The Great Banquet: The Alchemy of Recipes

Here is a description of a food class I’m offering this mid-winter session at The Honors College at the University of Houston.  More news to come. While reading, I suggest you listen to the Presentation for The Mystery Sonatas by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Von Biber.

What is a recipe? It’s an All in One complex system of relationships between fats, carbohydrates, proteins, water, fire, air and earth. Recipes connect us to the past, and often situate us between gods and animals. A recipe invokes a world, a bit like alchemy and magic. A recipe may offer us a remedy to our physical ills—such as considerations of diet in the Hippocratic writings. A recipe may mend our heart and soul—such as the gift of food on the dinner table cooked and served by a gracious host.

What is a recipe? Animals and vegetables boiled, fabricated, grilled, roasted, sliced, smoked, stewed and then cut, torn and lifted by fork, knife and spoon into mouth. Each recipe narrates a history; each recipe reveals a philosophy; each recipe tells a story.

We will read and study the recipes of Athenaeus, a second century CE Greek who wrote The Learned Banqueters. We’ll attempt to duplicate a garum recipe (fish sauce) from a fifth century CE Roman cookbook attributed to Apicius. We’ll relish in the jam, jellies and pastes of Perso-Islamic Cuisines from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries CE, and then taste our way through Chicken Plum Pie and Mussels in Pastry from Shakespeare’s England (while reviewing the “recipe” for a Shakespearean sonnet). And, of course, we’ll translate the Filets de Sole Orly from the culinary guide of Auguste Escoffier. Finally, we’ll experiment with the contemporary recipes of April Bloomfield, Sean Brock, Fergus Henderson, Magnus Nilsson, René Redzepi, Bryant Terry and more.

What is a recipe? An axiom, a parable, a tale—which means we’ll also read Pascal, Kafka and Borges. Consider this class an excursion and contemplation where you’ll devise your own recipes and research the ones you love.

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