Dining in wealthy Renaissance households started with the place in which the table was set up. In the late 1400s the designation of a specific room in which to dine began to take shape, Many villas had elaborate dining rooms (or sala) with beautiful painted ceilings and easy access for the servers to appear with food from the kitchen. Wealthy nobles began to incorporate outdoor dining locations into their villas. Banker Agostino Chigi developed his beautiful villa (now called The Farnesina, in the Trastevere, Rome) with a loggia that could open up into the gardens.
FROM CHAPTER 21 - THE CHEF'S SECRET
“We will outdo all the other anniversary feasts, my boy. Even the decadent Leo X will smile down upon us from the heavens when he sees what I have planned.” Bartolomeo clapped Giovanni on the shoulder. He was pleased by the progress his apprentice had made over the last two years. Little did Giovanni know that the grandeur of the feast to celebrate the anniversary of the coronation of Pius V was less about the Pope and more about Bartolomeo wanting to show his son what marvels could be done through mastery of the kitchen.
“How many platters did you say we are serving?” Giovanni asked.
Bartolomeo glanced at the parchment in front of him. “One thousand, one hundred and sixty-seven.”
Giovanni peered at the paper. “Fifty dozen pieces of light white bread? A thousand cockles with orange peel? Pastry castles with live birds? And a gelatin with the Pope’s face? Mi dispiace, Uncle, but is making this much food even possible?”
Bartolomeo waved a hand as though the quantities were nothing. “Bah, the feast I did for Emperor Charles was far more elaborate. You have never imagined how many sugar sculptures we did for that luncheon!”
“So, I’ve heard.” Giovanni did not seem convinced.
“Worry not, Gio. We have one hundred fifty men between the Vaticano kitchen and the Pope’s private kitchen, and I am asking the Roman Cardinali to send men from their palazzi as well.”
Giovanni ran his hand through his dark locks, a nervous habit Bartolomeo knew well. “And we do this every year? Dio mio. I’m never going to remember all this,” the young man fretted. “How do you keep these details straight?”
“Someday you’ll feel comfortablcg even bigger feasts.” Bartolomeo remembered how nervous he had been the first time he had to execute a large banquet for Cardinale Campeggio. Now it all seemed a simple feat, but back then he had bitten his nails to the quick with worry.
“Where do we start?”
“You oversee the pasta,” Bartolomeo told his apprentice. “We can make much of it in December and hang it to dry. I also want you to arrange for the snails and for all the fowl deliveries, which we should start on right away. Most of the birds should be delivered live unless they come in the day or two before, but I do not recommend that—it’s too unpredictable. Have them delivered to the Vaticano farm and we can slaughter them when we are ready.”
Giovanni took the paper and scanned it. “What of molds for the sugar sculptures and the gelatins? Don’t those take time to have carved?”
Bartolomeo smiled. “Worry about the pasta, snails and the fowl. I’ll worry about the rest.”
“Sì, sì.” Giovanni shuffled off, his eyes still on the paper. Bartolomeo smiled after him. It was a lot for someone so young to manage—he was barely twenty—but Bartolomeo had faith in his apprentice. Giovanni perched himself on a stool at his regular table in the kitchen. He began scratching notes on another piece of parchment as he scanned the list he had just been handed. He was so proud of his son, the son who would only know of him as an uncle. The thought of it pricked at the edge of his heart, but he pushed away the idea, turning back to the task at hand, determining how much flour a dozen four-feet high pastry castles might require.
Yes, there really were 1,167 dishes planned for the anniversary luncheon to celebrate the first full year of Pope Pius V's reign. Bartolomeo Scappi includes a number of menus in his cookbook, and many of them have hundreds of dishes served, often to just barely a dozen people. In fact, all the descriptions of food in the passage above were taken from the menus in Scappi's cookbook.
Feasts would often have as many as ten courses served, with a wide variety of sweet and savory dishes served at each one. The idea of holding the sweet dishes till "dessert" had not yet come into favor and it was not uncommon to see a sweet pastry on the table alongside a boiled rabbit dish.