Publish at April 27 2022 Updated May 03 2022

The language of all delights

When translation and culinary tradition meet, what are the issues of gastronomic translation?

"Just as the kitchen must let the products taste like what they are, the cook must use words that have the meaning of what they are."

So spoke the late famous French chef Paul Bocuse (1926-2018), for whom the art of gastronomy was inseparable from that of language.

While the French culinary art happily stands out at the top of the world ranking, to the point of deserving recognition by UNESCO, it is worth questioning the "portability" and exportability of this gastronomic tradition with regard to its translations.

Can we, should we, translate everything when it comes to cuisine? What are the challenges of gastronomic translation? Can learning a language be done behind the stove? Is eating or speaking a Cornelian choice to be made?

Put on your chef's hat, put on your kitchen apron, get out the small dishes, the mise en bouche is about to begin. Let's make room for tasting, for finding the language of all the delights...

Learn a language by cooking

There are many ways to learn a language, but have you never thought of doing it through cooking? Yet it is a system that deserves to be known and, in addition, is fun, as long as you have any interest in the subject... and since generally, everyone likes to eat, why deprive yourself?

Here are a few easy tips that might help you improve your language learning "gourmet style":

First of all, discover and use the typical ingredients and products of the target language country/countries. Have you just arrived in Switzerland? Discover the vocabulary of cheese, chocolate, between raclette, fondue, parmesan, gruyere... look for authentic products, discuss with locals, learn recipes and use these ingredients to cook good little dishes from the country.

Just walking through grocery stores and reading product labels will already increase your vocabulary. While you're at it, put it into practice by making your shopping list in the target language!

Next, read cooking blogs. Simple, accessible, they are written by the average person and offer popular, everyday vocabulary. Perfect for a quick integration!

Finally, the icing on the cake, take cooking classes in the target language. You will be directly in contact with the products, but also the utensils, the recipes, the dishes and... you will ensure a good dinner!

Vive le terroir

Foie gras, escargots, maître d'hôtel, Bordeaux, macarons, poire belle-Hélène... many of these words are 100% French, yet they are well known throughout the world. And again, we're not talking about the baguette or the croissant, the best clichés of French dining pleasures!

French cuisine is part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity, but as for Spiderman, "great powers imply great responsibilities", namely a reputation to keep. And when faced with tourists from all over the world, how can you not fail?

Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935), another prestigious French chef described himself as "a lover of food and words." The problem, when it comes to cooking vocabulary, is being able to transcribe the sensations provided by these delights. This is particularly true in the field of oenology, of wine. It's hard to translate that a wine "has a beautiful dress" or that it has "thighs"!"

In this case, what should we do? Should we translate everything? From cookbooks to food blogs to restaurant menus?

Translating without losing the taste

The specialized translator thus appears to be a key player in this culinary translation tradition. Indeed, far from limiting himself to a simple literal translation, or even a little more elaborate, the latter must above all convey ideas, concepts, tastes, flavors through certain consciously chosen words.

These will allow his readers and interlocutors to discover an unusual cuisine, while respecting the cultural and linguistic codes specific to his country. The specialized translator must be not only in the target language, but also in the language of origin, without forgetting their own culinary habits, and this, in order to best transmit these gastronomic subtleties.

The transfer is therefore intended to be as much linguistic as cultural. The chef will not only be behind the stove, he will also be behind the translation of words!

We must not forget that the Michelin guide, a veritable bible for lovers of good food, must be accessible in terms of its overall understanding, when it comes to evaluating not only restaurants, but also chefs... and dishes!

The accuracy of words, sensations and flavors is therefore paramount. To conclude, we will use the words of Xavier Brébion:

"To use words without knowing their roots is to feed oneself without knowing the cuisine".

Sources and illustrations

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