their title. This does not mean that a “COOK” cannot produce excellent food worthy of great praise but it does mean that a “cook” should not be addressed by a title in which he/she has not been certified. A good comparison would be calling an EMS Tech by the title of Doctor. They ARE NOT THE SAME but they do work in the same field; the difference would be YEARS of education and practice. I hope this helps…

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