sustain me

What's on the menu by Trevor Irvin

Have you noticed that lately menus aren’t just menus anymore? They are adjective-laden exercises in literary carnage. Pretentious descriptions of food so florid I’m not sure what I’m ordering.

It seems the goal of a restaurant, aside from separating me from the contents of my wallet, is to make me feel good about what I’m eating, or self-conscious, I’m not quite sure which. Thus the word sustainable creeps into every menu I read. Sustainable, as in sustainable agriculture or sustainable fish … however, what I really want is whatever is being served to “sustain me,” not the other way around.

I’ve collected a few culinary terms currently in vogue and added some hints to aid in deciphering them.

  • Locally Grown – Read as “we couldn’t afford the good out-of-town stuff.”
  • Free-range – The cows got loose again. It can have other connotations. Some years ago I had a “free-range” girlfriend. She was kind of slutty and felt free to range into other guys bedrooms.
  • Pan-fried – Really? Is there anything else you can fry something in? Are the other ways to fry I’m unaware of – bathtub fried, portable-heater fried, on top of your car engine fried? If they are frying something and it ain’t in a pan, don’t eat it.
  • A drizzle of reduction – To turn a large amount into a small amount – How ‘bout applying a little of that to my bill?
  • Naturally raised – This I have found to mean “Naturally we raised this to be killed and eaten.”
  • Farm Fresh – WTF? Have you smelled a farm lately? If there is any word that describes a farm’s smell, it sure as hell ain’t “fresh.”  Funky, stinky, smelly, earthy maybe, but not fresh.  A farm smells of fresh manure and pesticides.
  • DeconstructedAvoid anything deconstructed. It means they took it apart and couldn’t get it back together again. To be blunt “deconstructed food” is part of the digestive process.
  • Charred – Somebody done burnt the shit outa it – it’s ruint.
    Shaved – This shouldn’t be on the menu – Either you are getting ready to go to work, or you work in the porn business.
  • Hand-selectedA meaningless term. C’m’on, everything is hand selected. A banana is hand selected. See the pencil I’m holding? It’s “hand selected,” and that doesn’t make it taste any better.
  • Hand-craftedAgain, stupid. I just assume that everyone crafting my food has hands.
  • Lemon FoamWhatever you have to do to a poor lemon to make it foam can’t be good.
  • Rustic – Means the cook is new at this.
  • Low-sodium and low-fat dishesConveniently marked that way so you’ll know they taste like shit.
  • Nose to tail – Defined as: Respect for the animal by using every part of it from nose to tail. A) Wouldn’t it be more respectful of the animal if you didn’t kill and eat it? And B) I’m sorry, there are several things that I won’t mention between a cow’s “nose and tail” I never want to see, let alone eat, including its nose and tail.
  • FusionA real buzz-word in frou-frou restaurants. Essentially a dish which combines techniques or ingredients from two or more regional cuisines. Try re-fusion’ it cuz it’s too con-fusion’.
  • InfusionDifferent from Fusion. It means your food will taste vaguely like something else. For instance your coffee infused Mahi Mahi will taste as if someone accidentally dipped your fish in coffee. Blueberry infused beer means throwing up will be rather interesting and colorful.
  • Traceability – Defined as: Transparency, independent third-party verification, and a strict accounting of the fish’s journey. If you need to see your fish’s passport, you’re not hungry enough.
  • GMO’s – Why do all these environmentalist/foodie people have their panties in a wad about GMO’s? And what does “Genetically Modified Orgasms” have to have with food? Sure, I don’t think you should have GMO’s in a restaurant like that “Harry Met Sally” girl but I think Genetically Modified Orgasms are a terrific idea. After one of those bad boys I bet you have to retrieve your girlfriend’s eyeballs that exploded into the next room.
  • Fair-Trade Coffee – I was raised in Jersey and all our coffee was Unfair Trade Coffee. Customers were told, “This coffee was actually stolen.” And for some reason it just tastes better that way.
  • Fair trade premium – Defined as: A sum of money paid on top of the agreed fair trade price. Which is usually followed by the sentence “You want me to pay how fuckin’ much for this cup of coffee???!!!”
  • Gulf Shrimp – There is a huge gulf between the shrimp we are serving you and the fresh ones in the back.
  • Locavore – A neighbor who will eat anything.
  • Seasonal – At some point during the year this particular dish was fresh, though not necessarily right now.
  • TartareA dish made from finely chopped raw meat or fish, such as steak, venison, tuna or salmon. If it sits out too long its “Ta ta.”
  • Geographic references – These are there to fool you. If your menu says Portland Raised Trout, likely the trout came from Hoboken, were shipped to Portland six weeks later and have the delicate flavor of diesel fuel.

Other weird concepts in the food biz these days:

  • The Edible Schoolyard – Very disturbing, I’m hoping that Jeffrey Dahmer didn’t live close by.
  • Drinkability – What does this mean? If you’ve ordered a “drink” that doesn’t have “drinkability” you’ve just ordered a glass of sand.
  • Farm-Raised Trout – Fish in tiny overalls?
  • Shade Grown Coffee – Just how sensitive is coffee anyway – – maybe use more sunscreen?
  • Cage-free – Chickens on parole?
  • Aquaculture – The Red Lobster chain excels at this – that big-ass fish tank with the three lonely, homely lobsters in it, that’s Aquaculture.
  • Comfort Food – so much salt and fat in this dish your doctor will be “comfortable” for the rest of his life supplying you diabetes meds. Usually comes with a side of defibrillator.
  • Foraged – They honestly want me to believe the cook wandered around in the woods for days looking for this particular ingredient? It simply indicates that he looked a long time in the refrigerator for it.

Avoid items with the following descriptions:

  • Soup of the Day – all the leftover old shit in some sort of broth.
  • All Natural – will be brown or green and taste like old sock.
  • Gourmet – means it isn’t.
  • Certified organic – you’ll need a loan to eat this.
  • Anything labeled “Stay Fresh” – there are enough additives in this to be designated a superfund cleanup site.
  • Stick to your ribs – you’ve been served a plate of diabetes.
  • Decadent – call me old-fashioned, but I like my women decadent, not my food.
  • Artisanal or Artisan – No one knows what this means, but I suspect a hippie who didn’t wash after he used the rest-room may have had a hand in it.
  • The “free” category – Gluten-free, tree-nut free, dairy-free, peanut-free, shellfish-free etc. Of course none of it’s free; it will cost you a lot more. But it will be taste-free.
  • Biodynamic wine – This one is so new I had to Wikipedia it. I’m going to go out on a limb and say stay the hell away from this shit. Here is “step one” in the preparation:
    Preparation 500 – Cow manure is buried in a cow horn in the soil over winter. The horn is then dug up; its contents (called horn manure or ‘500’) are then stirred in water and sprayed on the soil in the afternoon. The horn may be re-used as a sheath.
    I have no idea what happens in “step 2” cuz I stopped reading.

So to sum up: No matter how pretentious you try to be “Belgium Black Forest Double Chocolate Torte”… regardless that there are not two of them, and the Black Forest isn’t in Belgium … is just chocolate cake.

Illustration: The illustration is, of course, by the author and master illustrator (for hire), Trevor Irvin of Irvin Productions.
Trevor Stone Irvin

Trevor Stone Irvin

Illustrator and Designer living in the Candler Park area...At one time I worked at the Atlanta Constitution and then for CNN at the all seemed too much like real work so I went freelance...which my father defined as "being unemployed for a real long time".