11 December 2014

le fooding, and other howlers

I take it as a given that I am not part of a target audience for Le Fooding, the French culinary media outlet. If Le Fooding were principally after my clicks, and those of other Anglophones, the name Le Fooding would of course never have been chosen, for in English it sounds unappetizingly like something Jabba the Hutt would demand of his chained servants.*

The publication's name is a mongrel French pun composed of two adopted English words, 'food' and 'feeling,' which I need hardly explain are not as sonically compatible to Anglophone ears. But the French, whose language lacks gerunds, find the "-ing" suffix very exotic, and tend to use it in curious ways. (Cf. 'shampooing,' a noun in French, and my personal favorite monstrosity, 'relooking,' another noun, signifying a makeover.) French is a rather more rigid language than English, and when considered on the level of the individual, I find the free-spirited, fingerpainty way the French employ English grammatical forms to be an inspired form of resistance : a supplementary lexicon not governed by the Academie Française.

In certain cases, however - particularly when mangled English is used in advertisements and other corporate discourse - I can't help feeling it bespeaks a certain myopic pomposity. For such usage necessarily contains one or both of the following assumptions: a) that no one to whom the language will sound strange will ever read it, and b) that it won't matter if they do. Both assumptions betray a rather dim awareness of the nature of the new media environment, not to mention a sloppiness with meaning that is unbecoming of any service that purports to transmit information. All this is on glorious, spell-binding display in Le Fooding's recently launched English version of its website, in the production of which, it seems safe to assume, no native Anglophones were consulted. Word salad? Word soup? Feast away, it's all there.

On YARD (75011), Le Fooding supply some creepy embedded sexual subtext (owner Jane Drotter is half-American):

Grilled veal rump, meat like the "thigh of an emotional nymph,” which is to say very tender...

The New-England bistro (yet so Parisian…) from Jane Drotter, opened in 2008, has been redone with a boost of adrenaline by offerings its American caboose to an English, Nye Smith.

Some tags on Verjus (75001):

THE EXTRAS: See and be seen, Make me hurt

Laura and Braden at Verjus are typically very kind. I have yet to see them hurt a single customer, even the ones who read Le Fooding and come in begging for it.

On Le Comptoir du Relais (75006), a little bondage:

All that remains is to allow yourself to be strapped to your chair by a cream of lemon and basil, meringue and crumble, refreshed in its center by a quenelle of sheep’s milk and blood orange ice cream.

At L'Avant Comptoir (75006), you can apparently eat dwarves:

Hard to decide between the dwarf sandwiches with bacon and Savora mustard, the hot saucisson de Couenne...

On Pas de Loup (75011), a contender for most mixed metaphors in two sentences:

And for good reason: the Merlin sorcerers of this bar with a Scandinavian look and Perriandesques chairs are defectors of Experimental, Candelaria and Jaja… One blemish? You’ve got to keep your enthusiasm in check, because the bill goes quickly to your head.

To summarize: the sorcerers defected to this bar, whose blemish - the bill - goes to your head.

On Le Verre Volé (75010) some turgid impressionistic poetry:

The tide is rising in Paris, eel from Charentes, lacquered with the savoir-faire of a Japanese, electrifying black rice salad.

And my friend David Lebovitz recently observed Le Fooding's use of Google Translate in their review of Pascade (75002):

Most of these examples were plucked at random from about twenty minutes' trawling the site. It was less fun than you might imagine. This is because Le Fooding's greatest obstacle to Anglophone comprehension is not the dotty diction cited above. It's rather a stylistic trait common to a lot of contemporary French food writing, a particularly ejaculatory manner of stringing together phrases maniacally overladen with pungent nouns and adjectives. It's essentially menu recitation, cut with hyperactive attempts at wit. (Which latter, this being France, often contains risible sexual innuendo or ethnic stereotypes.) It is literally untranslatable, because what seems normal in French scans like a caffeinated harangue in English.

In America most food critics are eager to adopt approachable, patient tones to their readership, because, without much academic apparatus speak of, American gastronomy likes to be taken seriously. Readers respond to that. In contemporary France, where gastronomy has been enshrined as an academic subject since the era of Brillat-Savarin, many food critics seem at pains to show, through swaggering brevity and dense, overly felicitous turns of perfumey prose, just how young and hip they really are.

It all makes for fine amusement when it goes through the Google-Translate blender. It's less amusing, and indeed somewhat perturbing, to wonder what went through Le Fooding founder Alexandre Cammas' head when the decision was taken to translate the entire site to (terrible) English. Is it all sort of okay, because Anglophone readers will trust French opinions all the more if they sound extremely French? Or is it sort of hubristic and strange? As a business owner, it seems unwise to take decisions that are quite so revealing about how you prioritize your audience.

In this instance, Le Fooding proves its true kinship with many of Paris' most twittish restaurants, who wish to profit from Anglophone attention, but only to the extent that it doesn't oblige them to provide any extra service.

* (The use of "food" as a gerund implies an infinitive verb form of "to food," which to Anglophone ears would instinctively signify something along the lines of 'to become something's food.')


  1. I agree with you regarding the way French food critics write. I can't stand it. It seems like they are all copying each other's style -- the worst is A Nous followed by Figaroscope.