Cooking Knowledge: An Intellectual History of Food and Cuisine

A workshop at the Institute for Advanced Study, Central European University

April 8, 2016

1051 Budapest, Október 6. u. 7. / Room 226


Humanities Initiative Program, Institute for Advanced Study, CEU


Prof. John Wilkins is Professor Emeritus of Ancient Greek Culture at the University of Exeter (UK). He is the best known and respected authority on food issues in the Greco-Roman world. Beside his well-known textbook Food in the Ancient World (Blackwell, 2006; with S. Hill), he edited two major volumes on the subject: Food in Antiquity (Exeter University Press, 1995; with D. Harvey & M. Dobson) and A Companion to Food in the Ancient World (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015; with R. Nadeau). He is the author of influential books on food in ancient Greek literature: The Boastful Chef: The Discourse of Food in Ancient Greek Comedy (Oxford University Press, 2000), Archestratus. Fragments from The Life of Luxury (Prospect Books, 2011[2nd ed.]; with S. Hill), Galien. Sur les facultés des aliments (Les Belles Lettres, 2013).

Dr. Robin Nadeau is a Humanities Initiative Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study (at Central European University). He is an ancient historian, and a known authority on table manners and food history in the Greco-Roman world. He is the author of: Les manières de table dans le monde gréco-romain (Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2010), and the editor of studies on ancient eating behaviors: Penser les banquets grec et romain. Entre représentations et pratiques (KTÈMA 35, 2010), A Companion to Food in the Ancient World (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015: with J. Wilkins), and Food, Identity and Cross-Cultural Exchanges in Classical Antiquity (Latomus, forthcoming: with W. Broekaert & J. Wilkins).

Prof. Bruno Laurioux is Professor of Medieval History at the Université de François-Rabelais de Tours (France) and Chairman of the Scientific Council at the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food. He is a major authority on medieval cookbooks and Western Medieval food culture. His publications include: Le Moyen âge à table (A. Biro, 1989), Les livres de cuisine médiévaux (Brepols, 1997), Le règne de Taillevent : livres et pratiques culinaires à la fin du Moyen Âge (Publications de la Sorbonne, 1997), Manger au Moyen âge: pratiques et discours alimentaires en Europe aux XIVe et XVe siècles (Hachette, 2002), Une histoire culinaire du Moyen âge (H. Champion, 2005), Gastronomie, humanisme et société à Rome au milieu du XVe siècle. Autour du De honesta voluptate de Platina (SISMEL -Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2006), and edited Histoire et identités alimentaires en Europe (Hachette, 2002: with M. Bruegel).

Workshop description

Modern scholars often misunderstand the purpose of ancient literature on food and cuisine. While cooking may be considered an “art form” today, such an understanding of ancient cuisine is the result of a misapprehension. For instance, what modern translations render as “the art of cuisine” was in fact often conceived as technical knowledge (technê) in ancient times. This is confirmed by the fact that cooking in Antiquity was a menial task primarily performed by slaves.

Many studies share the desire to “re-enact” ancient cooking and to offer accessible recipes to the modern chef. Many have projected modern conceptions such as “gastronomy,” “art of cuisine,” and even the model of the modern cookbook onto pre-modern European societies. These modern cookbooks on ancient or medieval cuisine are intended for the general public and often lack rigorous analysis. Their account of ancient cultures is accordingly not only superficial, but also frequently inaccurate, since their interpretations are often based on modern assumptions. This workshop proposes to reassess how food and cuisine are discussed in ancient and medieval literature, since a food culture is a historical construction.

This workshop reconsiders the role played by the literature on food and cuisine in ancient and medieval times in relation with its context. It will show that ancient Europeans did not share our values, as far as food choices and intellectual categories are concerned. Adopting a source-critical approach, this workshop will put ancient recipes and discussions on food found in Greco-Roman and medieval literatures back in their intellectual and social context. It aims to set the facts straight and to give an academically rigorous account of concepts and treatises on cuisine in ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and the Western medieval world.