My passion in equal quantities is for languages and food. The two are intimately connected, and both reveal so much about the history and culture of a country. A number of years ago, my brother qualified as a chef. I was struck by how much he, and his fellow students battled with the pronunciation of the classic French food terms. They were given French classes, but French is a difficult language to learn and pronounce. I majored in French and Spanish, so I decided to make a reference handy for them, and this proved so successful, that more students lined up for it.
Out of that came my idea to start a website, that would not merely provide students in the culinary arts with audio, but give them full reference point so that they could understand how and why a word was pronounced a certain way. This evolved into the first online quadri-lingual food and wine glossary with audio, which I continue to expand daily. Where appropriate, words are given in English, French, Italian and Spanish (Spanish being differentiated into South American and European Spanish). These languages in particular, because they are among the languages I know best, and because so many students gain experience in kitchens in these parts of Europe. French, Spanish and Italian share a common ancestor, Latin, and so words for the same thing can be almost identical, or vary wildly. If you see them all side by side, you gain an insight into these languages which is simply missing when you focus on one language at a time.
In addition, I provide the grammar that helps students and users (I have spilled over to general food enthusiasts all over the world, as well as travelers) understand the effects of gender on pronunciation. A student presented with ‘sauces blanches’, and ‘fond blanc’ just cannot understand why the word for ‘white’ sounds different in these two terms. It becomes easier to understand when this is explained repeatedly with reference to the given term, rather than as a broad grammatical concept.
Of course, the questions keep coming, and the database keeps expanding, and has spilled over into other categories of words – I’m happy to add words as users request them, and I have had requests from how to pronounce the names of companies, to luxury goods, to people in the media, to the basic greetings in the different languages. Questions are not restricted to these three languages – if I don’t know the language, I will find someone who does – I have hunted down and added the pronunciation of words from Icelandic and Croatian. I’m always up for a challenge – ask, and you will receive, if it is at all possible.
My other great interest is in tracking dishes in the various European cuisines. There are dishes, such as ratatouille and caponata that share elements and ingredients. Sometimes the link is more distant. For instance, my ear, and the ingredients tell me that escabèche and ceviche are somehow related, but I’m still researching that one. Taxonomy is another fascination. I love to study recipes, from Carême, to Escoffier, to modern chefs, to see where they fit in, and how they grow and change. Pesto once upon a time was a sauce consisting of pine-nuts, olive oil, basil, and parmigiano. Now anything that can be ground up into a sauce can be called a pesto. At what point can a dish no longer lay claim to the name of the original?
I recently added up, and I’ve studied no fewer than 8 languages at university level, 9 if you include school. I do not speak all these languages fluently – in fact there is some debate whether I speak any language fluently. I’m apt to add in words from other languages whatever I speak, because the way they are said in another language conveys my sentiments better. And some languages (like Zulu) are confined to song lyrics (Johnny Clegg and Juluka and Savuka), and equally useful sentences such as “don’t throw out my cats”, and “I would like some tea, please”, which I gladly share here, because you never know when they may come in handy:
I’ve forgotten most of my Latin, except for the general principles, but I try to drop sentences like *’Crassum culum pinguem habet’ into conversations to remind people that despite my extreme absent-mindedness, I have a brain and culture on my side. That, and the ability to walk my dogs in very high heels….
* Crassus has a fatty ass.
My friend Vanessa is the French and Italian First Language Speaker on audio – she was born and educated in Rome, and she lived in Paris for years. She is disgracefully fluent in English, French, Italian and Greek, and quite competent in Afrikaans and Spanish (she also lived in Spain for a few years). Her sharp eyes have spotted many a mortifying error which I had overlooked (culpa mea), and her contribution is invaluable.
To sum up:
Can’t find the word you are looking for? Email me [email protected], and I’ll add it to the database ASAP, whether it is the name of a politician, a fragrance or an obscure cheese
The main languages are French, Italian and Spanish, with a small section of German but if you have questions about other languages, ask and you may well receive. I love a challenge, and will do my utmost to help you
Chefs, gourmets, cooking students and students in the hospitality industry will find a comprehensive list of cooking terms and foods cross-referenced across French, Italian and Spanish in the database
Check the FAQ’s for all the info you need to get the most out of the site
I go to great lengths to ensure my pronunciations and explanations are correct – I have contacts in most of Europe, and I will phone up, skype and hunt down individuals and companies to check if I have to. If you find anything you disagree with, let me know – your input and debate is welcomed and can only make the site better
The content published on the site is protected by copyright, and any unauthorized copying, reproduction, republishing, uploading, posting, transmitting or duplicating of any of the material is prohibited without my express written permission. To obtain permission to copy portions of the site and blog, which I assure you will get if you ask politely, please send an e-mail to me at [email protected]
This site is dedicated to the memory of my beloved Nanna, and to my brother Joe
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