LUCULLUS: EATING FOR ONE
Eating by oneself can be a lonely task – or a pleasurable adventure. Whether by choice or fate you find yourself with only yourself at the end of the day, consider it a privilege to be in very good company. Remember Lucullus (Lucius Lucinius), the renowned Roman of ancient times. He and his countrymen had inherited a tradition of fine food and fancy eating from their predecessors, the Etruscans. To emphasize the importance of earthly pleasures, a silver model of a skeleton or mummy was exhibited at their dinners as a reminder to enjoy the good things of this world while they could. Reclining on couches, they raised goblets fashioned out of gold and silver studded with precious gems and toasted the genius of the Emperor. Olives imported from North Africa accompanied this “cocktail hour”, with blindfolded culinary experts competing for honors as they determined whether the olives eaten had been picked with bare hands or by pickers wearing gloves, as well as the area in which they had been grown. The first course generally included sausages flavored with Indian pepper, which had made an eleven-month voyage to Rome. Syrian plums mixed with pomegranate seeds were brought from the Near East. Local vegetables were garnished with imported salt pickles from Byzantium. Oysters from Greece or Britain accompanied the first course. Live ostriches from North Africa and crocodiles from Egypt were paraded around the aristocrats’ table. To prepare dinner for six, the host brought delicacies from far corners of the known world – some 8,000 miles east and west – spending enormous amounts of gold and silver in order to lavish their guests with unusual and extraordinary gifts.
People who lavished fortunes on their diners were not all social aristocrats. Lucullus, for instance, was famous for his victories on sea and land, and his rule over North Africa. It is a documented fact that he spent over $90,000 on a dinner for just three people - Pompey, Cicero, and himself. Once, when he knew he would dine alone, he noticed the menu appeared dull. Beckoning his steward, he commanded, “Give the cook orders to prepare a dinner in our usual style”. When the servant, expecting an impressive guest list, inquired whom he would be serving, he received the abrupt answer, “Tonight Lucullus dines with Lucullus!”, creating forever the “Lucullan Feast” for those who know that their own company.