Selections from Lives of Notorious Cooks

Brendan Connell was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1970. He has had fiction published in numerous places, including McSweeney’s, Adbusters, and the World Fantasy Award winning anthologies Leviathan 3 (The Ministry of Whimsy 2002), and Strange Tales (Tartarus Press 2003). His published books are: The Translation of Father Torturo (Prime Books, 2005), Dr. Black and the Guerrillia (Grafitisk Press, 2005), Metrophilias (Better Non Sequitur, 2010), Unpleasant Tales (Eibonvale Press, 2010), The Life of Polycrates and Other Stories for Antiquated Children (Chomu Press, 2011), and The Architect (PS Publishing, 2012). His has also worked as a translator, with works appearing in such places as Literature of Asia, Africa and Latin America (Prentice Hall, 1999), and The Weird (Tor Books, 2012). More information about Brendan can be found on his blog. The following are selections from Lives of Notorious Cooks, recently published by Chômu Press, reprinted here with the permission of the writer and press. – The Editors

Notorious Cooks

Coroebus

He was born in Argos and learned the art of baking from his father. Every day he ground his wheat and prepared the dough. From his oven came cone-shaped rolls which the people would come and buy still hot, as bread is always better to eat hot than cold, and these rolls were made with milk and oil and were very soft and he himself dined on nothing but them, fresh goat cheese and olives, never touching meat or wine.

“My bread is better than either meat or wine,” he would say, “so why would I touch either?”

“Coroebus bakes bread, while others bake husks,” said a citizen.

He was remarkably tall, with a well-formed body, arms made strong from kneading, and a natural charisma that attracted both friends and lovers, but he also made loaves with mushrooms in them and others the outside of which were coated in sesame seeds and others in the shape of hands and others again that were made with honey and formed spirals, and Achillean barley cakes, because since he was a baker, he baked.

Now at that time the King of Argos had a daughter who was rather beautiful—so much so, in fact, that while walking outside the city she was accosted by the god Apollo, with whom she became intimate, and then she became pregnant and gave birth to a child, but, being frightened of her father’s reaction to such an occurrence, left it in a field where it was eaten by dogs and so Apollo became angry and sent a demon dog called Poine to Argos. The creature was blue-black in colour and had long claws and would come and snatch up babies from the city, take them up to the overlooking hill and suck away at their blood.

Coroebus mixed his flour with the flesh of a pig and baked five loaves like this and left them out. The demon sure enough came in the night and began to eat the bread and the baker killed it by striking its head many times with his fist, but Apollo, seeing this, made it so no one would buy his bread and for this reason he went to Delphi and baked for the Pythia a loaf with pulse and she told him he could never return to Argos, but that to placate Apollo he should take the tripod from there and carry it away and when it fell he should build a temple to the god. And so he took it and walked. While passing through a mountainous area, the tripod fell from his hands and on that spot he built a temple and at the altar laid fourteen loaves of pure unsifted wheat baked in the shape of flowers and then he built a house for himself and set up a bake shop and those from nearby villages would come and buy his bread. Eventually the place became populated and was called Tripodiskoi, named after where the tripod had fallen.

He won the stadion race—the only event being held—in the first Olympic games, and was awarded an olive branch.

He died in Megara and a statue was placed over his tomb showing him killing the demon.

 

Robert May

He was born in Wing in 1588, son of Edwarde and Joan May. At his father’s side, he learned the art of cookery.

“Unlace that coney! Dismember that hern! Unbrace that mallard!” his father would shout.

At the age of eleven the boy was put in charge of breakfasts, and Lady Dormer, much impressed with his skill, sent him to France at her own expense where he trained for five years. Returning to England, he went to London and apprenticed under Arthur Hollinsworth in Newgate Market, cook to the Grocers Hall and Star Chamber. He then returned to Ascott Park, and worked under his father once more, and it was at this time that the older May introduced the younger to the true secrets of his mission.

“My son,” he said, “hospitality, in this day and age when the triumphs of cookery have been all but forgot and even God is scarcely honoured, is looked on as a mere chance occurrence, but it is in fact the highest art, for in it all arts are combined—one must be a poet, a painter, a sculptor, and a philosopher—one must master the sciences—botany and anatomy—if one is to both conserve and candy, if one is to sauce as well as dress and bring meat to a faultless coction. But even if you were a veritable Aristotle in the kitchen, still you would need the mystical element to reach the highest planes.”

He then imparted to him a goat’s foot which he said would bring him good fortune in his endeavours.

That night Robert had a vision that a creature with the head of a goat and the body of a man came to him and talked at great length about how to make double-bordered custard and idols of fried smelts and flounders, graven images of pickled mushrooms and molten images of mutton broth and how swords might be swallowed but that it was better for him if he stuck to bacon tarts, and then he showed him some sleights to make a hash of rabbits and jugglings regarding congers’ heads broiled.

After the death of Lady Dormer, he found employment with Lord Castlehaven and then with Lord Lumley, who raised all sorts of domestic fowl which the cook would prepare in the diverse modes of the continent, and it was at this juncture that John Town, a poet of much ability and little fame, wrote of him the lines (which he later greatly expanded):

Italian, Spaniard, French, he all out-goes,
Refines their Kickshaws, and their Olio’s,
The rarest use of Sweet-meats, Spicery,
And all things else belong to Cookery.

It was, however, under Lady Englefield that May reached the height of his fame, cooking for that grand and honourable woman a stag of minced meat pierced with an arrow.

“How lovely,” the lady said.

“If you would pull out the arrow Madame,” the cook suggested.

She did so and out flowed a stream of blood-like claret which the presiding butler dexterously proceeded to serve, to the delight of all present.

He also for her, for a party she was giving, made two extraordinary pies. Live frogs skipped out from the first when it was cut, and from the second flew birds. All the ladies present shrieked with disgust and delight, their hunger strangely inspired, but they not sure where to turn to satisfy it, and the event was one of supreme moment.

Other great houses he served were those of Lord Montague, the Countess of Kent, Mr. Nevel of Crissen Temple, Lord Rivers, Dr. Steed, Sir Thomas Stiles of Drury Lane,Sir Marmaduke Constable in Yorkshire, Sir Kenelme Digby, Mr. John Ashburnam of the Bed-Chambers, and Sir Charles Lucas, so that the great houses he served in all numbered thirteen.

His accomplishments included the ability to make twenty-one different types of omelette. He also was foremost at dressing herns, bitterns, egrets, plovers, sarcels, snites, woodcocks, quails, and cranes. Some of the most important men in England bolted down his jole of sturgeon and the most eminent women his quince pie.

The following is May’s recipe for a pudding of veal:

Mince raw veal very fine and mingle it with lard cut into the form of dice, then mince some sweet marjoram, pennyroyal, camomile, winter-savoury, nutmeg, ginger, pepper, salt, work all together with a good store of beaten cinnamon, sugar, barberries, sliced figs, blanched almonds, half a pound of beef suet finely minced, put these into the guts of a fat mutton or hog well cleaned, and cut an inch and a half long, set them a boiling in a pipkin of claret wine with large mace; being almost boil’d, have some boil’d grapes in small bunches, and barberries in knots, then dish them on French bread, being scalded with the broth of some good mutton gravy, and then lay on them a garnish of slic’d lemons.

 

Peng Zu

He was born of poor rice farmers. His father died when he was a baby, and his mother when he was just three years old. He wandered about on his own, riding on an ox as the years drifted away. Practicing breathing exercises, he stabilized his body. For food, he ingested a dish made of mushrooms seasoned with cinnamon and mica. He had a beard that reached down to his toes and his complexion was very smooth, like that of a young boy.

When he reached the age of 767, he was sought after by the benevolent Emperor Yao, who wished to receive advice on ruling the nation. Peng Zu made a thick soup for the Emperor out of pheasant, Job’s tear seeds and plums, well salted. Eating the dish, the Emperor felt as if he were sitting on air. He was filled with a deep cosmic joy in which he saw everything clearly.

“You see,” Peng Zu said, “the gravest problems of state can be resolved over a bowl of soup. The people, seeing you live frugally will not resent you. When the ruler is calm, the nation is calm.”

The Emperor bestowed on the chef the title of Duke of Peng and asked him to return to the capital with him, but he refused.

One day when he was travelling over a lonely mountain path, a monster jumped out at him. It had the head of an elephant, the mouth of a shark, the neck of a crane, the body of a lizard and seven legs, which were like those of a bear.

“I am called Primordial Jade Brigand,” it said viciously, “and I am going to eat you, because I was told by Yama, Lord of the Dead, that if I eat your flesh I will live for another ten thousand years.”

Peng Zu was rather taken aback, but begged the monster’s patience.

“Let me cook you a little something,” he said. “If it doesn’t appease your appetite, I’ll let you eat me without hesitation.”

He pulled out his cooking pot and supplies from his bag and proceeded to prepare his thick soup.

After the monster had eaten the soup, both his hunger and anger disappeared. He kowtowed to Peng Zu three times and asked to be taken on as his disciple.

“Eating human flesh, you lose the Way,” the chef said. “Eating hot soup, you find it.”

Peng Zu lived to be 820 years old and was known to be exceptionally skilled in love making.

Much later, in the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Qianlong conferred the honorary title of No.1 Thick Soup in the Universe on Peng Zu’s soup.