12:49 Friday 15 November 2013

The language of menus

Written byRoss Boardman

Very few restaurant menus are written in simple, un-coded language. Many are embellished with terms that are at best corny and at the other end infuriating.

"No. We do ours in rubber buckets." is the reply from my Uncle David to the term "pan fried". How else are you going to fry a delicate fish fillet.

We recently saw the lies over horse meat which have led to more than a couple of revelations for some chain eateries. You open the menu and it says there in gloating fonts something like “Our homemade 100% beef burger”.

Couple ordering food at a restaurantWithout being overly pedantic I can see four lies in there. They are not selling a product that is related to any of those words. Would you feel better if the menu said something like “Produced to a bulk commercial recipe in a meat plant, delivered frozen and cut with 72% horsemeat”?

Don’t worry it’s not just the economy venues or grocery ranges that get hit by such fibs. A hotel chain in Japan was recently busted for fiddling with their ingredients. It started with fake scallops, then went into red salmon caviar, which was instead of flying fish. Next came carton juice sold as freshly squeezed.

The crowning foul up, regular imported beef sold as Wagyu beef. So how did the Japanese management respond to this? They apologised, refunded customers and took pay cuts. How did our horsemeat sellers respond? They lied, backheeled the blame and ran off into the sunset with the proceeds of their criminal doings.

This is possibly not the biggest crime. How did the Japanese scandal start? A chef was trying to make savings on his menu costs and some customers noticed that the ingredients were not as expected. How did we find out about the horsemeat content? Nope, not one of the millions of burgers or ready meals was taken back as “not being right”. It was food sampling in a lab that saved the day.

Now if somewhere along the line we learned a little something about the food on our plate or even took the time to make it from scratch we would be in a better place. Walk into an Italian supermarket and you will see a chiller cabinet, marked as horsemeat, full of horsemeat. Can we say that is the same here?

Ross Boardman is author of “101 Restaurant Secrets” and an award winning restaurateur.

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