THE CHEF’S SECRETS
Although usually kitchens in ancient Rome were small, often without a window, with an oven for bread and flat bread, a sink and a sort of stone cooking stove (fed with wood or charcoal slack), in rich people’s houses these areas were completely different.
Here, apart from having a proper kitchen, rich people had at least 2-3 slaves who were assigned to preparing meals under the supervision of the best chefs. On special occasions, whole teams of chefs were used and often the services of flute-players, artists and acrobats were hired too. Chefs often adopted their masters’ tastes in order to best satisfy their requests.
The ancient Roman chefs’ uniqueness lay in their ability to copy and disguise tastes; sometimes they were even able to convince guests that they were eating fish when they were eating duck. Apart from changing the food’s flavours, chefs enjoyed changing its aspect too.
For the sumptuous tables of the rich, when there were great banquets, plates of meat and fish were prepared in the most imaginative ways; it was on these occasions that chefs showed their art, serving meat-dishes disguised as a wonderful grilled fish or creating sculptures with mythical themes.
Dishes served during the epic dinner of Trimalchio, described by Petronius in the “Satyricon” and re-evoked several centuries later by Macrobius. It is said that on this occasion courses were exaggeratedly imaginative and that this reflected the manner in which Romans flaunted their grandiosity. In our imagination tales linger of a hare served with wings so as to recall Pegasus, Bellerofont’s winged horse, and that of a female wild boar stuffed with live thrushes and surrounded by small suckling boars, made out of dough.