How to cook for a 16th-century banquet: Bartolomeo Scappi

Bartolomeo Scappi (ca. 1500-1577) was a great Italian cook. Born in Dumenza, in the province of Varese, he worked at the service of various cardinals before reaching the height of his career as chef for Pope Pius V. Scappi also published a cooking essay that is considered the most important of his time.

Philosophy historian Tullio Gregory, in his introduction to June Di Schino and Furio Luccichenti’s “Il cuoco segreto dei Papi: Bartolomeo Scappi e la Confraternita dei cuochi e dei pasticceri” (Gangemi, Rome 2008), notes that “Bartolomeo Scappi is so closely associated with his work in cooking and presenting food, that the most important parts of his biography can be found in his book. His life as Pius V’s ‘secret cook’ is told in his recipes, in the dishes he served to important personalities during sumptuous banquets, and in the palaces and courts where he was hired.”

The work Gregory refers to is the essay Scappi published in Venice in 1570, which included twenty-eight illustrations about everything from kitchen architecture to the tools he used.

The book, Gregory continues, “is also a collection of recipes – some of which invented for famous guests – that bear testimony to the complex elements in Scappi’s gastronomic culture. He was open to influences from anywhere in Italy, with a strong preference for Lombardy, Rome, and Naples. In his work, we find perhaps the first ever instructions on ‘how to make a pie with different ingredients, also known as ‘pizza’ in Naples’.”

The essay also lists every detail about the dishes Scappi prepared for his famous banquets: “Sumptuous, surprising, powerful – but also happy to enjoy abundance with eager eyes, and to taste food, free from conceited dieticians’ lectures. The true mark of a food culture that today is hopelessly lost.”

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