The meaning and origin of words and phrases related to French cuisine
Haute cuisine is cooking (particularly French) of a very high standard and requiring a high level of skill in its preparation. The term is French, meaning literally 'high cooking'. The word Haute ‘high’ is also used in haute couture ‘high fashion’ whilst the Old French haut 'high' gave us the word haughty 'having a high opinion of oneself'. It is first recorded in 1926.
Nouvelle cuisine is a term applied to a style of simple French cooking that ignores the rich sauces elaborate dishes of traditional French cuisine/haute cuisine in favour of light sauces and using only the freshest ingredients (e.g. vegetables lightly cooked). The food is typically served in small portions exquistely arranged and garnished - the bare area of plate surrounding the food framing the artistic arrangement. It became popular outside of France in the early 1980s. However, the small portions and concentration on the food's artistic presentation resulted in nouvelle cuisine becoming the object of ridicule in certain quarters. The term literally means 'new cooking' and has been applied to various styles in cooking from early in the 18th century or even earlier.
Cordon bleu is a French term denoting either a cook or cooking of a very high standard. It is from cordon 'ribbon' which is from the Old French for cord, corde and bleu 'blue'. A cordon bleu was a sky-blue ribbon worn as a badge of honour by the knights of the French order of the Holy Ghost, the highest order of chivalry under the Bourbon kings. The term became applied more widely to denote people of distinction, especially in the sphere of cookery.
English has a similar term denoting the highest distinction in any particular field, the blue ribbon; e.g. 'the Blue Riband of the turf' is the Derby horserace. In one, now almost obsolete instance - the Blue Riband of the Atlantic which was popular during the days of the great transatlantic liners- the term is written as Blue Riband and it was this spelling that was used when the chocolate bar of this name was introduced in the 1930s. The term derives from the blue riband of the order of knighthood the Order of the Garter.
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