When Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and his fellow futurists published in February 1909 on Europe’s leading newspapers “The Manifesto of Futurism”, the world was amidst a revolution. The big machines were thumping, just a few years ago Brothers Wright accomplished their first flight, and one year before Henry Ford started to mass-produce his T Model. The futurists felt that something – still unclear what – was happening, and that was their time to set in place a new order. Or a new mess.
Futurism consecrated one principal – change. Marinetti gathered around representatives from all fields of art that shared one goal: to change everything that the world knew about art, and through that changing everything the world knew about the world.
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
Four years later in 1913 the French cook Jules Maincave published in the French magazine Fantasio his core-interest manifesto – “La Cuisine Futuriste”. Shortly after Maincave and Marinetti opened the first futuristic restaurant in Paris that didn’t last long, and in 1920 Maincave died, only 30 years old.
It took the Italian futurists another almost 20 years, but after departing from art and moving to Italian domestic and foreign policy, without neglecting also other countries’ matters, they went back to the kitchen. In 1930 La Gazzetta del Popolo of Turin published “The Manifesto of Futurist Cooking”, composed by Marinetti and the painter Luigi Colombo, who chose the pseudonym Fillìa. In the manifest Marinetti and Fillìa paved the road on which they wanted to walk the new Italian gastronomy.
Wait. Road? Where the futurists wanted to go they didn't need roads! Right at the beginning of the text they declare that “we Futurists neglect the example and admonition of tradition to invent at any cost a new one judged by everyone joyfully.”
In the night of March 8th, 1931, few months after the manifest’s publication, the futurists inaugurated in Turin La Taverna di SantoPalato (“The Holy Palate”), the restaurant where the ideals of the manifest should have become real. The Bulgarian architect Nikolay Dyulgerov/Diulgheroff was in charge of the interior design and created a space filled with shiny metal which reflected the light from the round lines, an example of dynamics and transformation.
Needless to say, also the gala dinner couldn’t be an ordinary one, therefore it was composed of 14 dishes that were served to the main figures of futurism, journalists, and food critics, and lasted from midnight to 4 AM. The futurists weren’t chefs, so actual cooking was done by the professional cooks Ernesto Piccinelli and Celeste Burdese, while Fillìa created the menu, together with art critique Paolo Alcide Saladin.
Oh, yes. The menu.
As said, the futurists weren’t chefs, they were artists. Probably this is what set their mind free from conventions of traditional Italian cuisine, like the one of their grandmothers. Italy is still a chauvinistic society, needless to say at the beginning of the 20th century, but I recommend everyone, or to be more precise, I strongly do not recommend anyone, to try and change the recipe your grandmother got from her grandmother who got it from hers. Even the great Massimo Bottura was heavily bombarded with insults and disdain when he started to deconstruct traditional dishes from the Emilia-Romagna region. Only loads of skill, courage, and luck took him to where he is today.
The futurists had no such constraints since anyway they saw themselves shackled to such traditions. “Thinking outside of the box”? The futurists wanted to turn the box into a half-glass/half-metal polygon, place it on a speeding train, and drive them to the end of the world where they would throw it into the void in order for it never to return.
Some examples from the menu, that the word “conceptual” doesn’t really begin to describe them (the diagrams were placed next to the description, probably because otherwise the staff wouldn’t understand what the heck they were supposed to cook):
- Aerovivanda (“Aereal Dish”) – on their right the diners would get a plate with black olives, fennel hearts, and Chinotto oranges, and to their left would be placed another plate with sandpaper, red silk, and black velvet cloths. For each bite from the right the patron should fondle the equivalent piece of cloth on the left, while “the waiters spraying around scent of clove, and from the kitchen roams violent airplane engine noise with complementary music of Bach”;
- Tuttoriso (“All Rice”) – white rice is placed on the plate in two forms: semi-sphere and “a crown” around it. Once served at the table the waiters will pour on the semi-sphered rice sauce composed of hot white wine reduced with starch, and on the other portion one made of hot beer, egg yolk, and Parmigiano-Reggiano;
- Pollofiat (“Made/Done Chicken”) – a whole chicken is boiled and roasted, a raw crest of a cock is sewn to its back(!), and filled with small steel bearing balls(!!) manufactured by RIV, the bicycle department of FIAT. Yes, the automobile manufacturers. For the final touch, the dish was served with some whipped cream as a side (!!!). Unfortunately, the dish wasn’t such a success and in later versions its name got changed to “Polloacciaio” (“Steel Chicken”), and the steel balls were replaced with silver-colored sweetened almonds.
The pinnacle of the gala dinner was the Carneplastico, which can be translated as a “Model of Beef”: three golden balls made of ground chicken supports lamb sausage, on which balanced vertically cylinder of veal stuffed with 11 types of roasted vegetables. Oh, and honey on the top. Here are the description and diagram, and here are some trials to recreate the dish:
Did I mention that the futurists weren’t cooks? I highly doubt that Fillìa really imagined how all the flavors and aromas of the ingredients would combine in this dish, which was supposed to be “a synthetic interpretation of Italian landscapes”, a proud feast for the country’s fields and farmers. Now, I’m considered a sort of food adventurer, but I highly doubt I would order such a dish.
One thing didn’t appear on the menu that evening or any other futurists’ event, nor in their cookbooks, quite a wonder if we remember that the movement’s focal point was Italy. One month before the manifest was published, during a festive lunch in the restaurant Penne d’Oca in Milan, Marinetti revealed the identity of the futurist cuisine “Satan” – which is also a cornerstone in the Italian cuisine – Pasta.
If to mention only some great metaphors from the manifest: “Yes, pasta is a dictatorship of the stomach… as much as it is pleasing to the palate, it is a food of the past because it weighs down, makes ugly, deludes itself on its nourishing capacity, makes skeptics, slow, pessimistic”. Since the futurists had a vision of menu “liberated from old obsessions of volume and weight” – and no one can feel light with a belly full of pasta – Marinetti recommended to future waiters to answer as such to patrons who ask for pasta:
“From today our kitchen eliminates pasta. We came to this decision because the pasta is made of silent long archaeological worms that, like their brothers living in the basement of history, weigh down, get sick, use up the stomach. White worms that you must not introduce into the body if you do not want to make it closed dark and motionless like a museum.”
The futurists surely imagined that no one would ever want to order pasta after such an introduction.
Not long after the manifest was published some newspapers published photos of Marinetti indulging himself over pasta – which was quickly found out to be totally fake-news photoshopped images, when no one thought of these terms.
Not only solid food (more or less) was at SantoPalato, but also beverages, and lots of them. In a matter of fact, mixology was a perfect field for futurists who named it “The 8th art”. Having the ability to mix 5, 10, up to infinity ingredients in order to create “something new” was for futurists a wonderful demonstration of their ideas.
Being also nationalists – Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader of Italy, didn’t take part in the gala dinner but sent his regards – the futurists defended the Italian language against foreign terms, also at the kitchen. Dishes were called “Vivande”, which is the archaic word for food, and were made by “Formulas”, not recipes. “Sandwich” turned to “Traidue”, which means “Between the two” (awesome!), and in the bar who turned to “Quisibeve” (“Here you drink”, another awesome invention), worked the “Miscelatore” (“Mixer”) who created “Polibibite” (“Multidrinks”), such as:
- Coppa di Brividi (“Cup of Shivers”) – a cup of Vermouth and Cognac, some grapes, slices of pear and orange, and at the bottom – fries;
- Brucioinboca (“My Mouth is Burning”) – Whiskey with alcohol and Cayenne peppers marinated cherries, a layer of milk and honey, and another layer of Italian liquors: Alchermes, Vermouth, and Strega. Without fries, this time.
The notion is that dinner in SantoPalato was definitely not just a dinner. it was intended to be a multi-sensorial experience that used tools others than pot and pans, for example, oxidizers to add the scent of ozone to the dishes, music that matched the serving, and other elements to stimulate also the sense of touch and thought. Names as “Colonial drum roll fish” and “Raw meat torn by the sound of a trumpet” were definitely out of the ordinary back then. Today it might be that the closest experience to SantoPalato is served at Rasmus Munk’s Alchemist in Copenhagen, where we were supposed to eat (50 dishes!) – if there hasn't been this tiny misfortune called COVID-19. You are more than invited to at least watch such an experience in this overwhelming clip made by the aesthetic fooders couple Anders Husa and Kaitlin Orr.
What happened to SantoPalato? The expectations of a bright future didn’t match the reality, and it shut down after a few years. If only the futurists knew that today the building in Turin serves a traditional Tuscan restaurant… where you can have pasta!
It’s difficult to impossible to spot a futurist cuisine these days, and also the more general futuristic principles, as designed by Marinetti and his friends, are not as loud as back then. It might be caused by the movement’s relationship with the Italian fascist regime, and maybe in such a dynamic reality as ours there’s no need to declare “We are futurists!” – we are all futurists, we are all multi-dimensional, we are all new.