As anyone knows, who you interact with – at work, socially, family, eating out, etc. – influences how you talk. In academia the fancy word for this is “discourse communities.” Unsurprisingly, the culinary world has its own language, which at its most furious and involved might be unintelligible to the average person. Some communities use a specialized language for secrecy, while others have just evolved that way, since language is always mutating. International Language Day is February 21st this year.
Codes and Cooperation
The farming world has a code of speech and conduct just like the culinary industry. If farmers are interested in other farmers’ success or techniques, the general rule of thumb is to share information freely, for a sense of community and cooperation. The restaurant world is a little different – recipes, at least, are often intensely guarded and kept secret. A running joke in the world of SpongeBob SquarePants is restaurateur Plankton, proprietor of the Chum Bucket, trying over and over (unsuccessfully) to steal Mr. Krabs’ Krabby Patty recipe. Some recipes are freely shared amongst chefs or appear in magazine articles or blogs, but other recipes are protected intensely. The film Planet Terror (part of the Grindhouse double feature), about a zombie outbreak, has a hilarious ongoing subplot involving two brothers – one a restaurateur, one a cop – who are close to each other, but the chef refuses to divulge his delicious BBQ recipe to his brother, who wants it very badly. It is only when both brothers are facing imminent annihilation from zombies that the chef brother gives up the secret.
Barks from the Kitchen
The restaurant world is a natural place for a jargon-specific language to evolve, as kitchens are generally cozy, intense places where, depending on an establishment’s busy-ness, language often has to be truncated and made as efficient as possible in order to get food to the table in a timely manner. If you take a glance at some common kitchen language, you’ll notice that most of the lexicon is one or two words, packing maximum punch in minimal language. Given the reality that many kitchen workers have English as a 2nd Language, communication is often boiled down to one or two words that convey meaning.
The Carnival: Where Language and Food Collide
Food trends come and go, as is the nature of trends, but one bygone trend is worth noting: carnival food. One place where secretive language and food come together is the world of carnival, or carnie, food. Straw Restaurant, a whimsical eatery in San Francisco who served carnival-themed fare before sadly closing during the pandemic upheaval, served a burger with donuts as the bun. At their restaurant, you could sit in a decommissioned carnival ride to eat your meal. It was a bit gimmicky, but fun. Here was a place where two discourse communities met: the carnival world with its own language, and the restaurant world with its own.
Chef Becky of Bex Kitchen has been in the food service industry for her whole life, so the language is second nature, although she was thrown by the code term “86” (as in to remove someone from an establishment or an ingredient has run out) at first. She picked up some Spanish from working with Spanish speakers as well as some French from the French influence in cuisine. Regardless what language you speak, food is a universal language, so check out Bex for your catering needs! It’s food so good you’ll be at a loss for words.