“In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the political culture of France remodelled Italy even more profoundly than its cuisine…Yet Italian food would not be Italian food without the French.”
John Dickie, Delizia
The Venetians had a low opinion of the Risorgimento. Venice was the penultimate region to join the newly-formed Republic of Italy in 1866 and there were dark mutterings about the corruption behind the virtually unanimous plebiscite which unified the Serenissima with its upstart neighbour. On the culinary front, the Venetians were more adaptable. French chefs had been fashionable in the city from the seventeenth century and in the aftermath of Napoleon’s conquest of Venice in 1797, “the market place of the morning and evening lands” enjoyed exciting new ingredients such as bechamel, Gruyere cheese, souffle and fricassee. Fashionable cafes such as Florian’s and Quadri served “menus” written in french. Our amuse bouche references Vernet’s portrait of Napoleon on the eve of the battle of Waterloo, the gold legion d’honneur winking pompously on his uniform. Napoleon’s arrival had particular consequences for Italian food as the nation’s ghettoes were opened, and full civil rights granted to their Jewish communities. A whole tradition of Jewish cookery which had flourished in Italy for four hundred years was now recognised, with previously-despised ingredients such as fennel, artichoke and aubergine making their way into standard Italian dishes. Our Venetian Bouillabaisse combines mussels from the lagoon with fennel and classic Venetian saffron, an iced shallot-infused zabaglione a reference to the sophisticated techniques of the “monsu”, the French chef employed by all elegant families.
Our flavours and colours this evening are also suggested by another brief Napoleonic legacy, the French Revolutionary Calendar. Each month has a representative plant, and each day a fruit or flower. The onion is the symbol of “Messidor” (19th June-18th July), whilst the flower of July 14th is Lavender. Other seasonal plants include mint, cherry and apricot.
Marcel Proust was one of France’s most famous Veniceophiles, for whom the city represented the conjunction of art and eros. Our Tea and Mint Granita, named after the gossipping, hypochondriac aunt of the Narrator in The Search, recalls the cascade of memories provoked by the aroma of her tisane (note to pedants, it’s the tea, not the notorious madeleine, which gets the novel going). Proust was a keen gourmand, and amongst his rapturous writings about Venice is a charming image of the mosaics of San Marco, formed of little “sandwiches” of gold and glass. Our main course of duck with cherry sauce and dessert of raspberry bavarois recalls the colours of the Fortuny gown which the narrator gives to his lover Albertine, whose form he then identifies in Carpaccio’s patriarch of Grado:
“The Fortuny gown which Albertine was wearing that evening seemed to me the tempting phantom of that invisible Venice…the sleeves were lined with a cherry pink which is so peculiarly venetian that it is called Tiepolo pink.”
Oeufs de caille Legion d’honneur
Moules aux epinards, fenouil et safran
The de Tante Leonie
Granita a la verveine
Canard aux cerises, pommes dauphinoises, haricots aux amandes
Sandal de fromage, chutney d’abricot epice
Bavarois de framboises, madeleines a la rose