Zoological Soup and Aroused Pig: Futurist Cooking November 19, 2010Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
Futurism was one of the twentieth century’s more bizarre ideologies. Founded in Italy just before the First World War – though coming to maturity in the 1920s – it made a cult out of what was new while despising the ‘old’.
So speeding planes, falling bombs or soaring modern buildings were good. Whereas the canals of Venice and the works of the grand masters were bad.
If this had been all then Beachcombing suspects that Futurism would have vanished without a trace. But the Futurists favoured future things with such violence and contrariness that their acts became eccentric – for example it is one thing to hate the canals of Venice, it is another to seriously suggest that they be concreted over and turned into racing tracks…
Here then the good bizarrist can poise fingers over the keyboard and begin to enjoy himself.
Beachcombing will limit himself today to Futurist – a word that against the strict precepts of grammar deserves a capital – excesses in the kitchen. For, yes, the Futurists also donned their kitchen pinnies and determined to do away with ‘old’ food replacing such reactionary nonsense as omelettes and soufflés with FUTURE food.
The Futurist philosophy of alimentation involved reducing food to pure sensory experience. Ideally, human beings would be injected or given tablets for all their nutritional needs and Futurist cooks would then be able to get on with the more important job of wringing every possible reaction out of our inadequately wired bodies: a contemporary account in English from, of all places, the Chicago Tribune (1930) can be found on the web.
Beachcombing has before him La cucina futurista by F. T. Marinetti and does not really know where to start, the madness is so enveloping. So, almost at random, here are Aerovivanda that should give the as yet unshocked reader some idea of how the Futurists got ‘high’.
On the right of the guest there is a plate with black olives, (raw?) fennel hearts and bitter chinotto pieces. On the left there is a ‘tactile’ square of sand-paper, velvet and silk. The pieces of food are then brought to the mouth with the right hand while the left hand runs gently over the tactile rectangle. Waiters spray carnation perfume on the eater’s nape and from the kitchen there comes the noise of aeroplane engines and Bachian dismusic.
Beachcombing wouldn’t sleep for a couple of days after a total experience like this. Luckily though most Futurist dishes limited themselves to ruining the taste-buds: deep fried rose petals, fine vanilla ice-cream frozen with miniscule pieces of raw onion, ground almonds shaped into breast-like hemispheres with ‘nipples’ (strawberries) covered in chilli seeds and black pepper or a piece of salami – Aroused Pig – erect on the plate ‘dressed’ with eau de cologne and coffee. Thank God Beachcombing can plead vegetarianism…
Sometimes the names alone are enough: steel chicken (it was stuffed with ball bearings…), war in bed, the bombardment of Adrianopoli and zoological soup leave so much and yet so little to the imagination.
Now this may just seem like a particularly interesting temper tantrum on the part of some naughty boys (girls were rarely involved) in the 1920s and the 1930s.
But, in fact, there were some attempts to get the enlightened public on board as well. A restaurant the Santo Palato (‘the Holy Palate’) was opened in 1931 in Turin. And one Italian newspaper even suggested that special discounts should be given by the government to citizens who wanted to travel to this Mecca of Futurist food!
Futurist restaurants continue to the present day and can be found in several American cities. Beachcombing cannot help but wonder though if there have been other food movements in history that have deliberately cultivated the bizarre. A few sentences from the Satyricon flick through his mind and he vaguely remembers something about eating gold (Caligula’s horse?) but that is about all. He would be grateful for enlightenment. drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
1 Dec, 2010: Ostrich writes in about strange ancient food: ‘[as to] Caligula feeding gold to a horse, you’re probably thinking of his race horse Incitatus. Dio Cassius relates, in book 69 of his ‘History of Rome': ‘One of the horses, which [Caligula] named Incitatus, he used to invite to dinner, where he would offer him golden barley and drink his health in wine from golden goblets; he swore by the animal’s life and fortune and even promised to appoint him consul, a promise that he would certainly have carried out if he had lived longer.’ I recall being told by one of my professors that ‘golden barley’ probably meant barley sprinkled with gold dust, which sounds plausible. Like you, I thought the scene of Trimalchio’s banquet from the Satyricon involved someone eating food covered in gold leaf, but if it’s in there, I can’t find it now.’ Then Anon provided a modern example: ‘an ice cream place in NYC has taken after the example of the Romans…turns out eating gold isn’t as ancient as may have been thought!’ What would gold do to the human (or horse) digestive system? Would it be absorbed or would it just pass straight through? Beachcombing thanks Ostrich and Anon for their precious contributions.
7 Dec 2010: Ostrich has more comments on eating gold – he’s clearly an expert in the field: ‘One belated bit of information does occur to me with regard to the eating of gold: here in the States we’ve a cinnamon schnapps called ‘Goldschlaeger’, the which contains flakes of real gold leaf. I’m assured on trusted authority that the gold leaf simply passes through the system, and that the entertainment value of the effect is a large part of what justifies the higher cost of the liqueur, at least for certain consumers. The wikipedia article on the stuff reports that some people may have suffered possible allergic reactions to the gold.’ Thanks Ostrich!