Sometimes we simply fall in love with the word itself, its attractive sound, its acceptance, yet ignore its content. Politicians are notorious practitioners of this, and chefs are no different. Point in case: the chiffonade. The chiffonade refers to delicate green leaves rolled like a cigar and sliced into thin, long strips. The purpose of this cut is often mostly for aesthetics rather than any practicality. You have to admit, the very word sounds sexy, and because of this, the chiffonade gets carte blanche. However, the chiffonade, misused as it too often is, can be far from a sexy experience. Once on a spoon or fork and approaching the mouth, a multitude of embarrassing turn-offs can occur.
In an Italian restaurant in San Diego last summer I struggled with a chiffonade of basil on a side of gnocchi tossed in tomato sauce. The gnocchi were fine, even satisfying, I must say, but the chiffonade was more than my mouth could handle. Half of it hung from the sides of my mouth. The experience not only embarrassed me, in infuriated me. How dare this chef put this unnecessary cut of basil on my food (my food because I paid for it and am eating it) and put me in an embarrassing situation. With extreme prejudice, I damned the chiffonade. I damned the chef. Thank goodness for good wine and wonderful company to calm me. After all, I can’t really blame the chef. This is a common, if not a normal tendency. We convince ourselves that the chiffonade is worthier than the chop, or tear. We live by the word, especially the sexy sounding ones. For most, a blind date with someone named Raoul is more interesting than with someone named Myron. We’re conditioned. That is why a cook will never receive the attention he/she deserves and a chef too often receives more than they earned.