Chris van Schaick: I don’t like the way restaurants and supermarkets describe food
15:19 16 February 2017
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From pan-friend salmon, to air-dried ham, the way many restaurants and supermarkets describe food gets Chris’s organic, grass-fed goat
Recently I’ve been thinking a good deal about air-dried ham. It’s not the ham itself that’s been on my mind. It’s the air driedness of it. We nod sagely when we see the words on a menu. But what happens in this air drying? Is the ham hung out on a washing line on a bright, windy Monday morning? Is it bundled into a tumble drier? Or is it tied to a car radio aerial and taken for a spin along the M27? And anyway, what other method is there to dry anything other than with air – hot or cold?
We’ve undoubtedly added to the gaiety of nations by adding an extra level of loving detail to descriptions of food. Not just on restaurant menus, but on supermarket labels too. In my other life as a words-for-business bloke, I’ve even contributed to the trend.
But in a noble effort to be less boring, we sometimes end up conjuring pictures – like the air-dried ham – which seem tantalisingly beyond the reach of everyday comprehension. Or we include details which don’t add much to the story.
Take the pan fried salmon. I can see the problem. If you just said fried salmon, it might sound like something from the chippy and you wouldn’t want to pay £20.50. But what else would you use to fry salmon, other than a pan? An old shoe?
The other day I noticed a menu offering a starter including heritage broccoli. But it’s not what you think. It hadn’t been aged in an oak cask for ten years. It’s just a particular variety of the veg, which to me didn’t look radically different from any other type.
In fact in this age of food show-offery, I’m finding that I understand less and less of the average restaurant menu. I often have to get my phone out and start searching to understand the terms. I know it’s not a good look when seated at table opposite your beautiful companion (Mrs. v. S.). But otherwise neither of us would have known what Old Winchester shavings were. Grated cheese, by the way.
There’s another trend, to try and persuade us that products which are not positively bad for us can be consumed with enjoyment because they share characteristics with things which aren’t so healthy. I chuckled inwardly in the supermarket seeing grape juice labelled as Merlot. It was if taking this teetotal option could still get you close to an actual glass of wine. Likewise I found myself suckered into buying a box of salted caramel green tea bags. Salted caramel bad. But green tea good. Get one to offset the other. I have to report that the salted caramel green tea tasted very much like you might expect.
Anyway, must close now, as it’s time for a snack. With my cup of kettle-boiled tea, I think I’ll have a Morphy Richards toaster-seared crumpet with knife spread butter. Either that or a garage-aged Kit Kat.
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