Culinary Terms Every Restaurant Worker Should Know

Imagine landing a job working for your favorite upscale restaurant. To prepare, you decide that you need to learn some culinary terms to avoid asking many questions.

restaurant workers in a meeting

However, the extensive restaurant jargon can be overwhelming, and you may not need to know every possible culinary word. So, where should you start? Which words are the most essential?

Look no further! Here are some culinary terms you should know, from A to Z.

Culinary Terms Starting With A

A la carte is a list of individual items on a menu that aren’t part of a meal. These could include side dishes or something like a single taco instead of a set.

Al dente usually refers to pasta that is still slightly tough when you bite into it.

Acidulation is when you add lime or lemon juice to make a dish tart. The added juice can also give more flavor to the meal.

Aerate means to pass dry ingredients through a sifter. The most common ingredient you do this with is flour.

Au gratin, such as potatoes au gratin, is when you add breadcrumbs or cheese and cook the food until it’s brown.

Au jus is a term that means to add juices from cooking meat to a dish.

Au poivre refers to coating something – usually steak – with cracked peppercorns before cooking.

Au sec is a popular sauce-making technique that refers to reducing a liquid so that it’s almost dry. This method can change the flavor and consistency of the sauce.

Culinary Terms Starting With B

Baste means that you pour melted fat or juices over food – usually meat – to keep it moist.

Bisque is a creamy, thick soup made from shellfish or game broth. You may have heard of dishes like lobster bisque, so look forward to making or serving a type of soup.

Beurre blanc is a sauce you make with onions, butter, and vinegar. It’s a fantastic topping for seafood, and it can make any dish more flavorful.

Brine is water with a lot of salt. You typically soak meat in a brine, similar to marinating. It can change the taste of any dish, and it’s not too difficult.

Culinary Terms Starting With C

Chiffonade is when you finely cut or shred vegetables. These delicate pieces work well as a garnish on many dishes.

Confit (pronounced con-fee) requires you to cook an animal in its own fat. Duck is the most common, but you may use other animals. The next time someone orders duck confit, you’ll know what to give them!

Core (usually in reference to fruits) means to get rid of the seeds and tough center part. That way, you can serve the more edible pieces, and you can serve them alone or in a bigger dish.

Culinary Terms Starting With D

Deglaze is where you get rid of the residue (glaze) on a pan, making it easier to clean. You can either use the caramelized parts or get rid of them.

Degrease means you remove the fat from the surface of a liquid. Similar to deglazing, degreasing can make cleaning your pans easier. However, degreasing refers more to a liquid residue, while you may deglaze a pan with some solids.

Dress means to add salt, vinegar, or oil on top of a dish. The most common example of this is adding dressing to a salad.

Culinary Terms Starting With E

Effiler means to slice almonds very thinly. It may also mean getting rid of the string when working with string beans.

Emincer is when you slice food in a julienne style, but the food isn’t as long as when you julienne something. That can be good if you want to serve smaller pieces of food in a dish.

Emulsify means you mix two liquids that don’t typically blend well. The vinegar and oil combination is one example. When emulsifying them, you can use an ingredient like mustard or egg yolk to stabilize the mixture.

Culinary Terms Starting With F

Fillet can refer to any piece of meat that doesn’t contain the bone. You can use it when talking about beef, fish, or poultry.

Flambé is when you add alcohol to a hot pan, and this will cause a flame to appear. Flambeing can be a great way to cook meats, vegetables, and other foods.

Folding is a technique to add ingredients to a mixture. Usually, it involves combing light ingredients with heavy components. A common example of this is adding egg whites or whipped cream. You move the ingredients under and over each other in a folding motion.

Culinary Terms Starting With G

Galantine is a dish that uses deboned meat. You poach it in gelatin stock, press it, and serve it cold with jelly.

Gazpacho is an uncooked soup with tomatoes, onions, and cucumber. It’s a Spanish dish, but you can make or eat it all over the world.

Grate means to make food, usually cheese, into small pieces to help the food melt. You can use a grater to do this, cutting the cheese as small as you want. Grated food can also make for an excellent garnish.

Grease means adding oil or butter to a pan to coat it. Greasing a pan or pot can keep the food from sticking, making it easier to remove the food and clean the pan.

Culinary Terms Starting With H

Harissa refers to a spicy chili paste, and you can find it in many Middle Eastern and North African dishes. It contains many spices and hot peppers.

Hull is the leafy part of a strawberry. When you use it as a verb, it means to take the portion with the leaf off of a piece of fruit or vegetable. That way, you can make the food look better and avoid serving inedible parts.

Culinary Terms Starting With I

Infusion is where you extract flavors or other compounds from a vegetable. Then, you add the flavor to alcohol, oil, or water. You suspend the material in the liquid as it infuses, and you may hear some people call this steeping.

Involtini is a dish where you wrap vegetables, meat, seafood, or poultry around a filling. The filling can be nuts, cheese, or cured meats.

Irradiation involves exposing food to radiation, which can help get rid of germs. If you need to serve food raw, irradiation is an excellent method to kill off bacteria that you would otherwise eliminate through cooking.

Culinary Terms Starting With J

Jacquard is a process where you tenderize meat by poking holes into it. You may also hear the term needling, which means the same thing.

Julienne means chopping a vegetable or fruit into fine pieces. It’s similar to emincer, but you use this technique with longer vegetables.

Jus lie is meat juice that you’ve used cornstarch or arrowroot to make thicker. You can use the meat juice to improve the flavor of any dish. Jus refers to any type of juice, so you may hear it as part of other culinary terms.

Culinary Terms Starting With K

Kipper is a herring that you’ve split from the head to the tail like a butterfly. When making a kipper, you also usually pickle, salt, and gut it.

Kissing crust is the part of a bread loaf that touches another loaf when you bake it. Like other crusts, this one can have a crispy texture.

Kneading refers to a process where you mix dough for bread, pasta, or any other baked good. You can use your hands or a mixer to combine the ingredients in a folding and pressing motion.

Culinary Terms Starting With L

Lactobacillus is a type of bacteria that is common in yogurts and similar products. This type of bacteria is good for you, so there’s nothing to worry about if it’s in yogurt.

Lard refers to covering meat with strips of fat. The meat usually doesn’t have much fat to begin with, so adding some can keep everything moist. You can use this process with beef, poultry, or any other type of meat that needs more flavor.

Liaison includes egg yolks and cream. You add the liaison to make sauces or soups thicker, and it can help the ingredients stay together to maintain that consistency.

Culinary Terms Starting With M

Macerate means to use liquid to break things into pieces or soften them. You will most likely use this technique with vegetables and fruits, and the foods will absorb the liquid and its flavors.

Marinate is when you soak food in a liquid or seasoning, either for a few hours or several days. The food will consume those other flavors, creating a delicious dish.

Mesclun is a salad that has tender mixed greens, including arugula, lettuce, and chicory. It may also contain herbs and flowers.

Mincing is a technique where you divide food into small pieces, and the results are smaller than when you dice or chop foods. You can mince foods with a food processor or a chef’s knife.

Mise en place requires you to prepare your ingredients before you start cooking. That way, everything is ready to go when you need it.

Culinary Terms Starting With N

Nappe is when a liquid can coat the back of a spoon. It can also refer to coating food with glaze.

Needle is another way to say infuse, which is when you add flavor or fat to an ingredient to make the food more flavorful.

Neige has you beat egg whites until they’re stiff. This technique is common in baking.

Culinary Terms Starting With O

Oeuf is the French translation for egg.

Oignon brule means burnt onion. It can also refer to a half-peeled onion that you sear using a skillet.

Oignon pique is an onion that you prick with a clove and bay leaf. You usually use it when making bechamel sauce.

Ouzo is a colorless, strong liquor that comes from Greece.

Culinary Terms Starting With P

Parboil has you add foods to boiling water to soften the food, but you must take the food out before thoroughly cooking it. Then, you can finish cooking the food by baking or some other method.

Pate is a paste that uses fat and seasoned ground meat.

Paupiette is a flat piece of meat that you stuff with fruits or vegetables, roll it up, and cook it.

Persillade is a mix of seasonings or a sauce. It’s a regular part of sauces, and saute cooks use it frequently.

Poach means to cook something in simmering water over low heat. You can do this with eggs, fish, and other foods.

Polenta refers to a type of porridge that uses cornmeal and comes from the northern part of Italy. 

Culinary Terms Starting With Q

Quadriller has you make lines in a criss-cross pattern. This method is a creative and visually appealing way to prepare food.

Quatre-epices means four spices. The combination usually contains cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pepper, which you can use in stews and soups.

Quenelle is a small mixture of creamed meat or fish and a light egg binding. You usually mold it into a ball before cooking.

Culinary Terms Starting With R

Remouillage is a slightly weak stock made with used bones. 

Render refers to cooking the fat out of something, usually bacon.

Roast means to cook food in an oven using dry heat. You may roast meat or potatoes often.

Rondeau is a shallow, wide pan, and it has two loop handles and straight sides. You can use the pan for poaching and searing.

Roux refers to a mix of flour and butter that you use to make a sauce thicker.

Culinary Terms Starting With S

Saute means to cook it quickly and at a high temperature.

Scald refers to heating a liquid almost to boiling temperature. Bubbles will start to form on the edges of the surface.

Scarring is a technique you use when sauteing, baking, or grilling. It’s where you cook the surface of food until you see a crust.

Stale has you let food go stale so that it can become dry and hard.

Steep means to soak dry ingredients in liquid until it absorbs the ingredient’s flavor. You can do this with tea and coffee, among other drinks.

Culinary Terms Starting With T

Tempering is the process of adding hot water to an ingredient – usually eggs – while it’s cold or at room temperature to raise the temperature.

Tourner means to cut carrots, potatoes, or other ingredients so that they have a barrel shape. You will typically use a tourner knife, and you need to cut the food so that it has six or seven sides.

Truss is when you tie poultry or meat with a string. You first will weave the string through the animal with a needle, making the food more compact when you cook it.

Culinary Terms Starting With U

Univalve is one way to say a mollusk with a single shell. Sea urchin and abalone are two examples.

Ultra-pasteurize usually refers to heating milk up to 280 degrees F (137.7 C) to eliminate bacteria. After heating it, you’ll cool the milk down quickly. The whole process can lengthen the shelf life of milk.

Unleavened refers to not adding yeast or a different leavening agent to bread.

Culinary Terms Starting With V

Vandyke means to cut in a zig-zag pattern, usually with the circumference of a lemon. It’s a common technique for food presentation.

Veloute is a sauce that uses flour to thicken a light stock, such as from fish or chicken. The sauce will then turn brown.

Victual refers to provisions or foods for humans. Essentially, all food is victual.

Voul-au-vent is a round pastry that you bake before adding vegetables or meat as the filling.

Culinary Terms Starting With W

Whip means to use a mixer to beat a mixture. Whipping adds air and volume, so you can use the technique to create whipping or heavy cream. It also works when preparing sauces and dressings.

Whisk refers to a cooking utensil that helps you whip items, whether manually or with a blender.

Culinary Terms Starting With X

Xanthan gum is something you can add to food to thicken it. The gum is soluble in water, and you can create it by fermenting sugars with microorganisms.

Xylitol is a type of alcohol that you can find in vegetables and fruits. It makes for a great sugar substitute, and you can find it in mints, candies, and gum.

Culinary Terms Starting With Y

Yakitori refers to a Japanese dish that uses small pieces of boneless chicken. You marinate the chicken, put it on skewers, and grill it.

Culinary Terms Starting With Z

Zest means to cut the zest off of it. Zest is the colorful part of the skin on fruits, and it contains oils, which can add flavor to a dish.

Keep These Restaurant Terms Close By

Whether you work as a cook or server, you should know these popular culinary terms. That way, you can answer questions from customers and understand how to make typical dishes.

This list is only a starting point! Listen for more terms as you work, and added to your ever-growing culinary vocabulary. 

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Written by Brian Nagele

Brian has over 20 years experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. As a former restaurant owner, he knows about running a food business and loves to eat and enjoy cocktails on a regular basis. He constantly travels to new cities tasting and reviewing the most popular spots.