Bartolomeo Scappi, the renaissance grandeur
Recipes from the pope’s secret chef
Bartolomeo Scappi was born in the 16th century in the town of Dumenza in Lombardy.
In 1536, he organized a banquet for Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio and later served several other cardinals. He also took his culinary services to the Vatican kitchen and prepared food for pope Pius IV. During his career, he cooked for six popes, and happened to be cooking at the Vatican at the same time as Michelangelo Buonarroti was working on the Sistine Chapel.
Scappi is often considered one of the first internationally renowned celebrity chefs.
The banquets that Scappi organized often included seventy-seven different desserts and edible statues of wildebeests from the East, Greek Gods and nymphs.
Scappi also specialized in playful arrangements, such as salmon sculpted into the form of glazed ham or a goat’s head. Presentation was immensely impeccable and everything was served with highly polished silverware, gold tableware and ornamental Maiolica.
By the time 1570 rolled around, Scappi published the first illustrated cookbook on Earth and named it the Opera dell’arte del cucinare. The tome included 1000 recipes from Renaissance cuisine and described cooking techniques and tools and even sketched out the first known picture of a fork.
The cookbook was packed to the rim with layouts of a perfect kitchen, including the best selection of pots, pans, knives and countless utensils needed to run a well-oiled renaissance kitchen.
Scappi declared parmesan to be the best cheese on earth, and noted that “the liver of domestic goose raised by the Jews is of extreme size and weighs (between) two and three pounds”, indicating that Jews of the time were overfeeding geese in order to properly produce foie gras.
The six books
Opera dell’arte del cucinare is organized into six books, each exploring specific subjects:
- Book One: All about cooking, the duties of a head cook, kitchen tools, assessing food quality and preservation methods.
- Book Two: Meat from quadrupeds and birds and how to make sauces
- Book Three: Fish, eggs and vegetables
- Book Four: Food listed according to season and what to pack when traveling with a noble
- Book Five: Pastries, cakes, and various savoury dishes
- Book Six: Food for the infirm
Scappi mused that the penultimate criterion of success for a chef is whether “he has done the best that he can.”