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Friday, 20 April 2012 10:25

Feast, A History of Grand Eating

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Feast, A History of Grand Eating

by Sir Roy Strong


Harcourt Books

ISBN # 0-15-100758-6

349 pages, hardbound. $35.



feastWhen most of the world was just eating to survive, some really were eating in grand style.

In Feast, A History of Grand Eating, Roy Strong traces the eating habits of mankind's powerful privileged. The journey runs from the time of Ancient Greece to the early Twentieth Century. The author's treatment is scholarly and thorough.

Strong avoids hewing too strictly to a chronological exposition, but weaves several themes into the timeline. Today the instant celebrity of every television chef means an automatic book contract, but the first cookbook dates to the late Fourth or early Fifth Century.. The Roman Empire inherited an appreciation of cuisine from the Greeks and Etruscans and Apicus included 170 recipes of this legacy in what is presumed to be the first cookbook, De re coquinaria. Much later, collections of the culinary efforts of Careme and Escoffier influenced the evolution of cuisine in the western world.

Social stratification was reflected in—and influenced by—the ritualization of early-day banqueting. Those throwing the parties frequently spoke of the egalitarian nature of their feasts, but seating arrangements and amount and quality of food provided often belied their pronouncements.

Grand eating influenced furniture design as seating arrangements evolved to allow for greater comfort of the diners and greater aggrandizement of the hosts and their most favored guests. Architecture was changed as builders created space for permanent rooms devoted just to the activity of eating. An early consideration was the placement of all dining rooms facing west to catch the ambient light for late afternoon dining. As gas—and later, electrical—illumination of homes became available, dinner hour moved later into the evening.

For readers without a love for food it might be too detailed and a bit slow moving. However, those with professional or avocational interest in cuisine will likely find it fascinating.


Editor'a note: Roy Strong, a former director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, lives in Herefordshire. He received a knighthood in 1982.


--reviewed by Dan Clarke

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