Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Feast Inspired by The Borgias

So if you read any cooking magazines, you will have seen by now a flashy add for Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI in "The Borgias: The Original Crime Family." I have no doubt it will be a bodice-ripping, blood-splattered melodrama like The Tudors. But what caught my attention is a feast inspired by the series, with culinary luminaries like Marcus Samuelsson, Todd English, Nancy Silverton and Cat Cora.

In case you don't know the Borgias, Rodrigo was from Valencia and became pope Alexander VI in 1492, drew up the infamous Treatise of Tordesillas which divided the world between Spain and Portugal, among more infamous acts. So I guess that's why they were thinking New World ingredients. Chili sauce on shrimp, tomatoes in a cibreo, and a chocolate budino for dessert.

But of course the Borgias never ate any such things. Tomatoes and chilis don't show up in recipes until the late 17th century, and chocolate was drunk, not put into cakes until much later - and no European in the 15th century ever tasted chocolate anyway. OK, I know, they say "inspired by" but why? They could have used real dishes these people ate, taken directly from contemporary cookbooks. There are even Catalan recipes (that I a convinced come from Rupert of Nola) adapted in Martino of Como and published in Platina's De honesta voluptate. (Produced at the papal court for God's Sake!) In other words they had the real thing - and there are even modern editions. And they decided to fake it. What's the point? What do you learn about anything except the egos of these chefs. Drives me absolutely rabid! A real opportunity to taste culinary history and they make the whole thing up! (I now fling myself into the corner with my mouth foaming).

11 comments:

sharon parquette nimtz said...

Foaming? Oh my god, you are so avant garde.

lostpastremembered said...

What should it have been??? What would you think might have been on the table... I for one would love to know!!!

I am with you... one thing to do a riff on a classic dish but another to do it on, what, set dressing inspiration??
What was it based on, one wonders???

Peter said...

They should have hired you as a consultant. On the other hand, the copious use of hair products in The Tudors should have tipped you off to the relative importance of verisimilitude in TV.

Ken Albala said...

Sharon: ;).

Deana, they could have used anything in Martino labelled Catalan - a Mirrause for example. But any recipe there would capture nicely the connection between Catalonia and Rome. And actually mid century (when Martino was probably written) Rodrigo's uncle Calixtus III was Pope.

And Peter, the real shame about the Tudors - because the script was actually pretty accurate - were the horrendous costumes, ridiculous hairdos and unbelievably bad casting. I can't imagine this one will be any different.

Glenn said...

Heh.

As recreational re-creationists (we do historical re-creations for fun), my wife and I saw about 10...maybe 15 minutes of one episode of the Tudors. By the end of that time, we were ready to throw heavy things at the TV set.

What's really funny is that the cookbook I'm reading now IS one covering Martino, and the recipes therein would indeed have been just as easy to use. And far less misleading.

Heather said...

All I know about the Borgias is that there's a coffee drink named after them, which is flavored with oranges. Oranges have been growing in Italy since the 11th century (and coffee since the 15th), so it's certainly plausible that the actual Borgias drank their namesake coffee beverage. That hardly makes a feast (though I survived nearly on coffee alone in college).

Heather said...

...sorry, I meant that coffee has been drunk in Italy since the 15th century, not grown there. #^_^#

Ken Albala said...

Heather, Coffee really doesn't get to Italy until the early 17th c. - in Venice. There's no evidence that people even knew what it was before then, only mentioned by a few travellers to Istanbul. Not even until the mid 17th c. that people in Paris (think Cafe Florian - still there) and London know about it.

SarahBHood said...

Rigour: so sexy. Nothing like a full-on rant by a historical accuracy stickler. Mmm.

Anonymous said...

OK, I know, they say "inspired by" but why? They could have utilized genuine dishes these individuals ate, used straight from modern cookbooks.
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