12.09.11, Scully, Du fait de cuisine/On Cookery

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Christine M. Rose

The Medieval Review 12.09.11

Scully, Terence. Du fait de cuisine/ On Cookery of Master Chiquart (1420). Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2010. Pp. 327. ISBN: 978-0-86698-402-7.

Reviewed by:
Christine M. Rose
Portland State University

Terence Scully offers in this volume another notable study of medieval French cookery. His earlier edition of the extant manuscripts of Taillevent's Viandier (1988), The Art of Cookery in the Middle Ages (1995), and Early French Cookery (2002, with D. Eleanor Scully)--just a few examples of his oeuvre--offer much of interest for medievalists, scholars of culinary history and those attracted to recreating authentic medieval cookery for modern kitchens. This volume of chef Chiquart's culinary practice contains a transcription of the unique manuscript of the French text and the only complete English translation of this historically important collection of early 15th century recipes from a ducal household. Scully translates the manuscript from the Archives of the Valais, Switzerland, c. 1420, Sion, Bibliothèque cantonale du Valais, MS Supersaxo 103, containing a treatise of the master chef Chiquart Amiczo on banquet fare and cookery practices. Chiquart wrote as the professional cook to the establishment of Amadeus VIII, the Duke of Savoy (b. 1383), who, from the evidence of the dedication, seems to have asked his chef to codify his recipes and his culinary methods. Chiquart had even cooked for the Duke of Burgundy himself, the father- in-law of Amadeus VIII, on occasion. Chiquart served Amadeus until the duke withdrew to the religious life in 1434. What we find in Chiquart's book, says Scully, is "a broad survey of a chief cook's function," (42) and the "most extensive detailed list that exists in the Middle Ages of culinary requirements for a banquet" (45). This cookbook allows a glimpse into the trappings of that opulent noble household and proves the duke's chef an expert in fine gastronomy. The Savoyard establishment was a household of sumptuousness and display, and the book reads partly as a record of the disposable income and lavish hospitality required of noble houses, including documentation of the astounding numbers of servants and quantities of foodstuffs needed to maintain this way of life, whether the duke was at home or at one of his several other residences. Copied by Jehan de Dudens, the Duke's scribe, the book Amadeus VIII commissioned Chiquart to write had its genesis in the Duke's desire to preserve Chiquart's art and considerable culinary knowledge for posterity (37). It is also, of course, evidence of the ostentatious luxury of the Duke's hospitality.

Chiquart composes his work--and it is voiced as if written by the chef himself--in an innovative format: he plans a pair of elegant two-day banquets. One of these formal dinners is appropriate for meat days, the other for lean days. Added to the feast menus and their attendant recipes are thirty-three further recipes, in case plans change and the banquet might perhaps be prolonged, or food may be required at the lord's court for folks who are ill or of delicate constitution. None of this latter is plain food, but dishes requiring complex and demanding preparations, showing that even food for the sick or frail was carefully crafted and part of the chef's repertoire.

Scully's informative introduction to the treatise treads a middle ground between the general audience and medievalists with some background in culinary matters. He defines and presents various things most medieval specialists would know, but then introduces many nuggets of new information or background matter that keep this section meaty and interesting. And yet, Scully begins inauspiciously, evoking knights on chargers and refined ladies diaphanously dressed and their boorish opposites, loutish degenerates gorging on greasy joints of meat and "swilling and spilling endless goblets of ale" (3). Fortunately, he then reminds us that the late Middle Ages was indeed a complex historical moment, needing to be fleshed out with as much archaeological and artifact-based study as possible. It is in that light he imparts the present volume of cookery. He could have done away with the mention of "ye olde" knights-and-ladies-and-churls material to plunge directly into what certainly is a serious and scholarly consideration of foodstuffs and cooking in the period. Scully's introduction acquaints the readers with the various cooking conditions that obtained in medieval houses, rich or modest: where the fire might be sited, locations of kitchens and how elaborate their cooking areas, the drawbacks of wood fires vs. coal fires, methods of time-keeping, measuring ingredients, saucing and using the mortar and pestle. In the section on "Culinary theory and practice" he describes the intriguing notion of the "quasi-medicinal" nature of medieval cookery and its place in the ducal household. I have not seen this contemporary medical theory as determining culinary practice so convincingly explained elsewhere. Chefs, Scully notes, took care to respect the court physicians or astrologers in safeguarding the master's health and well-being (14). It was incumbent upon cooks in fine residences to know the medical function of the various ingredients according to the theory of the humors; how, for example, a sauce of mustard (a "dry" sauce) should not accompany a "dry" meat such as hare, for it would create an unhealthy imbalance. "The temperament of foods, the generic human temperament, and the specific particular temperaments of an individual for whom he is preparing food must all be taken into account by a cook: the food and the diner must be complementary, they must be in harmony" (14). Scully cites the Regimen sanitatis (1332) of Magninus Mediolanensis as a valuable source for just such lore on the medical functions of food and sauces in balancing the diners' digestions, as well as for directions on the appropriate manner for cooking any fish or meat. While Scully remarks on the difficulty of documenting Chiquart's adherence to such regimens or any influence upon his work from the Duke's physicians, the chef's recipe book reveals that his culinary system generally abided by the teachings of medieval medicine concerning the most salutary and healthful methods of cooking particular meats, and the most suitable sauces to accompany them to balance the humours (17).

The cuisine in Chiquart's volume, says Scully, is pan-European; numerous recipes in Chiquart's collection appear in other contemporary recipe compilations from a wide range of areas. Many dishes, though, are unique to this manuscript. When reading medieval recipes, one is reminded that cooks must have had well-trained memories and lots of experience, since steps are often eliminated, amounts of ingredients not necessarily calibrated, and the length of cooking times can be difficult to ascertain, while other shorthand gestures of the adept cook are in evidence. But Chiquart's book, more than most, might be read by a more general audience for its practical step-by-step knowledge of cooking. He writes a kind of apprenticeship volume for his craft, suitable for the training of future cooks. The organization of the Chiquart manuscript, the banquet model referred to earlier, is unlike other medieval culinary collections, which tend to group types of dishes, as in Le Ménagier de Paris or the Viandier, for example, where recipes for sauces, beverages, pasties, meatless pottages, etc. appear grouped together. Chiquart does not aim at a comprehensive gastronomical collection such as those two volumes, but proffers more details about fewer, but masterful, dishes, in creating his model banquets, evincing what such a premier practitioner must have achieved of culinary techniques and preparations. As it stands, says Scully, the volume is "a tour de force of the crème de la crème in early 15th century French cookery and gastronomy." (39) The elaborateness of the dishes presented (the amazing raised castle entremet, for example, in recipe 10, that includes a skinned and redressed swan and peacock, a glazed piglet breathing fire, a fountain of Love, etc.) and their challenging preparations did honor to the Savoyard lord who hosted the feasts, and that is surely Chiquart's intent in allowing us, through his book, a glimpse of the chief cook creating in his lord's kitchen. Reading this intriguing volume provides us with the chance to understand the practicalities of what the chef did in his own below-stairs fiefdom, and what the duke and his guests actually ate at their banquets.

Included in the Introduction is pertinent historical background on Savoy's Duke and the organization of the ducal household, followed by what is known of Chiquart's life and his probable duties in the Duke's entourage. The chef seems to have accompanied the noble family to its various manor houses, each more or less well-equipped for kitchen staff, and concocted his feasts at any site he was called upon to cater a banquet. He also supervised equipment and ordering of food supplies and checked that there were enough staff at any one location to serve the lord and his guests at whatever parties were planned. A manuscript description, dialect information and phonetic and stylistic features are also provided in this introduction. One regrets the omission, though, of even one plate showing the hand and layout of this important codex.

After his introduction, with its ample and edifying footnotes--some of which explain Chiquart's various techniques, Scully also provides a selected, but broad, bibliography of pertinent culinary and alimentary studies. Then the edition itself, designed with a transcription of the manuscript, and running underneath it on each page, the corresponding English translation. Commentary on the text-plus-translation is consigned to footnotes, which dominate many pages, despite appearing in a reduced font. Some footnotes pertain to the French manuscript, some to the English translation. This is not an easy read, but the complex arrangement is handy enough. Footnotes teem with references to other medieval culinary sources, which Scully clearly knows well.

The chef introduces his work to his lord, modestly claiming no learning, but offering his expertise "to the use, profit, and pleasure of many," and in particular Amadeus VIII who had convinced him to codify his practice. Chiquart's recipes and instructions for various feasts reflect this noble establishment's refined tastes and the sumptuousness of its various parties. Banquet fare and the most authoritative cookery practices of its time are its main contents. Scully reminds us that what was deemed delicious in the 1420's would today be so acknowledged; due to the superiority of the ingredients and the skilled preparation, "fine" dining has not changed its standards of taste and presentation (6). The recipes included show imaginative and colorful, as well as intricate, dishes, such as the fish-day "Party Whitedish" in four colors: silver, blue, red, gold, topped with dragées (no. 33). Garlic is used only sparingly, and Chiquart instructs the cook not to use it in dishes for the sick. (252) The chef admonishes cooks never to trust wooden skewers, but stick to iron. (106) In Amadeus' court, the painters who illuminated manuscripts applied gold leaf to dishes prepared in the kitchen, such as the gilded boars' heads entremets (recipes 5-6), that also breathed fire! Provisions for each day of the two-day banquet required 6000 eggs. Despite eggs being used as thickeners in dishes, no egg dishes are included in the banquet recipes. Chiquart includes an inventory of the cook's tools, hardware, ingredients, manpower, candles, and fuel the kitchen needed to have on hand. He takes care to include in the banquet preparations the food he would provide for the household retainers, in addition to the feast itself. A cook in a household as religious as Amadeus' must scrupulously observe the Church's restrictions about lean days and fasting, and Chiquart provides vegetarian meals in every way the aesthetic and nutritional counterpart of the dishes with meat. His cooking depends a good deal on domestic meats (rather than game) and farmyard fowl, and both saltwater and freshwater fish. Clearly the Duke's household had a sweet tooth, since 34 of the 78 recipes use sugar. Chiquart writes with a pride in his work, and insists on cleanliness and orderliness in his kitchen: the "good clean kettle," "good clean knives," "good clean tables" of recipe 16 are typical of all the recipes.

Following the text of Chiquart's recipes on f. 108v is a poem praising and thanking God, the Duke, the Duchess, their children, "and all their forebears" (277). The scribe, too, receives gratitude, and the chef-poet modestly excuses any errors "for I lack great learning and wit" (278). Other non-Chiquart material appended subsequent to the poem consists of a banquet menu, a poem against the plague in three stanzas (noting in its third stanza suitable and unsuitable foods to eat in time of plague), and a selection of what Scully notes as "miscellaneous jottings" in Latin, such as "cheese and eels: deadly foods, both of them," recipes for fish or meat jelly, and a letter of recommendation for the position of parish rector at Sancti Albini super lacum. Scully includes an index in three parts: Lexicographical resources, Ingredients, and Preparations. In that last section, the directions referring to a "folio" number in bold most certainly mistakenly refers to what must be a "recipe" number.

There are a few typos (p. 33, 37, 135, 255 n. 68) and a note on p. 133 asserts that colorants "alkanet" and "orchil" are not mentioned in Le Ménagier de Paris; but indeed, in recipe 290 in that text (Brereton-Ferrier ed., 262, GWG, p. 323), "arquenet" does appear as a red colorant. [1]

Having also struggled with translating a late-medieval French cookbook, I was interested in Scully's handling of the ubiquitous term "good" ("bon," "beau" and its forms) which also peppers the prose in the recipe section of Le Ménagier de Paris. One can see that Scully might be disinclined to toss out or modify/synonymize all those "goods" because, of course, the emphasis for Chiquart rests on the excellence of his recipes, preparation skills, tools, and ingredients, so that the Duke's household is above all served with extra "good' fine food, served on exceptionally clean and valuable dishes, and generously portioned ("Cut up the piglet into good little pieces," or "See that you have a lot of fresh pork fat filling your pans to the top in order to fry the pasties. Then see that you have a good pot quite full of the best and finest wine that can be obtained, and put it to boil on a good bright coal fire..."). Nonetheless, many of these annoying "bel, beaux, bon, bonnes," etc. could perhaps have been sharpened to "strong" (good frying pan), "clean" (good working surface), "premium" (good wine), "attractive" (good dishes), "tasty" (good flavor), "sizeable" (good chunk of salt pork, good mortar full of...) where the sense pointed to those interpretations to make the prose more precise in English. And, many of them could be eliminated in English without losing a jot of the sense; for dozens of "good clean" items, "clean" alone gets the job done. Often five or six "goods" appear in each paragraph of a recipe (but see recipe no. 69 for 14 "goods"). In any case, this is a very "good" book indeed, about cuisine in the medieval ducal household and Scully, like Chiquart, is a master in his sphere.



1. Le menagier de Paris. Ed. Georgine E. Brereton and Janet M. Ferrier. Foreword by Beryl Smalley. Oxford University Press, 1981. English translation: The Good Wife's Guide: Le Ménagier de Paris, A Medieval Household Book, ed. and trans. Gina L. Greco and Christine M. Rose. Cornell University Press, 2009, cited as "GWG."

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Author Biography

Christine M. Rose

Portland State University