Does chocolate translate?

July 7, 2011 by admin

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Most people love to eat; whether you eat to live or live to eat you will no doubt have spent at least one occasion in an eating establishment. Being a big foodie myself I think I can probably boast of a culinary knowledge many of my friends don’t have (very modest of me, I know!). In fact, when eating out I’m normally the one called upon for explanations. Similarly a past relationship with a French pastry chef has put me in good stead to answer many kitchen related queries.

When living in France I was constantly aware of food and the colourful flowery language used to describe it. When visitors came to stay, and I donned my cap of tour guide and interpreter when dining out, I was often struck by the difficulty in making the food sound as delicious as the French had. Brain pâté on toast anyone? And it’s not only gastronomic restaurants which threw up (no pun intended) language difficulties – I was asked by a French friend to help translate the menu from the brasserie they were working in. Trying to find the English equivalents for numerous types of steak and cuts of lamb was no mean feat! Having recently handled a translation project for the translation of chocolate themed recipes (enough to make me drool at my desk!) written by professional chefs I was once again struck by the difficulty in translating culinary terms.

Many of my ‘go-to’ translators in fact turned the project down- ‘why’? I kept asking myself, it’s only a recipe! However, what appears at first glance to be a step-by-step guide on how to make chocolate dipped pralines with a raspberry fondant centre (easy!), on closer inspection reveals itself to be a set of instructions of scientific and mathematical proportions. Cookery has its own set of verbs; whisking, blending, tempering, folding etc. whose meaning, it has to be said, if you are no stranger to microwave dinners, are not immediately obvious. Tools of the trade could include a ‘marise’ (a bendy type of spatula) or how about a pasta guitar? The world of culinary expertise is certainly not something to be sniffed at; and for those looking for an area of specialisation it is a field which merits further study.

French, arguably, is the language of food, and indeed has many specific terms which the English language lacks. In most professional kitchens these French terms are just borrowed for ease – ‘crème anglaise’ for example, is a type of custard – but don’t think ‘Birds’- as more often than not it is served cold. Or ‘jus’– which is a type of ‘gravy’! Why many may think that it is simply pretentious language- I would disagree and say that half of the beauty of eating out in fancy (or not so fancy) restaurants is the menu descriptions – which often get the taste buds really itching for some gastronomic action.

So in terms of answering the question ‘does chocolate (or should I say chocolattranslate?’ I would have to answer that although, technically, it does a lot of the descriptive vocabulary which lends itself so well to painting the picture of many culinary masterpieces is simply lost in translation. The English just don’t have the culinary heritage (being a Brit I can safely say we are not stereotypically known for our good food!), and therefore lacking in linguistic capacity to portray the gourmet delights which have become second nature to the French.


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