But it has never failed to bewilder me why people of a certain persuasion, the kind who fancy themselves to be epicures, can profess profound knowledge of food and wine whilst concomitantly proving themselves to be anything but erudite when they make the most fundamental of errors when describing themselves to acquaintances. I refer, if you haven’t already twigged, to the perennial tug of war that is the gourmet/gourmand discussion.
These days, the abuse of said terms has decreased somewhat, if only because a new word has emerged that has proven itself to be such a worthy successor of misuse that it has dethroned both gourmet and gourmand from their well-warmed seats. That word, foodie, is nowadays bandied about in gustatory conversations so liberally you’d be hard pressed to talk about cuisine and not hear it hurled about with nonchalance, much like a Chinese chef with his trusty MSG container when preparing a meal: “Oh, please don’t bring Tim along for the degustation. He isn’t a foodie and totally won’t get why we need to have a four hour lunch. I mean, duh, the chef has two Michelin stars for pete’s sake!” But just as we are well aware that a foodie is a person with a pronounced penchant for, and an intense interest in, food, who but the most impervious dolt would have the presence of mind (or lack thereof) to call themselves a ‘foodie’? After all, there is no more efficacious manner to discount your capabilities than by employing pretentious names like ‘foodie’ with which to describe yourself.
Which brings us to the whole gourmet/gourmand palaver. Back in the ’40s, when the Internet was probably only known as an abbreviation for a netball competition between schools, the confusion between the two words was understandable, because not every home was privy to ownership of the voluminous Encyclopaedia Brittanica. But today, when Google is more readily available than bad sex, what excuse is there to still imagine that gourmet and gourmand are synonyms? Let me elucidate: a gourmet is probably the foodie’s older brother. Someone who fancies himself as possessing such heightened senses that he can only eat the best.
Like his younger brother, the gourmet doesn’t seem to grasp that calling himself a gourmet makes him as much of a wanker as his foodie brother, but while the foodie is happy to orally despatch all manner of things gastronomic, the gourmet has essentially priced himself out of the market, so to speak. By declaring his sensorial finesse, he will be as welcome at dinner parties as a wolf at a lamb’s birthday party. Which self-respecting home cook would be silly enough to subject themselves to derision, when their food is inevitably declared as “acceptable, but a shadow of the ridiculously unctuous rare purple tuna that only breeds every leap year and whose flesh is so rapturous I had to beg the chef to tell me where he bought it”?
Then let’s not forget the connoisseur, another word that is deployed with much abandon here in Malaysia. Like the gourmet, the connoisseur is attuned to the finer gastronomic delicacies in life, but unlike the gourmet, the connoisseur has a sagacious knowledge of the fine food and drink with which she surrounds herself. How many of us can profess to be a connoisseur, no matter how well read or perspicacious we may like to think we are? Through the course of my life, I have made stupid decisions, but none so foolish as to describe myself as a foodie, gourmet, or connoisseur to friends or acquaintances, much less in the media.
No, I’m much cleverer than that. I’m just a gourmand, plain and simple, someone who takes a surfeit of pleasure in eating and drinking, and is untrammelled by the need to aspire to lofty culinary heights. Best of all, I know I’ll be welcomed at dinner parties with opened arms because I’ll be vociferous in my appreciation, and abstemious in my need to be a know-it-all.
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