"Gourmet” (cited in English since at least 1798) originally meant a wine merchant’s assistant or a wine taster. With one sip, the gourmet could tell exactly what he was drinking. The term “gourmet” quickly expanded to mean a “connoisseur” of both wine and food.
James Beard (1903-1985) was an American chef and food writer who helped create interest in “gourmet” foods in America, but he thought the word was overused. In 1960, Beard stated: “Let’s bury the word ‘gourmet.’ It’s been worked to death. Now, anybody who eats broccoli calls himself a gourmet.” A popular replacement for the word “gourmet” has been “foodie.”
Gourmet /ɡoː(ɹ)mæɪ/ is a cultural ideal associated with the culinary arts of fine food and drink, or haute cuisine, which is characterised by elaborate preparations and presentations of large meals of small, often quite rich courses; ofthe grand restaurants and hotels of the Western world.
Gourmet food is food skillfully prepared and served meals that are as pleasing to the palate as to the eye.
The term and its associated practices are usually used positively to describe people of refined taste and passion. For some people it may have a negative connotation of elitism or snobbery.
The term gourmet may refer to a person with refined or discriminating taste or to one that is knowledgeable in the art of food and food preparation. Gourmand carries additional connotations of one who simply enjoys food in great quantities. An epicure is similar to a gourmet, but the word may sometimes carry overtones of excessive refinement.
Gourmet may describe a class of restaurant, cuisine, meal or ingredient of high quality, of special presentation, or high sophistication. In the United States, a 1980s gourmet food movement evolved from a long-term division between elitist (or “gourmet") tastes and a populist aversion to fancy foods. Gourmet is an industry classification for high-quality premium foods in the United States. In the 2000s, there has been an accelerating increase in the American gourmet market, due in part to rising income, globalization of taste, and health and nutrition concerns. Individual food and beverage categories, such as coffee, are often divided between a standard and a “gourmet” sub-market.
Origin of term
The word gourmet is from the French term for a wine broker or taste-vin employed by a wine dealer. Friand was the reputable name for a connoisseur of delicious things that were not eaten primarily for nourishment: “A good gourmet”, wrote the conservative eighteenth-century Dictionnaire de Trévoux, employing this original sense, “must have le goût friand“, or a refined palate. In the eighteenth century, gourmet and gourmand carried disreputable connotations of gluttony, which only gourmand has retained. Gourmet was rendered respectable by Monsieur Grimod de la Reynière, whose Almanach des Gourmands, essentially the first restaurant guide, appeared in Paris from 1803 to 1812. Previously, even the liberal Encyclopédie offered a moralising tone in its entry Gourmandise, defined as “refined and uncontrolled love of good food”, employing reproving illustrations that contrasted the frugal ancient Spartans and Romans of the Republic with the decadent luxury of Sybaris. The Jesuits’ Dictionnaire de Trévoux took the Encyclopédistes to task, reminding its readers that gourmandise was one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Main Entry: gour·met
Pronunciation: \ˈgu̇r-ˌmā, gu̇r-ˈ\
Etymology: French, from Middle French, alteration of gromet boy servant, vintner’s assistant, probably ultimately from Middle English grom groom
: a connoisseur of food and drink
(Oxford English Dictionary)
[F. gourmet, repr. of OF. gourmet, groumet, gromet, a wine-merchant’s assistant, a wine-taster: cf. GRUMMET.]
a. A connoisseur in the delicacies of the table.
1820 [A. D. MACQUIN] Tabella Cibaria 16 note, The gormand unites theory with practice, and may be denominated Gastronomer. The gourmet is merely theoretical, cares little about practising, and deserves the higher appellation of Gastrologer.
1835 W. IRVING Tour Prairies xiv. Crayon Misc. (1863) 80 All relished with an appetite unknown to the gourmets of the cities.
1841 THACKERAY Mem. Gormandising Misc. Ess. (1885) 399 The most finished gourmet of my acquaintance.
1876 GEO. ELIOT Dan. Der. II. xi, Lord Brackenshaw was something of a gourmet.
b. attrib. and quasi-adj.
1904 Westm. Gaz. 21 Jan. 8/1 The public in the matter of jokes is gourmand rather than gourmet.
1908 Athenæum 11 Apr. 447/3 Few can hope to rival the gourmet-author [of The Gourmet’s Guide to Europe] in the extent of their experiences.
1967 K. GILES Death in Diamonds vi. 111 It was a wonderful, gourmet meal.
1971 M. MCCARTHY Birds of America 72 Gift shops selling ‘gourmet’ food.
20 August 1798, The Times (London), pg. 1, col. 3:
TO the NOBILITY and GENTRY.—To be SOLD, a few Pipes of very curious old RED PORT, having been imported for a great Gourmet.
The Secret History of the Court and Cabinet of St. Cloud
In Three Volumes
London: John Murray
Joseph is considered the best gourmet, or connoisseur in liquors and wines, of this capital; and Montaigne found his Champaigne and Bourgogne so excellent, that he never once went to bed that he was not heartily intoxicated.
9 December 1808, City Gazette (SC), pg. 3 ad:
Also, on Consignment,
One hundred dozen St. Stevens’ CLARET, seven years old, well known among the Gourmet of Claret, to be the most favorite sort.
Leisure-Moments in the Camp and in the Guard-Room
By a Veteran British Officer (J. F. Neville—ed.)
York: Thomas Wilson and Son
We sat down to dinner, and the Doctor, who was a great gourmet, had already given a favourable opinion of the author’s Burgundy, when, unfortunate to relate, a note from the Hotel summoned him to the Rue St. Dominique on matters of importance.
The Bill of Fare”
A Latin Poem
By Ange Denis McQuin
London: Sherwood, Neely, and Jones
We find besides a curious shade between the French appellations gourmand and gourmet. In the idiom of that nation, so famous for indulging in the worship of Comus, the word gourmand means, as we stated (Pg. 16—ed.) above, a man who, by having accidentally been able to study the different tastes of eatables, does accordingly select the best food, and the most pleasing to his palate. His character is that of practitioner, and answers to the appellation of an epicure in the full sense of the word, as we use it in English. The gourmet on the other hand considers the theoretical part of Gastronomy; he speculates more than he practises; and eminently prides himself in discerning the nicest degrees and most evanescent shades of goodness and perfection in the different subjects proposed to him. In fact, the word gourmet has long been used to designate a man who, by sipping a few drops out of the silver cup of the vintner, can instantly tell from what country the wine comes, and its age. This denomination has lately acquired a greater latitude of signification, and not improperly, since it expresses what the two other words could not mean.
From the foregoing observations we must conclude that the glutton practises without any regard to theory; and we call him Gastrophile. The gourmand unites theory with practice, and may be denominated Gastronomer. The gourmet is merely theoretical, cares little about practising, and deserves the highers appellation of Gastrologer.
3 April 1822, Hampden (MA) Patriot, pg. 4:
Dr. ___ of ___ College, among other gourmet qualities, was strictly an epicure in the setting out of his table.
16 June 1960, San Mateo (CA) Times, pg. 26, col. 6:
FOOD DEPT.: James A. Beard, the food book writer, told the Cognac festival in Los Angeles the other day: ‘These days, anybody who eats broccoli is considered a gourmet.”
11 December 1960, Pasadena (CA) Independent Star-News, pg. 5, col. 3:
DALLAS—UPI—James Beard of New York, an internationally known food expert and writer, ridiculed loose use of the word “gourmet” last night.
Beard, author of a dozen books on food, has been described as America’s “No. 1 Gourmet.” at a cognac festival last night, attended by more than 500 prominent Texans, Beard said:
“Let’s bury the word ‘gourmet.’ It’s been worked to death. Now, anybody who eats broccoli calls himself a gourmet.”