Note: The pronunciation of these terms varies according to how familiar the speaker is with French. Usually, getting close is good enough. I’ve included pronunciation for six terms that may be especially tricky for some English speakers.
1. à la carte
Food items that can be ordered individually and not as part of a set meal are ordered à la carte. The French word carte means card or menu. For example, a true à la carte menu would list each item separately, with individual prices: chicken legs, $4; broccoli, $2; rice, $1.50, and so on.
2. à la mode
This French expression means “according to the fashion” and can be applied to clothing, furniture, dances, or anything that goes in and out of style. In US usage, the term is applied as a post-modifier to desserts. It usually means “with ice cream,” as in “pie à la mode.”
An apéritif is an alcoholic drink, taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite.
4. au jus
Chiefly US, au jus is used as a post-modifier to indicate that a dish, usually meat, has been prepared or served in a gravy containing its own juices.
5. au gratin
A dish prepared au gratin has been sprinkled with breadcrumbs or grated cheese browned in the oven or under the grill. The French verb gratiner means “to brown.”
A long, thin loaf of French bread.
7. bon appétit
A salutation before eating.
8. café au lait [ka-fay oh lay]
Coffee taken with milk.
9. cordon bleu
Literally, “blue ribbon,” the expression reflects the sense of “first class.” In culinary usage, “a cordon blue” is “a first-class cook.”
10. crème brûlée
A cream topped with caramelized sugar, served as dessert.
The ordinary word for kitchen in French, cuisine is also used to describe a manner or style of food preparation.
12. en brochette
A brochette is a skewer. En brochette refers to food cooked, and sometimes served, on brochettes, or skewers, like shish kebab. Food served en brochette is generally grilled.
13. maître d’hôtel
Maître is French for master. The maître d’hôtel is the host or manager of the “front” of a formal restaurant, the part that serves the customers. British speakers shorten the phrase to maître, but American speakers refer to this person as the maître d. The responsibilities of a maître d’hôtel generally include supervising the wait staff, taking reservations, and welcoming guests.
14. omelette (US omelet)
A dish traditionally made of beaten eggs fried in a pan and folded over. Sometimes other ingredients are added to the egg mixture.
15. petit four
A small fancy cake, biscuit, or sweet, usually served with coffee after a meal. The literal meaning is “little oven.”
16. plat du jour
Literally, “plate of the day, the plat du jour is a dish prepared in addition to the usual menu, available only on that day.
The literal meaning is “pot on the fire.” It can refer to a large traditional French cooking pot or to something cooked in one, usually a thick soup of meat and vegetables.
18. prix fixe [pree-feex]
A prix fixe meal typically includes several courses, but, unlike à la carte pricing, prix fixe indicates that all the courses are included under one “fixed price
19. roux [roo]
A mixture of fat and flour heated together and used in making sauces and soups. In the United States, a spicy roux is a staple of Cajun cooking in New Orleans.
The French verb sauter means “to jump.” Vegetables that are sautéed are fried in a pan with a little butter over a high heat, while being tossed from time to time.
21. sommelier [so-mel-yay]
A sommelier is a wine waiter or wine steward.
22. soupçon [soup-sohn]
Soupçon is French for suspicion. In cooking, a soupçon is a very small quantity or slight trace of something, “a pinch.”
23. soupe du jour
Like the plat du jour, the soupe du jour (“soup of the day”) is the advertised specialty on a given day.
A vinaigrette is a dressing of oil and wine vinegar, sometimes with herbs used with salads and cold vegetables
25. pièce de résistance [pee-es duh ray-seez-tahnce]
In general usage, the phrase may refer to the prize item in a collection. For example, “The museum’s pièce de résistance is an exact reproduction of an American eighteenth century carpenter’s tiger maple chest.” In reference to food, the pièce de résistance is the main or most difficult-to-resist part of a meal.