What is “Gourmet” Food?

Last week I was going to eat dinner with my sister and brother-in-law who wanted to go to Jerry’s Sandwiches in Wicker Park. I hedged as sandwiches aren’t my favorite meal. The response: “You’ll like Jerry’s – it’s gourmet/”

What does that mean? What constitutes gourmet food or gourmet dining these days? Is it the use of exotic or high-end ingredients? Is it making all food from scratch? Is it artful presentations? If those make a restaurant gourmet, then half the restaurants in Chicago are gourmet. For example, it’s hard to find a restaurant that doesn’t use truffle oil on at least one dish, even bars like Lux Bar and Rockit use this gourmet ingredient.

As always, I turned to the Food Lover’s Companion, the ultimate foodie resource: “Gourmet food is that which is of the highest quality, perfectly prepared and artfully presented. A gourmet restaurant is one that serves well-prepared, high-quality foods.”

Obviously I wouldn’t include certain chain restaurants that use prepackaged foods, but there are some chains that could fit this category, such as J. Alexander’s that claims to prepare everything in house everyday. And what about Wildfire? Granted, it’s not on the same level as other Lettuce Entertain You restaurants like the new L2O, but surely they use high-quality ingredients to make gourmet foods. Personally, I wouldn’t include J. Alexanders and Wildfire in this category despite the fact that fit the description, although I do enjoy the food.

So, that brings us back to Jerry’s – is a restaurant with more than 100 sandwich combinations such as roasted salmon, bacon, grilled asparagus, smoked gouda and honey-mustard gourmet? My answer: gourmet is in the stomach of the eater.

  • Hungry Passport posted: 16 Aug at 10:54 am

    I agree with you that gourmet IS in the stomach–and on the tongue–of the eater, but these days the word has become another marketing tool, just as the words “organic” and “natural” have. That leaves us as consumers to decide for ourselves, since the meaning of all these words (and many others) has been compromised by those who use them to try to manipulate us. The best way to prevent this is to ask a lot of questions before we shell out any money. Now, about so-called gourmet cat food . . . ,,,^..^,,,

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