In the most literal sense, amuse gueule translates from the French as an amusement for the mouth - but not a mouth in the human sense - amuse bouche would be used in that case (which indeed it sometimes is). It seems that gueule means a non-human mouth, either that of an animal or more intriguingly, a gun. When used in reference to humans, gueule is a slang term, roughly translating as gob. It gives you an idea of the playfulness of the dish.

In a culinary sense amuse gueule refer to tiny, mouth size morsels of intricately designed food that is presented to the diner before a meal.

Picture this scene; somehow you have gathered the folding to dine at a 3 star Michelin restaurant in France. You are seated, presented with menus, provided with the best mineral water to slake your thirst, and the sommelier is on his way to discuss a deceptively perfect Sancerre to accompany your starters. This does not happen quickly, you are in for a full on, 5-hour gastronomic tour-de-force. Amid all this pleasant cacophony, an uninvited plate arrives - somewhat to your surprise. Perhaps it is a single oyster, garnished with the finest unpasteurized osetra caviar, or it may be a demi-tasse filled with an enchantingly green fresh pea soup - topped with a single sea scallop. The idea behind amuse gueule is not only to "amuse the mouth", but as a display of hospitality as well.

To the chef, amuse gueule provides a breaking of shackles. No longer is the emphasis placed on carefully balanced flavours, which must harmonize with the rest of the menu. An amuse gueule brings a sense of playfulness and decadence to an occasion - one that lets all hell break loose in a single, blissful mouthful.

These days amuse gueule are not only found in the greatest of French restaurants, but fine restaurants the world over - whether the cuisine is French or not. Our restaurant is not so decadent (or pricey) to demand amuse gueule for regular services, but on special occasions, such as New Year's Eve, we let loose. Here is what we did last New Year's Eve.

Tiny Goats cheese soufflés with parsley essence

  • 1/2 quantity of twice cooked cheese soufflé
  • 1 quantity of parsley essence
  • Method

    Make the soufflé, making sure to use goat's cheese. Only fill the dariole moulds 1/3 of the way up, so they are nice and small.

    Cool the soufflé and set aside. Place the parsley essence in a plastic squeeze bottle with a small nozzle at the top, like a squeezee ketchup bottle. Inject the bottom of the tiny soufflé with the parsley essence - only a small amount, otherwise they will burst. Place in a 180° C (360° F) oven for 2 minutes to reheat. When bitten into, the pale exterior gives way to a vibrant green interior, which melts in the mouth.

    Serve with a chilled glass of kir royale.

    Extra course of fun food, usually involving unusual flavor combinations or textures, formally presented and served, outside of the hors d'oeuvre, served at restaurants that want to provide traditionally served haute cuisine, but with a little jolt of el Bulli-like improvisation. Home cooks, who having been served such at a restaurant they consider a little above their station, may decide that one (or several!) of these items might convey a sense of gravitas to the occasion when they cook themselves, are sorely misled, especially when American restaurants offer an "amuse-bouche" menu with platefuls of food that would otherwise be considered hors d'oeuvres or even main courses in themselves.

    Here are the salient differences: an hors d'oeuvre is a separate course, either a soup, a salad, or finger food. You order it, you pay for it. An amuse gueule (no matter which kind of mouth you put it in), is just that: a mouthful, off the menu. The idea is, the cook just happened to have a few dozen pigeon's hearts, be experimenting with the Methocel, or thought it was a keen idea to put caviar and white chocolate together, and let you have it, hope you like it, no extra charge. (In plainer English, it's a great way to float trial balloons over the patronage without having to blatantly waste food.) To plan to do this in a home environment, as part of "formal dinner", just doesn't's like when you were in college, and on graduation, you wanted to 'spontaneously' jump into the fountain, but only right when a)you had your best clothes on b)everyone could see you and c) someone had a camera.

    Trying to impress your guests with the fiction that, in between plating the soup, serving cocktails and replying to so-and-so's witty barbs that you just happened to have accidentally made miniature cream puffs with parmesan crisps and white asparagus jelly strains even the politest standards of credulity.

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