The Chef’s Dictionary – Culinary Lingo You Wish You Knew

Nothing is more embarrassing then talking about your latest culinary endeavors with a fellow “foodie” and getting in way over your head. When it comes to cooking, baking, following recipes and even ordering off the menu at a high end restaurant, there is a lot to know.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the cooking terms; after all, it’s practically its own language! Don’t be overwhelmed. Here are some key terms to file away in your memory, or perhaps the back of your cook book, so that the next time you hear a culinary term that makes you go “huh?” you will be in the know.

1. Practical Preparation Terms
Al Dente: An Italian term which translates as “to the tooth.” It is often associated with vegetable and pasta preparation, meaning it should have a slightly hard or firm bite to it.
Aerate: This is basically just a fancy word for sifting, like you would do with dry ingredients such as flour.
Baste: To baste something is to add liquid over it, usually for the purpose of keeping the food moist while adding flavor, before or during cooking.  
Sauté: Using oil, butter or fat to quickly heat food in a pan.
Braise: Cooking (typically meat items) slowly in a pan with liquid to conduct heat.
Cut in: A common term when baking, meaning to use knives to work in and blend all ingredients.
Crimp: A technique used in baking pies and making crusts that involves pinching the outsides into the typical pie crust, slightly ruffled, shape to bring the bottom and top layers together.
Julienne: Cutting food into thin strips, commonly used for vegetables.
Knead: Blending (typically bread dough) by hand.
Mise en Place: A French term for having all ingredients for a recipe measured and ready.
Nap: Enveloping food with a sauce, coating each part of it.
Resting: Typically referring to meat preparation, removing it from the heat before it reaches the desired temperature so that the juices can “rest” or settle into the meat.
Score: Using a knife to make small, shallow cuts.
Sweat: Using a low heat setting to cook vegetables over butter.
Emulsify: Dropping one liquid slowly into another liquid to mix them together.
Reduce: Simmering down a more solid substance into a more liquid one.

2. Cookware Terms
Bar Knife: The type of knife used for cutting citrus.
Cake Comb: The plastic (or metal) rake type utensil that makes patterns in frosting.
Conical Strainer: A strainer made of stainless steel with channels or grooves in it.
Colander: A round, usually bowl shaped, utensil that strains liquid out.
Gauge: Refers to the thickness of utensils.
Garlic Press: A utensil the squeezes a garlic clove through multiple holes, maximizing flavor.
Kadhai: A multi-metal deep pan for frying
Piping Bag: A cloth covered, plastic lined bag used for squeezing out materials like frosting.

3. Impress-your-Culinary-Friends terms
Burgoo: A thick stem from down South.
Butter Curler: A serrated curved blade used to skim butter off the top the stick.
Decoct: Pulling out the extract of a food by boiling it.
Roux: Butter and flour combined, cooked to a certain denoted color.

This article is presented by Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando. Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando offers culinary arts and pâtisserie and baking training programs in Orlando, Florida. To learn more about the class offerings, please visit for more information.