Welcome to Chez Gram

This is a compendium of terms connected with food. It focuses on the origins of such terms, their history and, often, their etymologies (and their folk etymologies), their connotations and their usage (and misuse). The posts will tend to highlight little-known aspects of a dish, product or personality and will make no attempt to be comprehensive. That is the job of food encyclopaedias, such as the authoritative Oxford Companion to Food. The tone of the posts will range from enthusiasm (for tarte Tatin or for certain chefs, for example) to rants (against McDonald’s and other egregious purveyors of malbouffe). Having lived in France for most of my life, I make no excuse for the fact that there may be a certain bias in the selection of the topics discussed. But my remit is by no means restricted to things French. To find out, I can do no more than urge you, in the manner of the best-selling Victorian (and post-Victorian) encyclopaedia, to ‘enquire within’.

Eric Flogny 9479

Almost exactly a year ago, I was awarded first prize in a competition for the best article on a gastronomic subject (written in a language other than French) organised by the state-funded tourist agency, Atout France, at the restaurant of the huge Ferrandi catering school in Paris. The article I wrote was on stockfish (wind-dried but unsalted cod). The prize was awarded to me by former ambassador, Philippe Faure (right). Shortly afterwards (no connection), ‘je suis tombé dans les pommes’ (a quaint French expression for ‘I passed out’). Several months (and operations) later, I felt I had recovered enough again to resuscitate Chez Gram.

My first post (just up) is on Jacques Médecin, the late mayor of Nice, who wrote an excellent book, La Cuisine du Comté de Nice, which I translated into English in 1983 as Cuisine Niçoise, Recipes from a Mediterranean Kitchen. By a curious coincidence, Médecin was a great fan of stockfish.

Chez Gram Sampler
Sampler made by Win Campbell

A word of explanation for Chez Gram as a domain name. When I emigrated to France all those years ago, I quickly realised that my surname, when given over the phone for, say, a restaurant booking, would almost always be écorché (literally ‘flayed’, i.e. figuratively ‘mistranscribed’). According to the International Phonetic Alphabet, my name is pronounced /ɡɹeɪ.əm/ or /ɡɹeəm/, but over the phone it would tend to get transcribed variously as ‘drenne’, ‘graine’ or of course ‘gramme’ or ‘gram’. Win Campbell, whose late husband designed and wrote for the London Review of Books, and was responsible more particularly for its memorable covers, was a teacher whose main hobbies were reading and tirelessly embroidering samplers for friends. She kindly thought of making a little sampler for me to hang on my kitchen wall: it reads ‘Chez Gram’. The most egregious example of a mispronunciation often heard on the French media, which it took me some time to decipher, was the mysterious American film producer and director, ‘Ovar Doogue’ - aka Howard Hughes.

Recent Entries

Jacques Médecin

In his obituary of Médecin in the Independent, John Lichfield described him as ‘a lovable rogue’, but added ‘lovable to some at any rate. To others, he was a crook, an embezzler, a womaniser, a fantasist and a racist.’

Rocambole

If you look up the word rocambole in a large English or French dictionary, you’ll find it has two definitions …

Cervelle de Canut

Before discussing this most outlandishly named dish – cervelle de canut (literally ‘silk worker’s brains’), which is basically just a concoction of cottage cheese with chopped chives – may I focus for a moment on the city it originates from and is most closely identified with: Lyon.

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