What is a starter?

Joined Apr 3, 2008
I apologize if this sounds a little dense but what exactly is a "starter"?  I'm pretty good with serving appetizers but I've never served a starter course in any of my meals.  I usually begin dinner parties with wine, cheese, and a few assorted appetizers in the living room and then serve family style in the dining room.  The selection on my table usually includes some kind of meat, a starch, a couple of vegetable sides, salad, and a basket of bread.  What is the function of a starter and what's the difference between that and an appetizer.  Should it be a little bigger than an appetizer?  What are some typical starters?  Can a starter be served family style?
Joined Sep 5, 2008
What a mess. Those words all mean something different depending on what country you're from and what era you're talking about. The reason I mention that is because many of those words (hors d'oeuvre, amuse bouche, entree etc..) are French but are not used with the same meaning as their French counterparts - and even in France, they don't have the same meaning today as they did 100 years ago. 

Would you say an apetizer is the same thing as a hors d'oeuvre? If yes, nowadays in France, a hors d'oeuvre is the same thing as what us French call "Entrée", which is the first plated dish served once you sit at the table. So it would be the same thing as a starter.... right? In the past when formal meals had 12 courses, all those words had a very specific meaning but today everything is kinda blurred together. 

In France a typical meal consists of:

• Amuse Bouches (single bite apps served to standing crowd or at the table before you place your order). 

• Entrée (starter or first course)

• Plat principal (entrée)

• Salad

• Cheeses

• Dessert

• Coffee and chocolates

In France an Apéritif is an alcohol (typically fortified wines, pastis, or champagne or kir, etc...) usually served before you sit at the table, along with amuse bouches, or as we really call them at home, amuse gueules, along with some olives, salted roasted nuts, cubed cheese, balled cantaloupe, etc. 

A few typical starters served we serve at home in France: 

• Shredded carrots & vinaigrette, soft boiled eggs

• Shaved red cabbage & vinaigrette

• Cantaloupe and prosciutto, 

• Soup

• Charcuteries (pate, terrines, rillettes, etc..)
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Joined Sep 5, 2008
Normally a starter, starts your meal. It can be small like an amuse bouche. 
Here in California, if I went to a restaurant and ordered a starter, and they brought me an amuse bouche (one or two bites), I would definitely complain!!! /img/vbsmilies/smilies/eek.gif
Joined Oct 2, 2010
We always start with an apéritif and an amuse gueule. These are mostly not served at the dining table but at the coffee table. The apéritif can be anything that sharpens your appetite; champagne, dry cherry, gin tonic, light white wine or even a light beer. In summer I love a Campari soda or a pastis.

The amuse gueule is up to your inspiration. Put a plate of oysters on your coffee table and let guests serve themselves. Small one-bite toasts with foie gras is also very popular and simple to make. Don't get me wrong, we don't serve only posh amuses. Mostly it's a bit more humble like cutting a nice chunk of excellent hard cheese like gouda in small bitesize cubes, a few olives, anything is possible. A small "verrine" is very popular now; small glasses filled with anything that comes from your imagination like crabmeat in mayo, a mousse etc.

Starters (or entrée in french terms like FF explained) are small plates (think spanish tapa) that mostly contains no starches; 6 or 12 oysters, a few scallops, a fish soup served in an expresso cup. When going to France, for starter I will always have a terrine du chef, delicious homemade pâté. Or, also in France, an assiette de crudités, an abundant plate of raw veggies and vinaigrette...
Joined Feb 1, 2007
Never gave it much thought, before, KK. But now that you bring it up, a starter, in this household, is the first plated dish. It starts the meal (thus, starter), and is a small-plate sort of dish. Could be anything from a salad to soup to seafood lollipops. It's served, obviously, at the table. Very often, I find, that if the starter is based on what is normally a main dish I adjust the size. For instance, I might use crab cakes as a starter, but the plate would hold three of them that, in total, only equal the size of a regular one. Or maybe I'll use a couple of meatball skewers as a starter, in which case the meat will be shaped with a melon baller.

To me, horsey derves, appetisers, etc. are synonyms for small bites designed to stimulate the appetite. They are usually not served at table, and are accompanied by beverages. Basically, a before-the-meal snack.

Amuse' serve the exact same function. But I've always thought there was a minor nuance in that an amuse' bouche is a one-bite way for the chef to show off.
Joined Apr 3, 2010
Hey guys  a starter could also refer to bread making or a sour depending how old you are. Panini you could explain this


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Joined Oct 5, 2001
Interested discussion Koukou. I always thought a starter and an app were the same. An amuse bouche is so small it is really just a teaser but a starter is what you "start" eating your meal with. 
Joined Apr 3, 2008
I've learned from Top Chef that an amuse bouche is only one bite that is meant to tantalize the palate.... no matter how many times I try to spell it right I will never spell this word right.
Joined Jul 28, 2001
Top Chef the TV show?

Amuse Bouche became popular during the Nouvelle Cuisine Craz.e. It is not an appetizer. It is a gift from the chef

to get your taste buds awake. An appetizer is something that is ordered.

  We actually know very little about the taste buds. Way back they used to tell us sweet near the tip, sour towards the back

but all this has been debunked.. The key to amuse bouche is to stir all or most of the taste buds with one bite. It can prepare you for your meal

or make the meal unpleasant. Asian chefs have defined another taste bud. It stands on its head when you use certain glutemates.

Crap, can't remember the name uname?? that's all I know.
Joined Feb 26, 2007
Panini - I think the word you are looking for is Umami.  I could (easily!) be wrong.  It's generally found in foods such as tomatoes and mushorooms for example, I think.

This is how the other courses are translated/ transposed here, generally.

Amuse bouche (or amuse garde) is definitely just a mouthful of something really tasty to set you in the mood for more.  Not generally had at the table, as has been mentioned.

Appetiser-  well it equals starter or entree, sat down at the table, small serve, usually something fairly light.  As in seafood, salad etc.

Main course - often called entree in other parts of the world, is generally the heaviest part of the meal, whatever the course may be.

Dessert is dessert.

Coffee and something chocolatey is a lovely way to finish the meal, maybe accompanied by a liquer (I highly recommend Irish Mist or Port wine).
Joined Aug 13, 2006
Well, I, too, thought this was going to be about bread, Benway. 

But none of this mentions the "first course" in Italian cuisine, and actually, in most European cuisine, where a soup would always precede the main course no matter what, and in Italy where it could be a soup or a pasta, and this even in every family meal.  I thought this was still part of a french meal, in fact, even at home, but maybe my information is outdated.   

Many families will not eat "dry" in italy, which means without a first course, and schools without full cafeterias will send the kids home for lunch.  I remember many parents, in reply to my asking why they can't just take a sandwich to school, would say "you don;t really want your kids to eat "dry" at lunch do you?" 

So where do you put the soup course?  I know pasta is used as a main dish in the states, but soup, at least not heavy thick soups full of bread or beans and pasta etc, but thin soups like broth or simple veloutees, are first courses, are they not?  And are definitely not considered appetizers, are they? unless if served in tiny cups or spoons, which seems to be a current phase.   Would they be starters?   Not that it much matters, but just for the information.

I usually don't do any sort of appetizer or aperitif before a dinner, the only aperitif i ever did was cyr (is that how it's spelled?) (champagne plus cassis) because i like it, and that's for a stand-up meal type party, and there I do many appetizers.  But people don;t drink much here, at least not those my age. 
Joined Apr 3, 2010
Its a forspice or pre dinner tidbit  sent out gratus by the chef to the dinner guest after tey are seated.. As an example of what is to come.
Joined May 5, 2010
It would seem, everybody has a definition for appetizer, starter, hors d oeuvre. In some venues they are all one in the same thing. Amuse Bouche means "to amuse the mouth" The term has been bastardized some where along the way.

At first glance, I too, was ready to give the definition of a flour, water, yeast mixture used in the production of bread.
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Joined Apr 3, 2008
I'm sorry to disappoint those who thought this would be a thread about bread, but alas I do not bake. 

Since some of you have mentioned chefs and restaurants I'd like to point out that in that context I have no problem distinguishing what a starter is.  I often order a starter at a restaurant with no fuss.  But I don't know how to incorporate a starter from my own kitchen.  Somehow I seem to classify my dishes as either appetizers or family-style entrees.  I don't do fancy plating at home which probably eliminates the need for a "starter."
Joined Oct 2, 2010
I don't do fancy plating at home which probably eliminates the need for a "starter."
I don't get the logic in this. You're the boss when you're cooking and you plate in your very own style; it's an expression of who you are, so what? 

When eating in a Greek restaurant in my country we mostly share a big plate of mezze as a starter, perfect but abundant mix of greek goodies. I believe "mezze" is the equivalent of spanish "tapa". I would love to being served only a few as a starter in any greek home!

@Siduri; Soup! Oh yes, when we were young we had homemade soup every single day before the meal... That was the era where mothers had a lot of children, stayed at home, and indeed the children walked home each noon, to eat at home ànd return to school on foot. Since mostly both partners go to work, there's sadly no more time for all that. So daily soup got a bit forgotten. But, you're right, soup can indeed be a fantastic starter. I already mentioned soups being served in small cups nowadays as a starter. We just outgrew the "cappucino" thing where people had to put some kind of posh foamy substance on a soup before serving it.
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Joined Jan 5, 2007
In the UK the courses are known as





Starters can be anything from melon/proscuttio, a broth, eggs mimosa, small amount of pate with melba toast, prawn cocktail (very retro!).  It's usually a small amount of food.

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