The Futurist Cookbook (1930) Tried to Turn Italian Cuisine into Modern Art

With the com­ing sav­age cuts in arts fund­ing, per­haps we’ll return to a sys­tem of noblesse oblige famil­iar to stu­dents of The Gild­ed Age, when artists need­ed inde­pen­dent wealth or patron­age, and wealthy indus­tri­al­ists often decid­ed what was art, and what wasn’t. Unlike fine art, how­ev­er, haute cui­sine has always relied on the patron­age of wealthy donors—or din­ers. It can be mar­ket­ed in pre­made pieces, sold in cook­books, and made to look easy on TV, but for rea­sons both cul­tur­al and prac­ti­cal, giv­en the nature of food, an exquis­ite­ly-pre­pared dish can only be made acces­si­ble to a select few.

Still, we would be mis­tak­en, sug­gest­ed Futur­ist poet and the­o­rist F.T. Marinet­ti (1876–1944), should we neglect to see cook­ing as an art form akin to all the oth­ers in its moral and intel­lec­tu­al influ­ence on us. While hard­ly the first or the last artist to pub­lish a cook­book, Marinetti’s Futur­ist Cook­book seems as first glance dead­ly, even aggres­sive­ly, seri­ous, lack­ing the whim­sy, imprac­ti­cal weird­ness, and sur­re­al­ist art of Sal­vador Dali’s Les Din­ers de Gala, for exam­ple, or the eclec­tic wist­ful­ness of the MoMA’s Artist’s Cook­book.

Just as he had sought with his ear­li­er Futur­ist Man­i­festo to rev­o­lu­tion­ize art, Marinet­ti intend­ed his cook­book to foment a “rev­o­lu­tion of cui­sine,” as Alex Rev­el­li Sori­ni and Susan­na Cuti­ni point out. You might even call it an act of war when it came to cer­tain sta­ples of Ital­ian eat­ing, like pas­ta, which he thought respon­si­ble for “slug­gish­ness, pes­simism, nos­tal­gic inac­tiv­i­ty, and neu­tral­ism” (antic­i­pat­ing scads of low and no-carb diets to come).

Believ­ing that peo­ple “think, dream and act accord­ing to what they eat and drink,” Marinet­ti for­mu­lat­ed strict rules not only for the prepa­ra­tion of food, but also the serv­ing and eat­ing of it, going so far as to call for abol­ish­ing the knife and fork. A short excerpt from his intro­duc­tion shows him apply­ing to food the tech­no-roman­ti­cism of his Futur­ist theory—an ethos tak­en up by Ben­i­to Mus­soli­ni, whom Marinet­ti sup­port­ed:

The Futur­ist culi­nary rev­o­lu­tion … has the lofty, noble and uni­ver­sal­ly expe­di­ent aim of chang­ing rad­i­cal­ly the eat­ing habits of our race, strength­en­ing it, dynamiz­ing it and spir­i­tu­al­iz­ing it with brand-new food com­bi­na­tions in which exper­i­ment, intel­li­gence and imag­i­na­tion will eco­nom­i­cal­ly take the place of quan­ti­ty, banal­i­ty, rep­e­ti­tion and expense.

In hind­sight, the fas­cist over­tones in Marinetti’s lan­guage seem glar­ing. In 1932, when  the Futur­ist Cook­book  was pub­lished, his Futur­ism seemed like a much-need “jolt to all the prac­ti­cal and intel­lec­tu­al activ­i­ties,” note Sori­ni and Cuti­ni.  “The sub­ject [of cook­ing] need­ed a good shake to reawak­en its spir­it.” And that’s just what it got. The Futur­ist Cook­book act­ed as “a pre­view of Ital­ian-style Nou­velle Cui­sine,” with such inno­va­tions as “addi­tives and preser­v­a­tives added to food, or using tech­no­log­i­cal tools in the kitchen to mince, pul­ver­ize, and emul­si­fy.”

Yet, for all the high seri­ous­ness with which Marinet­ti seems to treat his sub­ject, “what the media missed” at the time, writes Maria Popo­va, “was that the cook­book was arguably the great­est artis­tic prank of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry.” In an intro­duc­tion to the 1989 edi­tion, British jour­nal­ist and his­to­ri­an Les­ley Cham­ber­lain called the Futur­ist Cook­book “a seri­ous joke, rev­o­lu­tion­ary in the first instance because it over­turned with rib­ald laugh­ter every­thing ‘food’ and ‘cook­books’ held sacred.” Marinet­ti first swept away tra­di­tion in favor of cre­ative din­ing events the Futur­ists called “aer­oban­quets,” such as one in Bologna in 1931 with a table shaped like an air­plane and dish­es called “spicy air­port” (Olivi­er sal­ad) and “ris­ing thun­der” (orange risot­to). Lam­br­us­co wine was served in gas cans.

It’s per­for­mance art wor­thy of Dal­i’s bizarre cos­tumed din­ner par­ties, but fueled by a gen­uine desire to rev­o­lu­tion­ize food, if not the actu­al eat­ing of it, by “bring­ing togeth­er ele­ments sep­a­rat­ed by bias­es that have no true foun­da­tion.” So remarked French chef Jules Main­cave, a 1914 con­vert to Futur­ism and inspi­ra­tion for what Marinet­ti calls “flex­i­ble fla­vor­ful com­bi­na­tions.” See sev­er­al such recipes excerpt­ed from the Futur­ist Cook­book at Brain Pick­ings, read the full book in Ital­ian here, and, just below, see Marinetti’s rules for the per­fect meal, first pub­lished in 1930 as the “Man­i­festo of Futur­ist Cui­sine.”

Futur­ist cui­sine and rules for the per­fect lunch

1. An orig­i­nal har­mo­ny of the table (crys­tal ware, crock­ery and glass­ware, dec­o­ra­tion) with the fla­vors and col­ors of the dish­es.

2. Utter orig­i­nal­i­ty in the dish­es.

3. The inven­tion of flex­i­ble fla­vor­ful com­bi­na­tions (edi­ble plas­tic com­plex), whose orig­i­nal har­mo­ny of form and col­or feeds the eyes and awak­ens the imag­i­na­tion before tempt­ing the lips.

4. The abo­li­tion of knife and fork in favor of flex­i­ble com­bi­na­tions that can deliv­er prelabi­al tac­tile enjoy­ment.

5. The use of the art of per­fumery to enhance taste. Each dish must be pre­ced­ed by a per­fume that will be removed from the table using fans.

6. A lim­it­ed use of music in the inter­vals between one dish and the next, so as not to dis­tract the sen­si­tiv­i­ty of the tongue and the palate and serves to elim­i­nate the fla­vor enjoyed, restor­ing a clean slate for tast­ing.

7. Abo­li­tion of ora­to­ry and pol­i­tics at the table.

8. Mea­sured use of poet­ry and music as unex­pect­ed ingre­di­ents to awak­en the fla­vors of a giv­en dish with their sen­su­al inten­si­ty.

9. Rapid pre­sen­ta­tion between one dish and the next, before the nos­trils and the eyes of the din­ner guests, of the few dish­es that they will eat, and oth­ers that they will not, to facil­i­tate curios­i­ty, sur­prise, and imag­i­na­tion.

10. The cre­ation of simul­ta­ne­ous and chang­ing morsels that con­tain ten, twen­ty fla­vors to be tast­ed in a few moments. These morsels will also serve the ana­log func­tion […] of sum­ma­riz­ing an entire area of life, the course of a love affair, or an entire voy­age to the Far East.

11. A sup­ply of sci­en­tif­ic tools in the kitchen: ozone machines that will impart the scent of ozone to liq­uids and dish­es; lamps to emit ultra­vi­o­let rays; elec­trolyz­ers to decom­pose extract­ed juices etc. in order to use a known prod­uct to achieve a new prod­uct with new prop­er­ties; col­loidal mills that can be used to pul­ver­ize flours, dried fruit and nuts, spices, etc.; dis­till­ing devices using ordi­nary pres­sure or a vac­u­um, cen­trifuge auto­claves, dial­y­sis machines.

The use of this equip­ment must be sci­en­tif­ic, avoid­ing the error of allow­ing dish­es to cook in steam pres­sure cook­ers, which leads to the destruc­tion of active sub­stances (vit­a­mins, etc.) due to the high tem­per­a­tures. Chem­i­cal indi­ca­tors will check if the sauce is acidic or basic and will serve to cor­rect any errors that may occur: lack of salt, too much vine­gar, too much pep­per, too sweet.”

via Fine­Din­ingLovers and Brain­Pick­ings

Relat­ed Con­tent

Sal­vador Dalí’s 1973 Cook­book Gets Reis­sued: Sur­re­al­ist Art Meets Haute Cui­sine

MoMA’s Artists’ Cook­book (1978) Reveals the Meals of Sal­vador Dalí, Willem de Koon­ing, Andy Warhol, Louise Bour­geois & More

The Artists’ and Writ­ers’ Cook­book Col­lects Recipes From T.C. Boyle, Mari­na Abramović, Neil Gaiman, Joyce Car­ol Oates & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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