The French Haute cuisine, literally ‘high cooking,’ appeared as a high art of cooking in the 1600s to distinguished itself from regular French cuisine with small, beautifully decorated servings of exotic food not typically found in France and hence very expensive and only reserved for royalties and nobles.
At that time, the French terms gourmet and gourmand were mostly associated with gluttony as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. But it all changed with the first public critic of Paris restaurants and his annual L’Almanach des gourmands, which Grimod de la Reynière published from 1803 to 1812. Followed by Marie-Antoine Carême’s influence on the development of the French high cooking and his encyclopaedic L’Art de la Cuisine Française.
In 1820, a poem written into Latin and “related to the pleasures of gastronomy and the mysterious art of cookery” was translated into English to introduce the term gourmet and refer to its historical roots: “The word gourmet has long been used to designate a man who, by sipping a few drops out of the silver cup of the vintner, can instantly tell from what country the wine comes, and its age,” along with its new status: “The gourmet … deserves the higher appellation of Gastrologer.”
And, indeed, the word gourmet derives from the Old French groumet, originally ‘wine-taster, wine merchant’s servant,’ to enter English vocabulary in the 1500s with the meaning of a ship boy especially serving to a wine merchant, and to later be used as synonymous to a connoisseur of food and wines. The plural form of gourmets was first recorded in use in 1835 to ironize the refined city foodists: “An evening banquet of venison fresh killed, roasted or broiled on the coals, turkeys just from the thickets and wild honey from the trees; and all relished with an appetite unknown to the gourmets of the cities.”
The difference between a gourmet and a gourmand was first defined in 1898 in a Dictionary of Phrase and Fable as: “In England the difference is this: a gourmand regards quantity more than quality, a gourmet quality more than quantity.”
Yes, opposed to the common belief, gourmet is less about the food itself than it is about the person who is the subject and the connoisseur of the good food. And what a better way to spread Christmas holiday cheer than to be a gourmet and indulge in exquisite foods and drinks with your loved ones!