For the first time an artistic movement in the kitchen
The first one to bring art to the table was the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), who, in 1913, presented in the magazine “Fantasio” his ideas about “culinary cubism” (renamed “gastro-astronomism” three years later). However, it remained a provocation with no follow-up.
Things got serious when the Italian Futurists got involved.
In the Manifesto of Futurist Cuisine, published on 28 December 1930 in the Turin newspaper “Gazzetta del Popolo,” Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944), taking up again French Chef Jules Maincave’s ideas, codified the “aerial” philosophy that the apostles of the new movement were preaching in every field of art and science, including cuisine.
Their goal? To revolutionize the values of tradition from top to bottom “in order to invent at any cost something new which everyone considers crazy.” And judging by their proposal of an original, daring and innovative cuisine, the Futurists succeeded in their intent.
When defining the needs and joys of the palate, they envisaged the abolition of pasta, an “absurd Italian gastronomic religion”, considered the enemy of speed and modernity, and want to remove “everyday mediocrity” in order to make way for chemistry and art. They even banished cutlery, so as to recover “prelabial tactile pleasure.”
They invented new forms that are appetizing to the eyes, even presenting food that is not meant to be eaten but to stimulate the imagination and desire, and they accompanied their dishes with music, poetry and aromas. They created morsels “which contain ten, twenty flavours to be tasted in a few seconds” and “plastic tasty colourful scented and tactile complexes” for perfect “simultaneous lunches”.
There were memorable applications of these daring theories, such as the futurist lunch served on 8 March 1931 at the Taverna del Santopalato in Turin, which is described in Futurist Cuisine, edited by Marinetti and Luigi Colombo, known as Fillìa (1904-1936).
Published in 1932 by Sonzogno in Milan, it was accompanied by photographs and drawings showing the composition of the dishes.
Futurist cuisine sought “ new solutions through the harmony of flavours and colours of the dishes, the invention of tasty plastic complexes, whose original harmony of shape and colour feeds the eyes and excites the imagination before entering the mouth,” This was accomplished with various recipes, from Carneaplastico (Plasticmeat), a creation of the painter Fillìa, to Equatore-Polo Nord (Equator-North Pole) by Enrico Prampolini, and aerovivande (aerofoods).
The controversy around the cuisine proposed by the Futurists – which caught the attention of Italian newspapers after the publication of the manifesto on the Paris newspaper “Comoedia”, reached France and from there the German press, with articles, comments and caricatures, and even “The Times” in London, that repeatedly returned to the subject – was more literary than real.
In reality, the innovations of Futurism were more formal than substantial, for instance, when it reclaimed concepts of Renaissance cuisine or the sweet-sour combinations of Medieval times.
It was, therefore, a quantitatively limited phenomenon, more cultural than gastronomic. But it is interesting to see how Futurists took into account all five senses, not just taste, and attempted to combine cuisine with different artistic disciplines, leading to a “redesigning” of dishes in decidedly new ways, to which contemporary cuisine still owes a great deal.
Why read it?
The controversial recipe book by Marinetti and Fillìa remains an island within the whole of Italian gastronomic publishing, a unique work of its kind. What is of great historical interest – and the reason for the book’s critical success – is the fact that for the first time an artistic movement decided to include cuisine in the different art forms it was seeking to subvert and redefine (painting, sculpture, architecture, literature, photography, cinema, design, fashion, music, theatre, dance, etc).
In practice, Marinetti’s prediction that “our Futurist cuisine, tuned to high speeds like the motor of a seaplane, will seem to some trembling traditionalists both mad and dangerous; but its aim is to finally create harmony between man’s palate and his life of today and tomorrow” certainly did not come true. Today’s man seems to look for this harmony in the most reassuring products of Italian regional gastronomic tradition rather than in dynamic and irreverent innovations.
The Futurist revolution in the kitchen was an aesthetic one. They started with language, through the autarkic attempt to translate foreign terms into Italian: thus, cocktail becomes polibibita (which is ordered at the quisibeve and not at the bar), sandwich turns into traidue, dessert into peralzarsi and picnic into pranzoalsole.
Most of all, it was the external appearance of dishes that was radically changed. Roast chicken, for example, was turned into a smoothie. And many dishes – such as Percazzottare and Ortocubo – aimed to achieve, through plating artistry, a graphic appearance perhaps far exceeding their taste. Have you ever been inspired by an artistic movement in presenting a recipe to your guests? It could be an unusual and welcome idea. Why don’t you try it?