Why is panache no longer heard in everyday conversation? Swagger is not a welcome synonym, although it may be the closest substitute in current use. I lament the loss of the word, because that indicates that the display of panache is gone. There are two notable exceptions: Panache is depicted on television by a fictional character – Neil Caffrey of White Collar - and an internationally known chef – Jamie Oliver.
Panache is from the French word that meant a helmet feather. Henry IV of France rallied his troops, calling them to follow the feather he wore in his helmet. Panache, then, implies reckless courage and a larger-than-life sense of style. Swagger in casual conversation is used to mark style, but does not encompass courage, reducing the word to the superficial.
The character played by Matt Bomer on White Collar is the embodiment of panache, from his fedora to his insatiable appetite for adrenaline. Bomer admits that he has adopted Caffrey’s style sense. However he has never claimed Caffrey’s reckless courage as his own. [Bomer's personal courage is not in question, let me stress.] That leaves Jamie Oliver to be the contemporary champion of panache.
At least one of you is shouting, “No, not true!” You are correct, if only Oliver’s sartorial style is taken into account. Jamie still dresses like a college student. Consider his 30 minute meal series: reckless courage and larger-than-life culinary style.
“Wait,” you say. Been there, done that, with Rachel Ray. Again, you are correct. Rachel is our friend in the kitchen; the one who knows more than we do and is willing to share the knowledge. She delivers accessible, comfort food that won’t scare the pickiest five-year-old. Jamie, on the other hand, challenges us to step out of our kitchen comfort food zone. He demonstrates – with panache – how to deliver a 30 minute meal good enough to be served to your mother-in-law on her birthday – and he demands that we do so on Wednesday’s after hockey practice or Tuesday after ballet – when there is no one to impress. Jamie wants us to display reckless courage and larger-than-life sense of style in the kitchen whereas Rachel asks us to settle for a quirky burger and sweet potato fries.
For a double dose of panache, try one of Jamie’s 30 minute meals and follow it with a viewing of White Collar’s pilot episode. Oh yeah, don’t forget the glass of wine – not the plonk – but the bottle you saved for a special occasion.