Inventor, artist, scientist and – some claim – vegetarian: Leonardo da Vinci was an undisputed talent of the Renaissance, contributing to research in numerous fields, including architecture, anatomy, music, sculpture and design. Leonardo da Vinci was also a food and wine lover, interested in ingredients and their preparation. This is why he drew incredible designs of kitchen tools, often writing notes about his favourite recipes.
In the Codex Atlanticus we find drawings of some truly innovative inventions, including the forefathers of the pepper mill, egg slicer, garlic press and corkscrew. At the Medici Villa of Artimino, known as La Ferdinanda, there’s a mechanical spit roast made according to Leonardo da Vinci’s sketch: a spit equipped with propellers that rotate with the heat of the flames. Some documents state research into a spaghetti-making machine and what we could call a food warmer. In his masterpiece “The Last Supper”, Leonardo included a totally original item next to the diners: the napkin!
Recipes and ingredients
Leonardo loved to experiment in the kitchen. He was a fan of herbs and spices, including turmeric, saffron, poppy seeds and aloe. He also concocted the recipe for acquarosa, an alcoholic drink made from rose petals, sugar and lemon. In his writings we find out about his favourite “simple foods”: boiled onions and broccoli, raw meat, veal liver with sage and pepper, polenta, carrots with capers and anchovies. He really loved bold flavours like pheasant and wild boar, as well as combinations of sweet and savoury.
Sandro and Leonardo’s Le tre rane
For a short period, Leonardo and his friend Sandro Botticelli managed a restaurant in the centre of Florence, called “Le tre rane di Sandro e Leonardo” (meaning “The Three Frogs”). Leonardo served experimental dishes that were aesthetically pleasing but not abundant in portion size. In some ways, he was a pioneer of nouvelle cuisine, but the restaurant did not prove to be a success.
During his time in Milan, Leonardo also wrote some basic rules of etiquette: a list of suggestions of how to behave at the dining table.
1) Don’t put your feet on the table.
2) Don’t sit too close to other diners or sit on the table; don’t lean your back on the table.
3) Don’t put your head on your plate.
4) Don’t take food from the person next to you without having first asked their permission.
5) Don’t put chewed food on the plate of the person next to you.
6) Don’t clean your armour at the table.
7) Don’t hide food in your bag or boots so that you can eat it later.
8) Don’t scratch the table with your knife.
9) Don’t put half-eaten fruit in the fruit basket.
10) Don’t lick the person next to you.
11) Don’t pick your nose.
12) Don’t pull your face.
13) Don’t spit in front or next to you.
14) Leave the table if you need to urinate or vomit.
15) Don’t make reference to or mess around with the pages of Ludovico il Moro.