What does “gourmet” mean? When you think of the word, you probably have a sense of what it refers to, but you may find it difficult to explain. Some people associate gourmet with fancy ingredients, or an exacting recipe. Sometimes it is synonymous for French, and impossible to pronounce. We often ascribe “gourmet” to that which is both delicious and unfamiliar. Or it could be the thing adorning the plate that simply looks too beautiful to eat. And, of course, it can refer to the meal that cost as much as a home mortgage.
Today, the mystique of gourmet cooking has been replaced by something far more useful: knowledge. Gourmet cuisine is no longer reserved for celebrity chefs or the French. It can come in the form of a solitary ingredient that is not readily available, such as quail eggs or galanga root. It can be taking the extra time to think of presentation when you put a dish together. For instance, rather than throwing salad in a bowl, you can drizzle the dressing on the side of the plate, build a tower of mixed greens, and finish it with a chive garnish. It takes five minutes, but looks far more dramatic on the plate.
For the sake of this book, I am operating under a broad definition of gourmet. Some recipes incorporate the philosophy of layering and complexity, while others may simply include a unique ingredient. Some require extra care and time, while others test your talents at assembly. And some recipes are culinary icons, a dish quite common to a particular culture but which may very well taste “gourmet” to those unaccustomed to the cuisine.
Gourmet does not have to mean difficult, and I have therefore taken special care to include straightforward, easy-to-follow recipes. Though “easy gourmet” may sound like the ultimate oxymoron, just because something is elegant, with complex flavor, does not (as Chef Roland Passot noted) mean it must be difficult to make. And to that end I hope everyone reading this book comes away with a sense that they too can create a wonderful gourmet meal, from whichever country or region, whatever the occasion.