Over 100 guests — food lovers, artists, academics and diplomats — gathered at the British Library in London last week to attend a Futurist-style banquet, a mixture of culinary experiment, artistic stunt and political statement. The menu, overseen by Giorgio Locatelli, Michelin-starred chef and restaurant owner in London, was based on a 1932 cookbook by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.
The Futurist art movement was founded by Marinetti in 1909. Albeit indirectly, its influence on food can be seen in nouvelle cuisine, with its minute portions and artistic presentation, and in the ‘molecular gastronomy’ of chefs such as Britain’s Heston Blumenthal and Spain’s Ferran Adria (Marinetti emphasized the importance of using scientific principles in the kitchen).
On entering the library, decorated with various carne plastica (meat sculptures) and other Futurist paraphernalia — comprising a giant pyramid made up of 36 chickens and game birds topped with honey-glazed beef — diners were escorted by waiters in striped flannel pajamas to their allocated seats and awaited a bizarrely fantastic menu.
Dishes included ‘Alaskan salmon in the rays of the sun with Mars sauce’ and for dessert ‘Elasticake’, a fluffy pastry ball with blood-red zabaglione and crowned with quivering licorice antennae (later described as delicious by various diners). Marinetti’s cookbook details even more weird and wonderful recipes like ‘chicken with ball bearings’, ‘salami cooked in coffee and eau de cologne’ and the enigmatically titled ‘Carrot + Trousers Professor’.
During the meal, diners indulged in odd rituals, like stroking sandpaper and velvet, intended to heighten the sensory experience of the banquet and emphasize the concept of food as an art form, not as mere sustenance.
After the plates were cleared, bizarre activities continued as diners were directed downstairs by a man with a megaphone and instructed to chew on rice balls while listening to readings of Futurist articles in Italian and English.
Lesley Chamberlain, editor of the English edition of Marinetti’s cookbook takes a light-hearted view of the movement. ‘Futurist food is a revolution… [and] the 20th century is a century of revolutions. This is perhaps the funniest one, the one you have to take least seriously — but one we are still living with.’
In 1931 the Taverna del Santopalato was opened in Turin Italy. This, the first and only Futurist restaurant ever, put into practice the principles of the ‘Manifesto of Futurist Cooking’.