Bartolomeo Scappi, [as] head chef for popes and cardinals throughout the middle decades of the sixteenth century, … prepared unashamedly decadent banquets for the most powerful men on earth. For thirty years, his art embodied the thrilling, brief moment when the papal court was one of the world’s leading patrons of artistic expression and intellectual enquiry. But no sooner had he hit his peak than he was forced to lay down his ladle: reform had gripped the Vatican.
Realizing that his life’s work would soon be only a memory lingering on the taste buds of a chosen few, in the last years of his life he recorded his genius in Opera dell’arte del cucinare. Published in 1570, the year of Scappi’s seventieth birthday, it was the world’s first illustrated cookbook, a colossal nine-hundred-page tome that includes a thousand recipes and serves as a treatise on cooking as an art form, a courtly pursuit, and a domestic science. …
Scappi was born to modest circumstances around the turn of the sixteenth century, probably in Dumenza, a tiny town about forty miles north of Milan. At the time, medieval tastes still dominated elite dinner tables. In the Ancient world, the cuisine of the Mediterranean, based on bread, oil, and wine, was held up as a marker of its innate superiority over the Germanic peoples, with their supposedly barbaric fare of meat, milk, and beer. After the fall of Rome, the two traditions slowly merged until, in the late Middle Ages, the food served on the tables of the mighty across Europe was broadly similar: heavily spiced sweet-and-sour combinations, given layers of earthy complexity with great heaps of garden herbs. Many of the dishes Scappi chose to record in his magnum opus retain that sensibility, such as his recipe for an omelette made with pig’s blood goat cheese, spring onion, cinnamon, clover, nutmeg, marjoram, and mint—the kind of concoction that would nowadays be considered inedible just about anywhere on earth. Yet, among these forbidding relics of the medieval world, the Opera abounds with innovation that put cooking—perhaps for the first time—on a plinth next to the other creative arts. …
The Opera overflows with references to a Bolognese sauce for this, a Genoese garnish for that, or a delicious dessert known and loved by the people of Padua but virtually secret from anyone else. It suggests he traveled a lot with the express intention of trawling markets, speaking to traders, and experimenting with every new ingredient that came his way. Though he hardly ever refers to something as “Italian,” in a rudimentary way Scappi’s recipes inadvertently assemble the nation that had yet to be made, sitting side by side dishes from the Veneto to the Kingdom of Naples in a single, sumptuous meal. This roving palate also encompassed the New World, the flavors of which are on every page of the Opera—especially sugar, which features in something like 90 percent of its recipes, including as a pizza topping, along with pine nuts and rosewater.
It was never enough for Scappi to please diners: he set out to amuse, astonish, and confuse them with vast menus of pungent flavors and retina-searing colors, presented in displays more akin to a performance art piece than a dinner party. His banquets were the talk of royal and ecclesiastical courts throughout Christendom; one of them comprised hundreds of dishes, including seventy-seven different desserts and edible statues of weird beasts from the Orient, Greek gods, and cavorting nymphs. Once their bellies had been filled, guests were presented with posies of silk flowers attached to stems of pure gold. Scappi specialized in elaborate visual jokes, such as salmon sculpted into the form of a glazed ham or a goat’s head, and everything was served on highly polished tableware of silver, gold, and exquisite Maiolica. Decorous restraint was not to be found in his kitchen.
Megan McArdle heartlessly debunks the haute bourgeois obsession with food traditions.
Americans of a certain social class love nothing more than an “authentic” food experience. It is the highest praise that they can heap on a restaurant. The ideal food is one that was perfected by honest local peasants in some picturesque locale, then served the same way for centuries, the traditions passed down from mother to daughter (less occasionally, from father to son), with stern admonitions not to dishonor their ancestry by making it wrong.
These American diners are constantly in a quest for their own lost heritage, along with the traditions of other peoples they don’t know very well. We live, the lore says, in a fallen state, victims of Big Agriculture and a food industry that has rendered everything bland, fatty and sweet. By tapping the traditions of centuries past — or other, poorer places — we can regain the paradise that our grandparents unaccountably abandoned. …
[M]uch of what we eat now as “authentic” is mostly some combination of peasant special-occasion dishes and the rich-people food of yesteryear, fused with modern technology and a global food-supply chain to become something quite different from what our ancestors ate, or the ancestors of people half a world away ate. And that’s OK. The baguette is delicious, and so is that pricey “peasant” loaf. But they are no better for having been invented decades ago than something that was invented last week, nor would they be better still if Caesar’s legions had been carrying them across Europe.
One of the World’s Top 50 Restaurants, perhaps the most difficult venue to obtain a reservation for in America, is apparently operated by one man out of a basement in a village (Earlton, New York) half an hour south of Albany. Servings are reputedly fully booked up through 2020, or possibly 2025.
[T]he place was now simply called Damon Baehrel, after its presiding wizard and host, who served as forager, farmer, butcher, chef, sous-chef, sommelier, waiter, busboy, dishwasher, and mopper. Baehrel derived his ingredients, except meat, fish, and dairy, from his twelve acres of yard, garden, forest, and swamp. He made his oils and flours from acorns, dandelions, and pine; incorporated barks, saps, stems, and lichen, while eschewing sugar, butter, and cream; cured his meats in pine needles; made dozens of cheeses (without rennet); and cooked on wooden planks, soil, and stone. He had christened his approach Native Harvest. The diners who got into the restaurant raved about it online. But at the time it was booked through 2020. …
The dining room was snug, seating no more than sixteen guests, with a table set up in the middle as though for a single party of six. It was tidy, not really rustic, more varnished than one might expect. The walls were painted a brushed ochre. A stained-glass panel in the wall read “Good Food” backward. Baehrel had installed it that way so you could read it in a nearby mirror. Along the back wall, a broad table was arrayed with bowls of seeds, nuts, leaves, roots, berries, and mushrooms; Mason jars of sap and flour; and vials of oil, all marked with painter’s tape describing the contents and the vintage—“Acorn oil 8/15,” “Golden Rod flour ’14.” The Native Harvest tag had been his wife’s suggestion. “I was inspired by Native Americans,” he said. “I wanted it to be based on the people who were here in this country before we were.” Supposition was his guide: he said that he had never actually read anything about Native American cuisine.
He worked through the items on display. Lily tuber, cattail stems, milkweed, bull thistle. By watching deer in the woods, he had discovered that the inner barks of certain trees have a salty taste. While chopping wood, he found that a particular lichen takes on an oniony flavor for three weeks a year. He made a cooked powder from it. “You’re gonna love it!” Baehrel relies heavily on starch and stock made from rutabagas. He uses wild-violet stems as a thickener. He inoculates fallen logs with mushroom spores. He’ll spend seven hours gathering three-quarters of a pound of clover—enough to fill a steamer trunk. “I do it at night, with a headlamp,” he said.
He had me sit at a table in the corner, a two-top, from which I couldn’t see the door to the kitchen. He wanted me to have the dining experience. He said, “Don’t worry, I’m a professional. I’m not going to kill you.” He filled my glass from a pitcher. “It’s sap. Sycamore sap.” It tasted like water, with a hint of something. A few minutes later, he came out with another pitcher. “This is sparkling maple sap, with dried lemon verbena. I have lemon trees in containers, but I don’t get many lemons. Just the leaves.” He said he harvests about a dozen saps: maple, birch, sycamore, hickory, walnut, butternut, beech, hardwood cherry. “Sycamore sap, when concentrated, is a little salty. You can brine things in it. Hickory sap is very briny and salty. Good for long cooking. I’ll brine a pork shoulder in hickory sap and pine needles for nineteen days. Cherry sap is salty and sweet, bitter, with herb hints like marjoram and lavender.
“My biggest challenge is creating enough flour,” he went on. “I make it from cattails, pine—the inner bark—dandelions, clover, goldenrod, beechnut, hickory nuts, acorns. A huge part of my life is making flour. It takes one to one and a half years to make acorn flour. Acorns from the red oak have bitter tannins. White oak is more like a nut. In fall, I gather the acorns up in burlap sacks. Around New Year’s, I put the sacks in the stream, tied up. I leave them there all winter, under the ice. By spring, the tannic bitterness is gone.”
I asked him how he’d figured this out.
“Soaking didn’t work. I tried a circulation tank, and that didn’t work, either. I press them by hand, in a vise, or with stones. No machines.”
The first course was served on a slab of sawed wood. It was a small rectangle of what looked like salami atop a curled cracker. He said, “It takes me sixteen to eighteen months to make cedar flour. I use a pull knife, a two-handled grater, to shave off some cedar under the bark. The shavings are bitter, tannic—inedible. I soak them in water. Every four to six weeks, I soak them. After a year or a year and a half, I can grind it into cedar flour. So the crisp is made from cedar flour, with a little hickory-nut oil, duck-egg-white powder, water, sea salt, which I sometimes render.” He produced a jar of sea salt from the sample table. “I made the batter and baked the crisp today.” The rectangle of meat, he said, was blue-foot chicken cured in pine-needle juice, pulp, and powder for eighteen months.
The morsel was delicious, though it was difficult—and would continue to be, during the next four hours—for an amateur and glutton like me (in fact, for anyone who is being honest with himself) to tell whether my appreciation, fervent as it often became, had been enhanced by the description of the work and the ingredients that had gone into it. The tongue is suggestible. New words register as new flavors. As numerous blind wine tastings over the years have demonstrated, you taste what you want to taste.
He cleared the slab and arrived with a plate with a spoon on it, and in the spoon a piece of fish with a chip on top.
“I wanted to show you the power of the sycamore sap,” he said. It was Scottish salmon, which had been brined for thirty-nine days. The chip was a slice of black burdock root. “I peel off the fibrous outside of the root, slice the inside, and bake it.” A drizzle of sauce bisected the plate and spoon. It consisted, he said, of pickerel-weed seeds and unripened green strawberries stored in homemade vinegar of a low acidity, then blanched in water in a stone bowl. “With another stone, I mashed them into a paste. Added homemade green-strawberry vinegar and wild-sorrel vinegar and grapeseed oil. That’s the paste. The copper-colored powder is the ground leaves of wild marsh marigold.” Of course. Every milligram seemed hard won. …
Over the next several hours, as he brought in course after course, he appeared and disappeared (“I’ll get you some more sap!”) like a character in a resort-hotel farce. But the dishes were a dizzying array of tastes and textures. Oyster mushrooms, palate-cleansing ices (one was made of wild carrot juice, stevia tea syrup, pickled baby maple-leaf powder, violet leaves, and lichen powder), cured turkey leg, mahogany clams, lobster, prawns, swordfish ham, brined pork with goat sausage—all of it subjected to a jumble of verbs and nouns, many of them new to me. Bull-thistle stem, chopped barberry root, ostrich fern. I deployed an index finger to dab up every woodland fleck. The platings were whimsical and inspired. The sprigs and needles that adorned the mid-meal platter of cheese and cured meat brought to mind Saul Steinberg or Paul Klee.
The fifteenth, and final, course was something he called Earlton Chocolate. It consisted of the fermented leftovers of his “coffee,” which he makes in the autumn from hickory nuts and acorns. (He does not serve actual coffee.) The nut dregs become a kind of paste. “It gets gloppy after three months, then it relaxes.”
Chef Baehrel’s autumnal “Native Harvest” menu was heavenly. His lifelong obsession with food and nature pours out of every dish. The plates he served were developed, well-composed, and thought-provoking. The meal consisted of about 14 courses plus several extras, some of which Baehrel had been perfecting for decades and some of which were invented that day. In fact, many of the ingredients were seasonal and picked from his gardens that very morning, while a variety of ingredients had been preserved for years, waiting to be utilized at just the perfect time in their aging process.
One of Baehrel’s new concoctions on the day we visited was a bowl of clams, warm pressed with wild hickory nut oil infused with spruce needles and “cooked” in a sauce made from ostrich ferns and topped with burdock root chips. Later, we sampled a dish that Baehrel has been continually refining: chicken thigh brined in staghorn sumac powder, then cooked in a blend of concentrated sycamore sap and Baehrel’s fresh grapeseed oil, surrounded by a sauce of rutabaga cooked in the soil it was grown in.
Baehrel does not use butter in his dishes, nor does he use flour in his sauces. Instead, his sauces are often thickened with rutabaga. The buttery quality of a mouthwatering lobster dish served was deceivingly cooked instead in white oak acorn oil that was roasted with fresh white oak acorn, giving it a rich flavor.
Inevitably, the process of creating each dish is the daily manifestation of a lifetime dedicated to food, nature, and self-sustainability. Damon Baehrel remains open even through the cold New York winter months, and Chef Baehrel manages to source most ingredients from his own property. To accomplish this, five to seven foot deep cold frames are dug around his property and filled with compost that ferments during the winter, helping to prevent the cold frames from freezing. In the extreme cold, Baehrel utilizes a form of radiant heat from a 10-watt solar panel connected to heating rods in water containers about 4-5 feet underground. Baehrel actually claims that with the sunshine, fermentation, and radiant heat that warms up the cold frames, “winter in Earlton, New York is the best time of year for root vegetables.”
Each and every dish we ate that evening told a story.
New York Times reporter Yamiche Alcindor yesterday tweeted the menu of the bill of fare on Bernie Sanders private chartered plane wafting the man-of-the-people back home from his meeting with the Pope.
Those champions of the common man certainly know how to live.
A study has found that America’s millennials are skipping out on cereal because it’s simply too much of an inconvenience.
(Yes, the cold kind that requires little more than pouring something into a bowl and then pouring milk over it.)
An astonishing 40 percent of millennials surveyed said they reach for something else, like a smoothie or breakfast bar, reported by The New York Times.
One of the biggest problems was with the washing up. “Almost 40 percent of the millennials surveyed by Mintel for its 2015 report said cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it,” it reported.
Another factor included the fact that many consumers don’t want to start their day with processed grains.
But they’ve solved the problem in Blighty. London now has a cereal cafe to save you all the effort of serving it and cleaning up yourself.
Located a stone’s throw from the similarly kooky cat cafe, Cereal Killer has 120 types of cereals from across the world on offer – and twelve varieties of milk to pour over them, from plain old semi-skimmed to strawberry and lactose free.
And at £3.50 for a large bowl, it’s set to make a killing.
After opening its doors for the first time at 7am yesterday, over 100 people turned up within three hours, eager to indulge in exotic American delicacies like Poppin’ Fruity Pebbles – a cereal loaded with tongue-tingling popping candy – and marshmallow-laden Lucky Charms.
For those desperate for an extreme sugar rush – or simply wanting to sidestep the dentist by rotting a rogue wisdom tooth directly out of their jaw – there’s also the option to add on extra toppings including chocolate chips, crushed Kinder hippos and fresh fruit – at 50p a time.
But you don’t have to be adventurous to eat here, you can still enjoy a small bowl of plain cornflakes – for the price of a 750g box from Sainsbury’s.
Cereal Killer, which stays open until 10pm for anyone who fancies a cold, milky dinner, is the brainchild of Belfast-born twins Alan and Gary Keery, 32.
The idea came to them during an afternoon stroll in London when they both fancied a bowl of cereal, but couldn’t get one anywhere.
“We’re celebrating cereal,” said Alan. “It totally baffled us that people eat cereal every day at home – but never outside the home. It’s crazy it’s never been done before.”
In 79 A.D. in Herculaneum a baker put a loaf of bread into his oven. The oven was opened in the course of excavations in 1930. In 2013, the British Museum asked Georgio Locatelli to recreate the recipe.
Course 2: bontanebi (still twitching shrimp) served with bits of wood ants featuring a lemon-scented pheromone.
Jeralyn Gerba undoubtedly pulled rank as a prominent travel blogger to get to the front of a 60,000+-long line of eager diners trying to catch a meal during the world-famous Copenhagen-based Noma restaurant’s six week long “pop-up” visit to Tokyo.
[M]y epic midday meal was like a thousand-year culture and history lesson served in a few dozen bites. …
I was psyched to hear the Noma philosophy straight from the horse’s mouth. How does a restaurant become the best in the world? How does such an outlandishly expensive operation create enough buzz to maintain the spotlight? You’d expect some flash (hello, 16-course tasting menu) and a few gimmicks (serving “technically dead” crustaceans covered in ants), but you might underestimate, as I did, the degree to which each and every item on the plate (not to mention the plate itself) has meaning, intention, and purpose. There’s an answer for everything, including moving to Japan. These guys are not messing around.
Mory’s started out as a neighborhood New Haven bar on Temple Street, not far from campus, frequented by Yale students in the late 19th century. In 1912, Mory’s was scheduled to close and be demolished, but the affluent Yale men of that era refused to give it up. They simply purchased the bar and moved the whole building, kit and caboodle, to a new location on York Street, even closer to campus, and arranged to have it operated as a private club.
Before WWII, Mory’s was exclusive and expensive and membership was restricted to wealthy (and non-Jewish) Yale men. As time passed, however, Mory’s became more democratic. First every male undergraduate could join, then every Yale faculty member & employee, then females, now God only knows.
In my day, Mory’s was still the preferred drinking place for undergraduate singing groups and societies, but it was already too expensive to be a real undergraduate institution. Mory’s really made its money serving lunches and dinner to Yale bureaucrats and New Haven bigshots. The Mory’s of the late 1960s was already unionized, and one fine day its management announced that Mory’s no longer cared to stay open to 11:30 PM. They began closing earlier, after dinner service ended, so undergraduate clubs were no longer able to adjourn to Mory’s at the conclusion of evening meetings for a shared toasting cup and a few beers.
Mory’s (in my view, deservedly) went broke in 2008, and closed indefinitely. The Yale Alumni Magazine searched its soul over whether such an (imaginarily) elite and reactionary institution ought ever to be re-opened. But, the Yale Administration, in the final analysis, really did need a traditional sort of place to eat lunch and entertain, so a fund-raising effort was made and the old whited sepulchre saved and re-opened.
Mory’s continues to close early, but it does remain an exemplar of old-fashioned WASP elite culture in one respect: its menu. In my day, and even today, Mory’s retains essentially the same old fashioned simple and stodgy menu of yore, featuring such offerings as Welsh Rarebit, French Dip Sandwiches, and Rhode Island Clam Chowder, characteristic of the genuinely elite WASP club.
Elite WASPs like that kind of cuisine, and they abhor change*.
David Ross ’92, now an English professor at Chapel Hill, retains a particular affection for, of all things, Baker Soup, a menu item apparently unique to Mory’s, and he has devoted considerable energy and research into duplicating the secret recipe. Mr. Ross’s resulting article, I’m told, appeared yesterday in some newspaper in North Carolina, but he graciously agreed to allow me to share it with my readers here.
My eight years in New Haven, Connecticut—four as an undergraduate and another four as a newspaper reporter—ended in a hail of bullets and a falling body. The former redecorated my apartment lobby, the latter plummeted past my eighth-floor balcony at 3 a.m. New Haven—at least during the early 90s—was that kind of town.
I don’t miss the sirens, the dirty snow or the fake gothic. I do miss Mory’s, the legendary dining club situated in a clapboarded, warren-roomed manse incongruously tucked between two epitomes of the modern mindset: the Yale graduate school and a rock club called Toad’s Place.
Mory’s is to New Haven what Antoine’s is to New Orleans—a redoubt of bygone sensibility. You go there to eat, but even more to ponder the fork- and knife-carved words in the old wood and to pretend that it’s 1912, the year Mory’s opened at its present location.
As you order pommes de terre souffles and bread pudding at Antoine’s, so you order—unwaveringly and ritually—the Baker Soup and Welsh rarebit at Mory’s. The Mediterranean dieter who orders the seafood risotto for $27 misapprehends everything.
What is this “Baker Soup”? Nobody knows. Superficially, it’s a curry-flavored cream soup of vaguely ochre hue. The operative ingredients seem to be carrot, celery, onion and tomato, though this is a controversial speculation.
A year ago, feeling oddly homesick for the film noir dankness of New Haven and remembering the life-infusing counter-dynamic of the Baker Soup, I set myself the task of engineering a recipe based on twenty-year-old memories.
I devised a pumpkin-apple soup to which I naturally added a splash of Calvados in homage to my Francophile hero A.J. Liebling. Though luscious, my soup was not the soup. The color was right, but there was too much richness, sweetness and complexity. And my 2-hp Vitamix produced a super-silky potage plainly over-beholden to technology. Baker Soup, in my recollection, is homier and earthier: a peasant rather than a Parisian soup.
I put the question to a Yale listserv. There was an animated response: philosophies unfurled, chemistries clashed, recipes flew. There was a certain amount of nonsense, but one Baker Soup devotee claimed to have a friend who had cooked at Mory’s back in the day and had divulged the outline.
This devotee wrote: “It’s a cream of tomato and curry soup, starting with fresh tomatoes and chicken stock and thickened with bread. The secret ingredient is carrot. The current Mory’s incarnation uses a little too much carrot, a little too much garlic, not enough curry powder. And it’s too smooth. The result is a slightly more elegant, but somehow less satisfying dish.”
Building on these intelligent hints, I conjured a plausible facsimile. Here, then, are two recipes—mine and his—both warming, one classic.
Pumpkin-Apple Soup with Curry and Calvados (serves 4)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
½ large yellow onion (200 grams), preferably Vidalia, sliced
1 Golden Delicious apple, sliced
1 15 oz.-can pumpkin puree
3 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 cup whole milk
¼ cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. curry powder (or to taste)
2 tsp. Calvados
1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
In a stock pot, melt the butter until it begins to brown. Add the onion and sauté until softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the apple and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin, stock and milk. Simmer at medium temperature for 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender—preferably a Vitamix—and process to a silky, airy puree. Return the soup to the pot. Finish with the cream, curry powder, Calvados and salt (in quarter-teaspoon increments, tasting as you add). The soup should be thick but not inert; it should run, but just barely. Adjust the consistency by adding additional stock. A full tablespoon of curry powder produces a modest piquancy; for a milder soup reduce to 2 tsp.
Mory’s Baker Soup (serves 4)
2 medium beefsteak tomatoes (575 grams)
3–4 large carrots (400 grams)
½ large yellow onion (200 grams), preferably Vidalia
2–3 medium stalks celery (150 grams)
3 cloves garlic
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
½ cup dry vermouth
1 Tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 ½ cups fresh breadcrumbs (roughly food-processed French baguette)
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste)
Parboil the tomatoes (to release the skins), 1 minute. Peel, seed and dice the cooled tomatoes. Dice the carrots, onion and celery. Finely mince the garlic. Melt the butter in a stock pot. Add the carrots, onion, and celery. Sweat until softened, 15 minutes. Add the vermouth and reduce by half. Add the garlic, curry powder and ground ginger, stirring to combine. Add the tomatoes, chicken stock and bay leaf. Simmer at medium-low temperature for 20 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs and continue to simmer, 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and roughly puree (be sure to retain some texture). Return the soup to the pot. Finish with the cream and salt (in quarter-teaspoon increments, tasting as you add). Garnish with parsley, chives or croutons.
“Curry powders” differ enormously. To avoid winding up with an excessively exotic or assertive soup, I recommend a mundane supermarket brand like McCormick.
The quality of your soup will depend on the quality of your stock. Do not be tempted by salted and MSG-laden stocks. A deep-souled homemade stock is ideal.
* Old Joke
How Many WASPs does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: 5. One to change the bulb, and four to stand around reminiscing about how great the old light bulb used to be.
An already decapitated cobra head was still able to bite a chef twenty minutes after the head was cut off from the snake’s body. The chef died immediately before being given an anti-venom medication.
In preparing for a specialty menu, known as the Snake Soup, chef Peng Fan severed the cobra’s head, left it aside while he diced its body.
Twenty-minutes after his preparation, he picked the cobra’s decapitated head and plans to throw it in the garbage can. This was when the head bit him, and injected its poisonous venom into the chef’s body.
The incident took place in a high-end restaurant in Guangdong province, southern China.
Restaurant guests said that they heard commotion from the kitchen. The staff at the restaurant then called for a doctor but the chef was already dead when the medical assistance arrived.
Karen and I have been filling up our eReaders with free classics, forgotten novels, new releases, and classic pulp. After re-reading all of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee mysteries, I just started working my way through Ian Fleming’s James Bonds.
You can really feel the passage of time, reading these 60 years on. In Diamonds Are Forever, Bond stays at the Astor Hotel in New York (torn down in 1968). He rejoices that Felix Leiter is taking him to an air-conditioned restaurant: Sardi’s. Back in 1956, not all restaurants were.
Bond’s gracious host Felix proceeds to order Bond a special meal.
“… I’ve taken a chance and ordered you smoked salmon and Brizzola,” said Leiter. “This is one of the best places in town for beef, and Brizzola’s the best cut of that, straight cut across the bone. Roasted and then broiled. Suit you?” …
The smoked salmon was from Nova Scotia, and a poor substitute for the product of Scotland, but the Brizzola was all that Leiter said, so tender that Bond could cut it with a fork.
These days, of course, a fellow can look up Brizzola on the Internet, and not just wonder at Ian Fleming’s savoir faire versus one’s own ignorance.
And one finds that one is not alone in wondering about this mysterious dish.
Bond writer Raymond Benson, in The James Bond Bedside Companion describes it as a fictional invention by Fleming. One thing it certainly is not, was the only Italian form of meat with a similar name that I was able to find. Bresaola, though looking and sounding close to Brizzola, is neither roasted nor broiled but air dried and served in thin slices as an antipasto starter or snack.
This could have been on Sardi’s menu along with some other beef main course, and Fleming mixed them up. He did that in several books, with food, wine and even guns (but carried off his mistakes with such verve that these are the Bondian aspects he’s supposed to have been most knowledgeable about!) I suspect we’re back to that fir-cone situation, where Fleming was told something he’d never heard of before, and described it in terms that seemed most familiar to him. …
The Brizzola business of double-cooking made me think of that memorable dinner, not only roasting beef, but broiling it afterwards. One would think that would end up with seriously overcooked meat, but from Bond’s reaction, it clearly did no such thing. More to the point, a consultation of our cookbooks – we have about 400, after the last cull – suggest that “broiling” isn’t just a way to cook food, but also to finish it after another, longer cooking method. You can see the elements falling into place…
Then I encountered an Italian dish called Brasato di Manzo al Barolo, which is beef braised in (very good) red wine, then served in thick slices – tranches, to use the old term. The slices are thick enough to pass under a seriously-hot commercial broiler to produce a burnt, crunchy finish without actually cooking the slice of braised meat any further, and whether this was done to the proper recipe or not, it sounded like a feasible way for a restaurant to put its individual spin on the dish.
Besides describing unfamiliar things in familiar terms, Ian Fleming, bless his little cotton socks, had (according to at least a couple of observers) no head for drink, and as a result his “research meals” for James Bond novels were often something of a mishmash of incorrect or illegible notes. I’ve even seen one source suggesting that Bond’s famous “shaken not stirred” Martini – which apparently contradicts the way in which every martini was made prior to that – was a result of Fleming sampling far too many martinis, getting the method wrong, and then sticking to his guns afterwards. It doesn’t hurt that in his essay How to Write a Thriller he elaborates on how someone going against the grain like that makes for a more interesting character, which works for me. The only place it doesn’t work is that such behaviour makes said character stand out and become memorable – both characteristics that a spy would do well to avoid.
It seemed to me that we’d found at least one likely candidate for “Brizzola.” Diane had other suggestions; that it might originally have been a deliberately-underdone rib roast cut between the ribs into individual portions like really large T-bone steaks, and finished on or under a grill. Alternately, it could have been a London broil sliced and finished in the same way, which is what I did to a fine piece of rump steak the other night, for my birthday dinner.
The meat had been marinating since Monday in olive oil, red wine, red wine vinegar, oregano, cracked pepper and crushed garlic. It was then slow roasted, frequently basted with the marinade, then cut into four thick slices and whizzed under the grill. Luckily our kitchen cooker has a very enthusiastic grill, if it’s allowed to preheat properly, so the end result was delicious.