When Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and his fellow futurists published in February 1909 in Europe’s leading newspapers “The Manifesto of Futurism”, the world was amidst a revolution. The big machines were thumping, just a few years ago Brothers Wright accomplished their first flight, and one year before Henry Ford started to mass-produce his T Model. The futurists felt that something – still unclear what – was happening, and that was their time to set in place a new order. Or a new mess.
Futurism consecrated one principle – change. Marinetti gathered around representatives from all fields of art that shared one goal: to change everything that the world knew about art, and through that change everything the world knew about the world.
Four years later in 1913 the French cook Jules Maincave published in the French magazine Fantasio his core-interest manifesto – “La Cuisine Futuriste”. Shortly after Maincave and Marinetti opened the first futuristic restaurant in Paris that didn’t last long, and in 1920 Maincave died, only 30 years old.
It took the Italian futurists another almost 20 years, but after departing from art and moving to Italian domestic and foreign policy, without neglecting also other countries’ matters, they went back to the kitchen. In 1930 La Gazzetta del Popolo of Turin published “The Manifesto of Futurist Cooking”, composed by Marinetti and the painter Luigi Colombo, who chose the pseudonym Fillìa. In the manifest Marinetti and Fillìa paved the road on which they wanted to walk the new Italian gastronomy.
Wait. Road? Where the futurists wanted to go they didn’t need roads! Right at the beginning of the text they declare that “we Futurists neglect the example and admonition of tradition to invent at any cost a new one judged by everyone joyfully.”
On the night of March 8th, 1931, a few months after the manifest’s publication, the futurists inaugurated in Turin La Taverna di SantoPalato (“The Holy Palate”), the restaurant where the ideals of the manifest should have become real. The Bulgarian architect Nikolay Dyulgerov/Diulgheroff was in charge of the interior design and created a space filled with shiny metal which reflected the light from the round lines, an example of dynamics and transformation.
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Needless to say, also the gala dinner couldn’t be an ordinary one, therefore it was composed of 14 dishes that were served to the main figures of futurism, journalists, and food critics, and lasted from midnight to 4 AM. The futurists weren’t chefs, so actual cooking was done by the professional cooks Ernesto Piccinelli and Celeste Burdese, while Fillìa, together with art critique Paolo Alcide Saladin, created the menu.
Oh, yes. The menu.
As said, the futurists weren’t chefs, they were artists. Probably this is what set their mind free from the conventions of traditional Italian cuisine, which means the grandmothers’. Italy is still a chauvinistic society, needless to say at the beginning of the 20th century, but I recommend everyone, or to be more precise, I strongly do not recommend anyone, to try and change the recipe your grandmother got from her grandmother who got it from hers. Even the great Massimo Bottura was heavily bombarded with insults and disdain when he started to deconstruct traditional dishes from the Emilia-Romagna region. Only loads of skill, courage, and luck took him to where he is today.
The futurists had no such constraints since they didn’t see themselves shackled to such traditions in the first place. “Thinking outside of the box”? The futurists wanted to turn the box into a half-glass/half-metal polygon, place it on a speeding train, and drive them to the end of the world where they would throw it into the void in order for it never to return.
Some examples from the menu, that the word “conceptual” doesn’t really begin to describe (the diagrams were placed next to the description, probably because otherwise the staff wouldn’t understand what the heck they were supposed to cook):
Aerovivanda (“Aereal Dish”) – on their right, the diners would get a plate with black olives, fennel hearts, and Chinotto oranges, and to their left would be placed another plate with sandpaper, red silk, and black velvet cloths. For each bite from the right the patron should fondle the equivalent piece of cloth on the left, while “the waiters spraying around scent of clove, and from the kitchen roams violent airplane engine noise with complementary music of Bach”;
Tuttoriso (“All Rice”) – white rice is placed on the plate in two forms: a semi-sphere and “a crown” around it. Once served at the table the waiters will pour on the semi-sphered rice sauce composed of hot white wine reduced with starch, and on the other portion one made of hot beer, egg yolk, and Parmigiano-Reggiano;
Pollofiat (“Made/Done Chicken”) – a whole chicken is boiled and roasted, a raw crest of a cock is sewn to its back(!), and filled with small steel bearing balls(!!) manufactured by RIV, the bicycle department of FIAT. Yes, the automobile manufacturers. For the final touch, the dish was served with some whipped cream as a side (!!!). Unfortunately, the dish wasn’t such a success and in later versions its name got changed to “Polloacciaio” (“Steel Chicken”), and the steel balls were replaced with silver-colored sweetened almonds.
The pinnacle of the gala dinner was the Carneplastico, which can be translated as a “Model of Beef”: three golden balls made of ground chicken supports lamb sausage, on which balanced vertically cylinder of veal stuffed with 11 types of roasted vegetables. Oh, and honey on the top. Here are the description and diagram, and here are some trials to recreate the dish: