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Meg Hemphill

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Entrée Does Not Mean Main Course!

Posted: 04/10/2012 4:05 pm

When did it become okay to call a main course an entrée? You don't need to be a French speaker to translate the word -- it means entrance, as in entry into a meal; starter. But for some reason on menus all around the country (and even on the Food Network!), chefs are calling main courses entrées. I recently dined with a foreigner, who was confused by the misuse of the term on our menus. (Think if you went to a restaurant and "appetizer" was written in the middle of the menu, with steak, lamb and salmon options beneath.) When he asked why, I simply said, "I have no idea."

So now I would like to find the answer. Why do restaurants in the U.S. do this? Where did the error come into play? Because if Ted Allen is saying it on Chopped, clearly it's become a common enough mistake that's become the norm. Is this going to the way of "Champ at the bit" (mispronounced as "chomp at the bit" in the U.S.), "all right" (it should always be written as two words), "nuclear" (we all know how it shouldn't be said thanks to a former president), "I could care less" (instead of the proper "couldn't care less") or "For all intents and purposes" (instead of "intensive purposes")?

I needed to do a little research to quell my questions. So on a recent trip to restaurant Acadia in Portland, Ore., where I sampled their latest absinthe offerings, I asked chef Adam Higgs why his New Orleans-themed menu uses "Entrée" instead of "Main Course." (After all, there are few places in this country as connected to French culture as New Orleans.)

"I have always said it, it's stuck in our vernacular," said Higgs, whose delicious food, regardless of what it's titled, is a treat. He added that he'll think about changing "Entrée" to "Large Plate" or "Main Course."

A bit of research online (taken with a grain of salt) revealed some information: One author blames it on the British, claiming they originally messed it up (although offers no factual evidence for the claim). There are references to entrées as more substantial hors d'oeuvres or half-size main courses. In the late '60s, Julia Child wrote about entrées as an equivalent to a main dish at a luncheon. Who knows where the actual disconnect came in -- but I suppose it's one more expression of independence from Europe? The bottom line is, I don't have a concrete answer here (feel free to share any knowledge you have on the topic!), but I suppose at the end of the day, it's not something worth getting too worked up over... as long as I can figure out what I'm ordering.

 

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