Leonardo da Vinci inventor, artist, scientist, engineer, mathematician, musician, sculptor, astronomer, architect, zoologist, anatomist… and, perhaps most surprisingly, a FOODIE and chef. His job as a chef didn’t last long. He was fired for being too inventive with the recipes.
He was intrigued by food and valued its importance in our daily lives. He was captivated by kitchen gadgets and inspired a few of the machines we still use today.
When Leonardo worked at the Le Tre Lumache restaurant in Florence, the task of turning the spit in front of the kitchen fire was done by hand. After considering the difficulty this manual task, Leonardo put his mind to work sketching various versions of automated spit roasts that are the forefathers of the machines we use today.
Da Vinci’s recorded observations and musings prove that he was a remarkably modern thinker, even when it came to cooking. He believed that the kitchen should run as a well-oiled, efficient machine, and the the rise of mechanical spit-roasting in the 16th century saw the beginning of one of Italy’s much loved street foods: pollo allo spiedo. Chicken on the spit.
Meticulous notebooks kept by da Vinci, some of which survive today, give great insight into his relationship with food, nutrition and the kitchen. He started writing the notebooks at age thirty seven and kept up with them until his death. It is in here that his two designs for a mechanical spit roast were uncovered.
Mainly a random assortment of thoughts, notes and drawings, much like diaries, they were written in “mirror script” from right to left, with the letters themselves drawn backward. This method for keeping his thoughts private has made the notebooks even more difficult for scholars to translate.
Da Vinci’s kitchen notebooks are filled with comments on the cost and quality of the food and drink he encountered throughout Italy. For example, da Vinci noted that a bottle of wine, a pound of veal and a basket of eggs cost “one soldo” each. Also included in the notebooks were his shopping lists, which varied between elaborate ingredients for court feasts and rather simple items for his own household’s fare.
“If you want to be healthy observe this regime: Do not eat when you have no appetite and dine lightly, chew well, and whatever you take into you should be well-cooked and of simple ingredients. Stay standing a while when you get up from a meal. Let your wine be mixed with water, take little at a time Not between meals, nor on an empty stomach.”– Leonardo da Vinci, 1515