The official blog of Historical Fiction author, Mary Anne Yarde, and home to The Coffee Pot Book Club. Come and join Mary Anne on the hunt for everything historical, as well as mythological. Oh, and let's not forget the odd book or two! Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy...
The Chef’s Secret and The Life of Bartolomeo Scappi, Renaissance Celebrity Chef, by Crystal King #History #Cooking #Renaissance @crystallyn
Chef’s Secret and The Life of Bartolomeo Scappi, Renaissance Celebrity Chef. By
We don’t know much about Bartolomeo Scappi’s
life. We know he died in 1577, so we can roughly guess when he might have been
born. We know who he worked for as a chef, which included a number of cardinals
and popes. We know he was born in Dumenza, on the northern border of
Italy—almost in Switzerland—and that he lived in a few other places, in Milan,
Venice, Bologna, and for most of his life, in Rome. He had a nephew named
Giovanni, who became his apprentice in the Vatican kitchen, and a sister named
Caterina. And finally, he published a cookbook, L’Opera di Bartolomeo Scappi, with over 1,000 recipes in it, with
instructions and images that would inspire chefs for more than 200 years after
it was printed.
That’s the fun part. I had the opportunity to
make it all up! In The Chef’s Secret,
I share two stories—that of Bartolomeo Scappi, and that of Giovanni.
Here are the details: When Bartolomeo Scappi dies
in 1577, he leaves his vast estate—properties, money, and his position—to his
nephew and apprentice Giovanni. He also gives Giovanni the keys to two
strongboxes and strict instructions to burn their contents. Despite Scappi’s
dire warning that the information concealed in those boxes could put Giovanni’s
life and others at risk, Giovanni is compelled to learn his uncle’s secrets. He
undertakes the arduous task of decoding Scappi’s journals and uncovers a
history of deception, betrayal, and murder—all to protect an illicit love
As Giovanni pieces together the details of
Scappi’s past, he must contend with two rivals who have joined forces—his
brother Cesare and Scappi’s former protégé, Domenico Romoli, who will do
anything to get his hands on the late chef’s recipes.
Forty-three days after he first laid eyes upon
the most beautiful girl in the world, Bartolomeo had the good fortune to
overhear the maids talking about a girl at the palazzo. Two of the serving
maids huddled in the pantry near his post where he was prepping nightingales
for the cena. When they mentioned the dress she had worn the night before,
Bartolomeo realized the principessa was the object of their admiration.
One of the maids was a
thin slip of a girl who served the cardinale’s sister. The other was a young
woman who had caught his fancy for a time the summer before, but soon bored
Bartolomeo with her empty gossip.
“She’s here from Roma,”
the first said, awe in her voice. They talked of the girl’s extraordinarily
wealthy family, of her famed dressmaker, and of how long it took to wrangle her
curls each morning.
When they said her name,
Bartolomeo had to put his knife down for fear of cutting himself. Oh, to know
her true name! Happiness filled him like a carafe of fine wine. Her name, he
thought, was like the taste of strawberries sprinkled with sugar. It was like
the summer sun touching the petal of a freshly bloomed flower. That evening,
when he gazed out his little garret window, he wished he could shout her name
across the rooftops, but he could never say it aloud. To do so was too
dangerous, for her and for him. He would take a thousand lashings for his
Stella [Author’s note, this is the pet
name that Bartolomeo has for her], but he could not bear to have her come
The next morning, Stella
stopped Bartolomeo in the loggia. The sky was bright and the October air was
still gentle and warm. He was readying to leave the palazzo to go to market
when she approached. He was so startled to see her there he stopped in his
tracks, mouth agape.
The principessa was
radiant in a red velvet gown, her hair piled high upon her head. Her beauty was
staggering, her skin so clear, her cheeks ruddy and fresh. What a sight he must
seem in comparison, with his own hair a tussle of wild waves, a grease stain
adorning one sleeve. He hadn’t bathed, and he was certain he smelled too much
like onions and ham.
She recognized his
discomfort and giggled, in a way that immediately eased his fear. She gently
touched his arm with one hand, and with the other she pressed a piece of paper
into his palm. “What is your name?”
He looked around to see
who might be witnessing the exchange, but there were only a couple of gardeners
in the vicinity, none of whom paid them any mind. “Bartolomeo,” he said,
She released his hand and
shared her own name. Bartolomeo’s heart sang as she repeated the word he had
been turning over and over in his mind since the day before.
“Please tell the cook how
much I love his tourtes.” Bartolomeo nodded his head vigorously.
“I will, madonna, I
will.” She dazzled him with another smile. “I liked the radish flower the best,
She winked and turned
away. He stood there, staring at the curve of her departing body, wondering
what had just happened. He stared until she rounded the corner of the loggia.
He was light-headed and it felt like he was spinning, like a little bird on a
spit, fire rising all around it. The piece of paper in his hand was small and
warm. He hurried out of the palazzo and down the cobbled street lining the
adjoining Rio di San Luca canal.
When he was sure no one
could see, he stopped and unfolded the little piece of paper.
Crystal King is an author, culinary enthusiast,
and marketing expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and a passion
for the food, language, and culture of Italy. She has taught classes in
writing, creativity, and social media at several universities including Harvard
Extension School and Boston University, as well as at GrubStreet, one of the
leading creative writing centers in the US. A Pushcart Prize–nominated poet and
former co-editor of the online literary arts journal Plum Ruby Review, Crystal
received her MA in critical and creative thinking from UMass Boston, where she
developed a series of exercises and writing prompts to help fiction writers in medias res. She resides in Boston but
considers Italy her next great love after her husband, Joe, and their two cats,
Nero and Merlin. She is the author of
Feast of Sorrow, which was long-listed for the Center for Fiction’s First
Novel Prize, and The Chef’s Secret.