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Cooking Knowledge: An Intellectual History of Food and Cuisine

The CEU Campus
Friday, April 8, 2016, 9:30 am – 1:30 pm

A workshop at the Institute for Advanced Study, Central European University

April 8, 2016

1051 Budapest, Október 6. u. 7. / Room 226


Humanities Initiative Program, Institute for Advanced Study, CEU


Only recently have modern scholars begun to apply a rigorous scholarly approach to ancient cuisine. Many studies published until now are intended for the general public and lack rigorous analysis. They share the desire to “re-enact” ancient cuisine and offer accessible recipes to modern amateur chefs. Their account of ancient cultures is accordingly not only superficial, but also frequently inaccurate, since their interpretations are based on modern assumptions. This workshop aims to set the facts straight and to give an academically rigorous account of ancient treatises on cuisine in ancient Western European history.

This workshop reconsiders the importance of cookery books in ancient and medieval times and their influence on their respective food cultures. Modern scholars have misunderstood the purpose of cookery books and have projected the modern conception of “gastronomy” onto pre-modern European societies. This workshop will show once and for all that ancient Europeans did not share our values, as far as food choices and intellectual categories are concerned. Adopting a source-critical approach, this workshop will also trace the origins of ancient treatises that can be considered “cookery books” and put them back in their literary, social, intellectual, and historical context. It will, therefore, put ancient recipes found in Greco-Roman and Medieval literatures back in their intellectual context.

While cooking and cuisine may be considered an “art form” today, such an understanding of ancient cuisine among modern scholars is the result of a misapprehension. For instance, what modern translations render as “the art of cuisine” was in fact conceived as technical knowledge (technê) in ancient times. This is confirmed by the fact that cooking in Antiquity was a menial task primarily performed by slaves. This workshop proposes to reassess how food and cuisine are discussed in ancient treatises. 

Workshop website

Please visit the workshop's website for details: