The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book

The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book

The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book

The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book


Maestro Martino of Como has been called the first celebrity chef, and his extraordinary treatise on Renaissance cookery, The Art of Cooking, is the first known culinary guide to specify ingredients, cooking times and techniques, utensils, and amounts. This vibrant document is also essential to understanding the forms of conviviality developed in Central Italy during the Renaissance, as well as their sociopolitical implications. In addition to the original text, this first complete English translation of the work includes a historical essay by Luigi Ballerini and fifty modernized recipes by acclaimed Italian chef Stefania Barzini.

The Art of Cooking, unlike the culinary manuals of the time, is a true gastronomic lexicon, surprisingly like a modern cookbook in identifying the quantity and kinds of ingredients in each dish, the proper procedure for cooking them, and the time required, as well as including many of the secrets of a culinary expert. In his lively introduction, Luigi Ballerini places Maestro Martino in the complicated context of his time and place and guides the reader through the complexities of Italian and papal politics. Stefania Barzini's modernized recipes that follow the text bring the tastes of the original dishes into line with modern tastes. Her knowledgeable explanations of how she has adapted the recipes to the contemporary palate are models of their kind and will inspire readers to recreate these classic dishes in their own kitchens. Jeremy Parzen's translation is the first to gather the entire corpus of Martino's legacy.


Luigi Ballerini

Dear Reader: This is a cookbook—a historical cookery book. If you do not care to read about the world from which it grew (and it would be perfectly understandable if you didn’t), skip the present introduction altogether. No need to feel guilty about it. Read it only if you are the type that does not mind a little suffering. I promise that, at the end, you will hasten to search for a great chef, either in the outside world or within yourself, to obtain from either of them (or from both) the culinary reward you undoubtedly deserve.

FOR A GOOD NUMBER OF YEARS, a few centuries in fact, the only known mention of Maestro Martino was to be found in the writings of the fifteenth-century Italian humanist Bartolomeo Sacchi, who was acquainted with him personally.

This means that the name of an unknown person was for a while on the lips and twice, at least, in the pen of a “reporter” who, in our day and age, is just as unknown as his “reportee.” The muse of history contributed some humor of its own. So enchanted was Sacchi (who in his own time was actually famous enough to need no introduction) with Martino’s gastronomic and rhetorical virtues that he did not hesitate to compare him to Carneades (213–129 B.C.E.), whom Sacchi’s contemporaries would have immediately recognized as the illustrious philosopher who headed the New Platonic Academy in Athens, and whose subtle eloquence and argumentative dexterity, appreciated and praised during that rebirth of classical culture we know as the Renaissance, would eventually fall into the same oblivion that now surrounds the cook no less than the scholar.

There is more: ever since the hypertrophic question “Carneades, who was he now?” found its way into the pages of Alessandro Manzoni’s I promessi sposi (The Betrothed; first published in 1827), only to be repeated, generation after generation, by legions of high school kids, Italians have adopted the name Carneades as the quintessential moniker of obscurity.

Thus, to make sure that fame would not treat Martino unfairly, Bartolomeo Sacchi bestowed upon him the following encomium: “What a cook, O immortal gods, you bestowed in my friend Martino of Como, from whom I have received, in great part, the things of which I am writing. You would say he was another Carneades if you were to hear him eloquently speaking ex tempore about the matters described above.”

Luckily, by the time the events in this story began to unfold, the printing press had become a permanent feature of European cultural life, with the result that Sacchi’s praise of Martino would be repeated a fair number of times, in the 1474 as well as in the numerous subsequent . . .

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