From luxury cuisine to hotel and family cooking

He lived an exciting life on the cutting edge of science, sport, journalism and cuisine, and produced a fascinating treatise featuring a thousand topics and an extraordinarily modern approach.

Alberto Cougnet, editor of the monumental haute-cuisine treatise in 2 volumes, L’arte cucinaria in Italia, (Culinary Art in Italy), resembled his work.

The author

Cougnet was born in Nizza Marittima (when it was under Italian control) in 1850, from an ancient Nice family (and died in Switzerland, in his villa in Morcote, on Lake Lugano, in 1916).

His father Carlo, an official in the service of the Savoy House, moved to Genoa after the annexation of Nice to France in March 1860 and, later, settled in Reggio Emilia as director of the State Monopolies.

Alberto, who remained in Nice, became a doctor and author of numerous scientific publications, but was also known as a sportsman, swordsman, journalist and writer, and earned a reputation as a learned and sophisticated gourmet.

After his father’s death in 1889, Cougnet moved to Reggio Emilia. A decade later, around 1900, he settled in Milan.

His son Armando, born in 1880, kept up the brilliant family tradition: he joined “Gazzetta dello Sport” as journalist and then manager, became its owner in 1909, and went down in history as the “inventor” of the bicycle race Giro d’Italia .

Alberto was a collector and between 1880 and 1914 put together a rich collection of menus that reflect social life between the 19th and 20th century. This collection, sold by his descendants to Count Livio Cerini of Castegnate, is now kept in Parma in the Academia Barilla Library.

A cuisine enthusiast, in 1903 Cougnet published the book on culinary history I piaceri della tavola: contributo alla storia della cucina e della mensa (The pleasures of the table: a contribution to the history of cuisine and dining), and in 1905 another essay on ethnic and national cuisines, Il ventre dei popoli (Ethnic cuisines), in which he rounded off his gastronomic travels through five continents with a substantial chapter on The Italian kitchen and cellar.

In 1909 Cougnet became editor of the magazine “Rivista Italiana d’Arte Culinaria”, founded in 1905 in Milan. Initially aimed at professionals, under his direction it opened up to an audience of families. The publication, however, maintained a high level through the collaboration of specialists, including Giuseppe Ciocca and Amedeo Pettini, and soon became the official organ of the Gastronomic Circle of Milan, the association of chefs legally established in 1903.

Cougnet wrote erudite prefaces, including one to Pasticcere e confettiere moderno (The modern pastry chef and confectioner) by Giuseppe Ciocca, published as a Hoepli manual in 1907, and one to Cucina classica e moderna: 366 liste cibarie (Classic and modern cuisine: 366 menus) by Attilio Peruzzotti, published by Bietti in 1909.

The work

In 1910-11, at the initiative of the Gastronomic Circle of Milan, Cougnet edited L’Arte cucinaria in Italia.

This isa technical and practical treatise on Italian cuisine and the main foreign cuisines, “applicable to all kinds of service, both to luxury cuisine or the cooking of hotels and families”, as the subtitle says, and is aimed primarily at professional chefs and sophisticated gourmets.

The work consists of nearly 5,000 recipes, often accompanied by drawings by famous illustrators, such as Emilio Tornaghi, and was compiled from contributions from leading contemporary chefs, some of whom were in turn authors of cooking books: Francesco Ambrosetti, Francesco Berra, Giuseppe Ciocca, Giuseppe Leoni, Carlo Molina, Giovanni Molteni, Giovanni Molteni d’Annone, Luigi Orlandi, Pietro Peruzzotti, and Amedeo Pettini.

Why read it?

L’Arte cucinaria in Italia is a milestone in Italy’s gastronomic culture, because it is the first 19th-century culinary treatise that is free from French terminology, it is written in an original and modern style, and uses a new approach, as it is structured as a collection of quality contributions under the guidance of an expert editor.

The recipes, organized into menus with different courses (appetizers, broths, soups, sauces and garnishes, eggs, fish and their sauces, meats, vegetables, sweets and fruit), provide an overall view of the gastronomic experience of the time and are almost always accompanied by a historical introduction, written by Cougnet himself, that mentions past authors with learned references to figures, places and events of their times. Do you know the historical background of your favourite recipes? And do you know the origin of your family’s recipes?