C’est Bon La Gourmandise
There’s just no good way to say it in English, the word gourmandise. On the one hand it means greed or gluttony, on the other it means, as the picture indicates, a love of or even lust for food, quite separate from the refined gourmet experience. It’s an appreciation of the sinfully delicious, a desire for more, a wallowing in the wonderment of all that tastes good. But really, who could accuse those cherubic kids of sin?
The kids came into the house today wrapped around these lovely pastry shells, which I had ordered in order to make bouchées à la reine au poisson. I’d never made it before, or actually even eaten it, but it popped into my head as the right thing to serve lunch guests on a warm and sunny afternoon in early spring. Some scallops with their coral, a handful of shrimp, filets of salmon, monkfish, and sea bass, a pile of diced shallots, another of shiitakes, butter and cream. Lots of cream I must say, and all stuffed into those crisp shells. That last part would qualify as gourmandise, except that since I don’t eat flour and couldn’t bind the fish with the usual sauce Béchamel, the cream was the necessary binder to make the whole thing luscious. Plus I was planning to eat my share from a non-pastry bowl. No sin there, in my book.
A starter of the first asparagus from Provence, with slivers of smoked pork fillet and a salad of mâche, watercress, and radish, guaranteed virtue, even the walnut oil dressing drizzled over it all. Every single element healthy and fresh, yet somehow, being very good, perhaps better than a salad needs to be, it does qualify as a salade gourmande.
I confess that I don’t know exactly where you cross the line into gourmandise. I’m an unapologetic eater, and see no reason for anything I eat to be less than delicious. I’ve been called a gourmande a few times, but I don’t take it as a synonym for a greedy glutton. I just assume that my love of good food shows.
The French are funny about food, they have complexes, just like Americans do. In the six days that we’ve been back, four French people have remarked that I’ve lost weight. Not very much, really, but they noticed it right away and felt free to comment on it. The French do love food, but are generally strict with themselves about it. If I ask the butcher for a steak for two people, I’ll be given 5 ounces, or less, per person. But almost every French meal ends in a dessert, however small and simple.
The fact of having lunched on that salad, plus the bouchée, plus this pear and caramel mousse cake, absolutely qualifies as gourmandise. I didn’t have the cake, but I claim no special virtue there, because if I could have I would have, in a hot French minute. A French woman might have had a little fruit, or more likely, a cup of herbal tea to aid in the digestion of a semi-sinful meal.
Gourmandise is also known as a péché mignon, normally translated as a weakness. A péché is a sin, that part is clear. But mignon? Mignon means cute, sweet, adorable. Mignon is what you’d call those kids on the plain brown paper wrapper. Gourmandise is the sin we love and relish, and I for one feel no remorse. C’est bon la gourmandise.