Food: The name game

Simon Hopkinson has a beef about `carpaccio of zucchini' and other absurdities
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Indy Lifestyle Online
"Carpaccio is the most popular dish served at Harry's Bar. It is named for Vittore Carpaccio, the Venetian Renaissance painter known for his use of brilliant reds and whites. My father invented this dish in 1950, the year of the great Carpaccio exhibition in Venice. The dish was inspired by the Contessa Amalia Nani Mocenigo, a frequent customer at Harry's Bar, whose doctor had placed her on a diet forbidding cooked meat."

This is Arrigo Cipriani talking about Carpaccio in The Harry's Bar Cookbook (Smith Cryphon Limited, 1991). I would guess that about 97 per cent of you keen and dedicated cooks have, until now, never been aware of the true origins of Carpaccio, it having become a spurious and ubiquitous misnomer, raging rampant all over this gastronomic planet.

"Carpaccio," Signor Cipriani goes on to say, "which has been copied by any number of good restaurants all over the world, is made by covering a plate with the thinnest possible slices of raw beef and garnishing it with shaved cheese or an olive oil dressing. The genius of my father's invention is his light, cream-coloured sauce that is drizzled over the meat in a cross-hatch pattern [as shown above]."

I rather approve of this patient explanation as to how Arrigo Cipriani's father's dish of Carpaccio has been plagiarised and misinterpreted, without resorting to reprimand. After all, Signor Cipriani has every right so to do. But that is not the way of people who usually know when something is right. I see no reason, though, why I cannot become a little agitated.

In this same vein, it continues to upset me that it is the current fashion for the flagrant usage of just any old culinary nomenclature on menus - whether they be French, Italian, Japanese or even English - to describe a dish. And, furthermore, it is the question of due respect for an original that makes my blood boil. I have even seen a recipe for "Carpaccio" of zucchini - which really takes the cantucci.

Did you know, for example, that the description "Cappuccino" refers to the shades of the habits worn by the Italian order of Capuchin friars, which were coloured brown and cream? It does not simply mean frothy, man. We also now regularly see "veloutes" of this, that and the other. Larousse says: "This name is used more than anything else for a white sauce made with white veal or chicken stock, used as a base for a number of other sauces ..." It can also refer to rich cream soups. And when you start to read some of the recipes that come under this classic heading, it becomes clear how much the traditional kitchens of old relied on this useful liaison. But with reference to my moans, it is dismal to note how very far away present interpretations are from being anything close to a true veloute.

Osso Buco, the slice of veal shin that is dear to the hearts of Italian cooks - and particularly the Milanese - literally means "bone with a hole". When did monkfish ever have a hole through its central cartilage? Yet "Osso Buco of Monkfish" is the bee's knees just now in the smartest of joints and jolly dinner-party jamborees.

And then there is the plague that is "jus". I predict, however, that this particular epithet will become even more infectious once Marco "I am an important figure in London Society" Pierre White has stamped his special jargon (jus is his particular bon mot) on to Granada's top menus, up and down the country. Perhaps, one day soon, we will be enjoying a "Traditional English Breakfast, jus HP," when making a transitory visit to Leigh Delamere services on the M4. (In case you had ever wondered, Newport Pagnell was the country's first motorway service station. I bought my very first Thor, Fab Four and Spiderman comics there in 1962.)

My friend Sue, on a recent visit to Los Angeles, overheard a conversation between a glamorous girl and her "very favourite waiter" in a fashionable restaurant on Melrose: "Gerald, my dear [or it could easily have been Shane or Colt], do you think I could have a little more `au jus' with my tranche de gigot?" Now, you may accuse me of being snobbish and cruel, taking to task someone's ignorance, simply on hearsay, but if the restaurant had simply printed the word gravy - a term Americans have used for donkey's years, then this silly gaffe would not have been so relished.

In his inimitable way, Francis Coulson of Sharrow Bay Hotel on the shores of Lake Ullswater in the northern English Lakes, describes his roast pork thus: "Traditional Roast Loin of Cumberland Pork, honey-glazed and cooked with Rosemary, served with Apple sauce, Sage and Onion Stuffing, Crackling, and Gravy made with the Goodness of the Pork." One day, perhaps, all menus will be written this way.