and steel balls.
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For a maverick Italian with fascist leanings, cooking was a revolutionary act
What is an "intuitive antipasto"? Filippo Marinetti, author of The Futurist Cookbook
(first published 1932), instructs us to hollow out an orange and place
in it different kinds of salami, some butter, some pickled mushrooms,
anchovies and green peppers. Inside the peppers you hide little cards
printed with futurist sayings, such as "Futurism is an anti-historical
movement" or "With Futurist cooking, doctors, pharmacists and
gravediggers will be out of work".
Marinetti did not only propose that we should eat his words; he
suggested eating each other, too. His recipe for "Strawberry Breasts"
features a pink plate with two breasts formed from ricotta that has
been dyed pink with Campari, and nipples of candied strawberry. He
adds: "More fresh strawberries under the covering of ricotta make it
possible to bite into an ideal multiplication of imaginary breasts." In
his recipe "Carrot + Trousers = Professor", he tells us to build a
sculpture of a raw carrot standing upright, the thin part at the
bottom, to which two boiled aubergines are attached with a toothpick so
as to look like violet trousers in the act of marching: "Leave the
green leaves on the top of the carrot to represent the hope of a
pension. Eat the whole thing without ceremony!"
What would Marinetti have made of the Slow Food movement? His Futurist Cookbook
celebrates not so much fast food as radically new approaches to art
inspired by what seems now an almost romantic belief in the
possibilities opened up by technology. The cookbook embodies a
revolutionary manifesto, strongly flavoured with violence, racism,
misogyny and anti-feminism, that calls on Italians to liberate their
lives, culture and language from tradition and convention.
Marinetti's dalliance with fascism prompted successive generations
of Italians to try to ignore him. The English edition of his work,
translated by Suzanne Brill and edited by Lesley Chamberlain, came out
in 1989. So we can judge for ourselves how successful Marinetti was in
creating a harsh, passionate, would-be-shocking voice with which to
extol fantastic inventions such as the aeroplane, the motor car, the
cinema and the telephone, to call for radical transformations in every
area of life. Cooking was a metaphor, a cookbook an elaborate joke. Out
went pastoralism and sentimentality; in came dynamism, speed, conflict.
Marinetti remains more compelling as an artist than as a tub-thumping
iconoclast. Male preachers, whether priests or vanguardists, tend to be a
tiresome lot. But a poet/performer who can imagine roses in the soup, or candied
atmospheric electricities, or raw meat torn by trumpet blasts, can whet our
If the Marx brothers had ever
taken to food writing, they might have produced something very like F.T.
Marinetti’s marvellously slapstick work,
The Futurist Cookbook.
The provocative (and regrettably Mussolini-approved) Italian artist
Marinetti was infatuated by all things sleek, sharp, electronic, and
shiny, but he was also an avowed enemy of pasta, which he denounced as a
pathetic Italian addiction to nostalgia and tradition. Instead, he
preferred his Futurist meals to combine the radical use of colour,
shape, music, lighting, and ideas, leaving taste and nutrition off the
list entirely. In fact, the modern vitamin supplement industry should
make Marinetti a patron saint: He argued that all sustenance should come
from pills, freeing up food to be the raw material of art, preferably to
be consumed while listening to the soothing hum of an airplane engine.
His oddball cuisine debuted in
the first (and only) Futurist restaurant, in 1929 Turin — an angular,
alumina-plated interior called La
Taverna del Santopalato, or Tavern of
the Holy Palate. It was an event Marinetti considered on a par with the
discovery of America and the fall of the Bastille (“the first human way
of eating is born!”) His cuisine was then replicated at various Futurist
events across Europe, to the horror of many pasta-lovers, and his 1932
cookbook has both delighted and mystified gastronomists ever since.
Some recipes can be visualized fairly easily, such as
his sculpted meat skyscrapers with geraniums on skewers. But other
recipes are more conceptual:
A signature Futurist dish, with a strong tactile element. Pieces of
olive, fennel, and kumquat are eaten with the right hand while the left
hand caresses various swatches of sandpaper, velvet, and silk. At the
same time, the diner is blasted with a giant fan (preferable an airplane
propeller) and nimble waiters spray him with the scent of carnation, all
to the strains of a Wagner opera. (“Astonishing results,” Marinetti
says. “Test them and see.”)
Taste Buds Take Off:
A soup of concentrated meat stock, champagne, and grappa, garnished with
rose petals — “a masterpiece of brothy lyricism.”
Italian Breasts in the
Sunshine: Two half spheres of
almond paste, with a fresh strawberry at the centre or each, sprinkled
with black pepper.
A chicken is roasted with a handful of ball bearings inside.
“When the flesh has fully absorbed the flavour of the mild steel balls,
the chicken is served with a garnish of whipped cream.”
Beautiful Nude Food
Portrait: A crystal bowl filled
with fresh milk and the flesh of two boiled capons, all scattered with
Equator + North Pole:
“An equatorial sea of golden poached egg yokes” surrounds a cone made of
whipped egg whites. This is “dotted with orange segments like succulent
pieces of the sun” and black truffle carved to look like airplanes.
The Excited Pig:
A “whole salami, skinned” is cooked in strong espresso coffee and
flavoured with eau-de-cologne.
bars of marbled soup, filled with sweet cream.
Red roses, battered and deep-fried.
Vanilla dairy cream and little squares of raw onion frozen together.
Marinetti was not entirely
indifferent to the romance of fine dining, and does include a “Nocturnal
Love Feast” in his cookbook. The meal, which should be eaten at midnight
on the island of Capri, climaxes with a cocktail called the
— a relatively appetizing blend of pineapple juice, egg, cocoa, caviar,
red pepper, almond paste, nutmeg, and a whole clove, all mixed in the
yellow Strega liqueur. He declares that modern women (preferably
sheathed in dresses made of gold graphic patterns) will inevitably be
won over by the intellectual rigor of Futurist cooking, describing one
beautiful donna’s wide-eyed response: “I’m dazzled! Your genius
Although Marinetti’s reputation
suffered thanks to his embrace of Italian fascism and his taste for
macho posturing, the goofy humour of his cookbook would influence a
generation of younger artists, most notably the Spaniard Salvador Dalí.
Dalí wrote obsessively about the connection between food and art,
providing recipes for a Venus de Milo made from hard-boiled eggs
(imagine the pleasure, he explained, of biting into her yolky breast)
and championing the Art Nouveau style of Antonio Gaudí as a form of
edible architecture, “whose softness seems to beg ‘Eat me!’” He penned
and illustrated his own cookbook (Les
Diners de Gala, dedicated to his wife)
and included loopy food imagery in many of his surrealist paintings,
such as “Average French Bread With Two Fried Eggs Without the Plate
Trying to Sodomize a Crumb of Portuguese Bread” (1932) and the famous
“Soft Construction with Baked Beans: Spain, Premonition of Civil War” (1936). In the modern world, Dalí
declared, “beauty will be edible or not at all.” •
13 February 2008,
SOURCE/FUTURE READING, Irwin,
Robert, “The Disgusting Dinners of Salvador Dali,”
Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and
Cookery, 1998, pp. 103-111;
Marinetti, F.T., (ed. Chamberlain, Lesley), The Futurist Cookbook,
(San Francisco, 1989).
new book, Napoleon's Privates: 2,500 Years of History Unzipped ,
is a literary version of a Cabinet of Curiosities (HarperCollins, July,
2008.) He is also the author of
Pagan Holiday: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists
The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Olympic Games
Futurism in Art was founded by Filippo Tomaso Marinetti on Feb. 20,
(All authorities, including the Encyclopaedia Britannica, agree upon
Signor Marinetti's original, epochal "Futurist Manifesto" was published
by Le Figaro of Paris. Last week his new manifesto appeared in Gazzetta
del Popolo of Turin.
Major premise of the new Futurism:
ABOLITION OF ALL PASTE FOODS (PASTA ASCIUTTA), SUCH
AS SPAGHETTI, RAVIOLI, LAZAGNA RIPIENA, RIGATONI,
LINGUE DE PASSERA AND PASTINA.
Minor premise: "Rapid presentation, under the noses and eyes of
guests, of a great variety of foods, some of which will be eaten later,
while some will not, thus tion." exciting curiosity, surprise and
"Our ultimate goal," proclaimed Futurist Marinetti, "is the creation
of a wholly new cuisine based upon synthetic foods.
As rapidly as they can be dispensed with, we shall do away with all
so-called 'natural food.' " To make himself clear Futurist Marinetti
pointed out that the "natural transportation" provided by the horse
has been almost entirely superseded by "synthetic transportation."
In marking out spaghetti as the first objective of his onslaught
Futurist Marinetti, shrewd, sought to ally himself with the "dynamic
urge" of the Fascist movement. "We must provide for the Italian
people," he declared, "dishes which will make them dynamic! Spaghetti
and all such foods induce torpor, pessimism and skepticism."
In Naples, spaghettiest of Italian cities, wrathful editors roasted
Marinetti — a dangerous thing to do, for the Founder of Futurism
was a member of Benito Mussolini's first Fascist council, is still a close
friend of the Dictator.
For years Il Duce has urged Italians to eat less spaghetti because it is
made largely from imported wheat, has recommended as a substitute rice
of which Italy produces a surplus.
Conscientiously the English correspond ent of the London Morning
Post filed an objective report of Futurist Marinetti's doings, added his
personal conviction : "No man or movement can unwind spaghetti
from the heart of Italy."