Have dinner with Leonard!


We know him as a painter, as an inventor, but who knows that Leonardo da Vinci earned his living first and foremost as the organizer of lavish celebrations, for the greats and for the king. A festive role like that of Leonardo, whose feasts were often accompanied by those feasts that also marked the memory of the Renaissance.

In Renaissance castles, there is not yet a room dedicated to the meal. No “dining room” therefore. The table is set up where the master of the premises decides, in a large room or even under tents in the courtyard. The visual dimension is important, the presentation of a richly decorated tableware, displayed on a buffet. Around the meal, a culture of the senses, but also the expression of power, with increasingly precise ceremonial and the development of specialized skills: “gentleman servants”, “sharp squire”…


It is a whole art of living that is taking root, the one sung by François Rabelais. In a superb language, he puts all his inventiveness at the service of this “gastronomy” of which he is a little bit the father. The actions of its heroes are punctuated by gastronomic events. Rabelais fed Gargantua six pilgrims in a lettuce salad who almost were taken to the “pit of his stomach” and then finally emerged “from the edge of his teeth”. And the picrocholine war, which pitted Grandgousier and Gargantua against Picrochole, began with a case of fougasses (in French) on the Lerné market (near Chinon).


Let’s get back to the table. The cutlery is quite simple: bowl, spoon, knife, metal bowl or glass on foot. The individual plate appeared in the Renaissance and replaced the tailpiece, a round plate on which a slice of stale bread (the trench) was placed to support meat and fish. The fork spread among the Italian nobles in the 15th century. It will take more than a century to establish itself in France. First shared (trimmer, glass), the cutlery thus became individual during the Renaissance. Then prevails what is called “French-style service”: the meal is divided into several sequences (the “services”) where all the dishes are arranged at the same time on the table. A meal consists of an “entrée de table” (pâtés, giblets, delicatessen, salads), “soups” (which may include dishes in sauce), “rôt” (meat on the spit, fish) and an “issue de table” (fruit, pies, pastries, fresh cheeses, etc.). The salty/sweet delimitation is not yet clear: sweet starters are served, while some salty dishes are still available from the table.

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