THE SECRET CHEF is a working title for my second novel, also about a famous Italian cook who served several Popes during the height of the Renaissance. Bartolomeo Scappi lived from 1500-1577 and was one of the most celebrated chefs in all of Italy. He wrote one of the most famous cookbooks of the 16th century, The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi. From him we have some of the earliest pasta recipes, the first known drawing of a fork, and a full description, for the first time, of how the Papal Conclave is served food when sequestered. He also shares some of the first recipes with ingredients from the new world, including turkey!
Scappi wrote the book as a guide for his apprentice, Giovanni Brioschi. It's a weighty tome that covers all aspects of cooking meals and delivering banquets in the Papal kitchen. The book itself has an introduction/blessing from Pope Gregory XIII who had in previous years bestowed the honorary title of mace bearer on Scappi.
The exciting part, for me, is that there is not much known about Scappi's life. We know a little about where he was born (Dumenza, Italy) and where he must have lived, and we know which Cardinals and Popes for whom he likely cooked. That's where the fun comes in. I get to invent all the rest--the forbidden love of his life, recreating all the elaborate Renaissance banquets, how he met artists such as Michelangelo and Cellini, and so forth. It's such an exciting thing to me, to be able to invent a whole life for someone.
You'll see me talking a lot about the Italian Renaissance, particularly in Rome and Venice, where much of this book is set. As part of my research, I've learned a lot about the history of the Catholic Church--as a chef to several Popes, Scappi's life was intricately entwined with that of the Renaissance Church.
Look for my re-creations of some of Scappi's recipes. I'll be posting them on the blog and they can be found in the recipe archive.