Had enough bacon ice cream and Korean barbecue? The next food trend-in-the-making may be for you—Ye Olde Recipe.
Chefs are raiding ancient Roman texts, Renaissance manuscripts and 19th-century American cookbooks in search of authentic old recipes with which to tempt jaded foodies. Many of the recipes call for unfamiliar—and somewhat unappetizing—ingredients like songbirds, veal brains, the ancient herb hyssop and "preboggin" (pray-bo-ZHAWN), a fancy name for wild greens, also known as "weeds."
With food-truck cuisine, Asian fusion and other blockbuster trends starting to feel a bit stale, adventurous foodies are drawn to the back stories and unusual ingredients of historic cuisine. In many cases, the trend overlaps with the slow-food movement's interest in unprocessed, home-prepared foods. For restaurants, recipes unearthed from the past are a fresh way to attract attention and boost sales.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, open since January in the Mandarin Oriental in London, specializes in dishes from Britain's past: Rice and Flesh (c. 1390), Savoury Porridge (c. 1660), Roast Marrowbone (c. 1720) and Spiced Pigeon (c. 1780). At Next, a creation of Alinea's Grant Achatz that launched earlier this year in Chicago, a rotating prix fixe menu features dishes such as Duck with Blood Sauce, in which duck parts are put through an antique duck press. The dish is based on a 1906 Paris preparation inspired by August Escoffier's 1903 text Le Guide Culinaire.
At Pensiero, a modern Italian restaurant in Evanston, Ill., chef Brandon Baltzley is putting together an historic menu for a 10-course, $140-a-person dinner later this month. The inspiration is the 10 tomes of Apicius, a collection of Roman recipes believed to date from 4th and 5th centuries. "[People] are bored," says Mr. Baltzley who found the books in a university library. "They like to do something they can say no one else is doing."
So far, Mr. Baltzley has confirmed he'll prepare the Meat Mincer, a gory second course of langoustine sausage, spelt and veal brains. For other dishes, he wants to experiment with pig udders and pig wombs—although they are highly unlikely to appear on the final menu because they aren't inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and farmers can't sell them. "You need to find a crazy farmer that will give it to you," Mr. Baltzley says.
One recipe he won't bother to explore: Stuffed Dormouse.
But with historic-menu ingredients costing as much as double those of a regular meal, chefs are pursuing the trend mainly in reservations-only tastings and other events during hours when a restaurant is usually closed.
Sarah Lohman, founder of Four Pounds Flour, a blog devoted to "historic gastronomy," recently posted recipes for Baked Alaska and a tamale recipe dating from 1890s New York. "We want to be eating the food that our forefathers ate," Ms. Lohman says.
If some old recipes sound less than scrumptious, here's why. People "ate more parts of the animal and more parts of a plant that today we'd throw away," says Francine Segan, author of "Shakespeare's Kitchen," a 2003 book of updated Renaissance recipes. The idea that cinnamon and nutmeg hid the taste of old meat isn't true, she says. "They wouldn't put expensive spices on top of rotten meat."
Marco Frattaroli, a Portland, Ore., chef, recently hosted a dinner inspired by the Renaissance at his restaurant, Bastas Trattoria, where he spit-roasted pig, rabbit and quail, rather than the robins and other songbirds specified in the old recipe. He is basing future menus on dishes from the Roman era and the Jewish Diaspora in Italy.
Read the complete story here.