‘An Oxford Dictionary for the kitchen,’ exclaimed one panel member enthusiastically, almost licking their lips and rushing off to the pots and pans. And indeed, this extraordinary culinary compendium is far removed from the kind of thing that currently holds the genre so firmly under its spell. Because be honest, a cookery book without photographs and stuffed full of centuries-old recipes can hardly be described as flavour of the month.
Koken voor Kardinalen, then, is a one-off. Above all, it is a very courageous publishing project. It’s a sort of translated facsimile of a Renaissance cookbook by master chef Bartolomeo Scappi. In 1570 he published a treatise, printed in Venice, about the culinary arts. It was illustrated by twenty-eight prints showing the ideal equipment of a kitchen, including all the utensils required for a kitchen at court. Scappi served as chef to various cardinals and pope Pius V. Between the lines of over nine hundred recipes he also provides intriguing insights into life in and around the Vatican.
Though it’s fair to say that the design of the short blocks of text – spread over six Books – is excellent, not everything we’re served is so delectable. The typography elicited a certain amount of grumbling: ‘This could have been more inspiring,’ and ‘It’s sometimes rather confused, the subject could have done with more articulation’ were two of the comments. The pages sometimes looked too full, and what about those sans serif subheadings? ‘Edgy contrast with the main text,’ thought one panel member; ‘Could have been even better by being simpler,’ said another. On the other hand the functional placing of the illustrations (on grey paper) was good, more than mere decoration. But the overall picture – including, for example, the excellent binding, the reading ribbon, and of course the teasing, witty jacket – testified to tremendous competence.