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On December 28th 1930, Turin newspaper La Gazzetta del Popolo published a full-page Manifesto of Futurist Cuisine, from the mind and the pen of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. He was a poet and the spiritual father of the futurist movement, started in 1909 aiming to revolutionize art, literature, music, theatre, dance, and food, rejecting the styles of the past to dynamically embrace modern life.
The futurists delivered a jolt to all the practical and intellectual activities that up to that point had governed the cultural, civil, and political scene. The paradoxes of gastronomy, like those of aesthetics, aimed at moral evolution: the subject needed a good shake to reawaken its spirit.
Futurist cuisine, expressly defined by Marinetti as a true “revolution of cuisine”, was described in a manual filled with recipes, menus, and suggestions. At the time people made do with little, and the food industry, except for very few brands, remained at the artisanal level. Rereading the futurist gastronomy manifesto today, we can see that some of Marinetti’s suggestions indeed found application. Some examples include additives and preservatives added to food, or using technological tools in the kitchen to mince, pulverize, and emulsify. The recipes that then seemed so revolutionary were in some cases a preview of Italian-style Nouvelle Cuisine.
The forerunner chef of futurist cuisine was the Frenchman Jules Maincave, who joined Futurism in 1914, bored with the “traditional method of monotonous […] mixtures to the point of stupidity”, and proposed “bringing together elements separated by biases that have no true foundation: fillet of mutton and shrimp sauce, prime veal and absyinthe, banana and Gruyère, herring and strawberry gelatin."
Marinetti waged a famous and unpopular war against "the starchy food” (pasta), responsible for generating in habitual consumers “sluggishness, pessimism, nostalgic inactivity, and neutralism […] a ball and relic that Italians put in their stomachs like convicts or archaeologists." In addition to condemning pasta and absolving rice, the Manifesto predicted the abolition of the knife and fork and traditional condiments, encouraging music, poetry, and perfume to be paired with meals. The futurists also strove to Italianize a few terms of foreign origin: the cocktail thus became the “polibibita” (multi-drink), a sandwich was called a “traidue” (between-the-two), dessert was “peralzarsi” (for-standing-up) and a picnic became “pranzoalsole” (lunch-in-the-sun).
The futurists’ greatest success with the public and the press was with their “aerobanchetti” (aerobanquets). A memorable one was organized in Bologna in 1931. There was no tablecloth, replaced by sheets of aluminum and metal plates. The table was shaped like an airplane, with two appendages in the middle representing the wings, with a motorcycle as the engine. After the dish called “spicy airport” (Olivier salad), “rising thunder” (orange risotto) was served, during which Marinetti proclaimed, “we’re flying at 8000 m – feel how this nourishes and favors your stomach.” From the tables there then arose a cry: “We want fuel!”, singing the praises of the Lambrusco wine, kept in gas cans. Also served at the meal were: “wake-up for the stomach”, “Tyrrhenian algae foam”, and “Steel chicken” (roast stuffed with silvery non-pareils).
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."
This story is taken from the book Tacuinum dè Eccellentissimi, ali&no publisher.