It all started with an email. Andy Hook, restauranteur and owner of Blackfriars Restaurant in Newcastle, wrote to the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Durham University to ask if anyone might be able to advise on things medieval. Andy’s restaurant was housed in the medieval buildings of the Dominican Priory, the Blackfriars, which date from the mid-13th century. The email eventually made its way to Giles Gasper’s inbox, and from there, a little over ten years ago, the foundations of Eat Medieval were laid.
In the intervening years we have moved on considerably. We are now into the 16th in a biannual lecture series on medieval food and culture. Past speakers have included Peter Brears, Debby Banham, and Chris Woolgar. Lectures are always accompanied by a themed lunch where new medieval recipes supplied by the academics are interpreted by the chefs.
Using Blackfriars as a base and research hub, the Institute and Restaurant have collaborated in numerous research workshops. A notable series was connected to what turned out to be the earliest collection of culinary recipes in medieval Europe, discovered by Professor Faith Wallis of McGill University, Montreal, Canada, and analysed by her, Giles Gasper, and a wide-ranging group of specialists. And, crucially, with culinary experiments led by Blackfriars. Being able to turn to Blackfriars for their take on medieval recipes (which are mostly little more than lists of ingredients) is invaluable for their interpretation.
We’ve also developed events, tastings, talks, banquets and demonstrations for university students, academic conferences and the public. Several generations of students have enjoyed medieval cookery days at Blackfriars as part of their degree experience. We’ve organised funded events for the UK Being Human Festival and created time-travelling menus from the 12th to the 19th century for special occasions. One tour that will live long in the memory was presenting medieval food and drink at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia, Napa, California, as part of the Napa Lighted Art Festival 2019.
We are embracing new opportunities too. The challenges of running face to face events in current Covid-19 circumstances are considerable. We continue to do so as part of the life of the restaurant. We’re also opening up a new line of online courses which will introduce participants to the fascinating world of medieval food, and what it inspires in modern chefs. The first course (so to speak!), ‘A Taste of the Past’, kicks off in the first week of November (2-6). We’d love to see you there – and do consider signing up. Find out about the earliest culinary collections in medieval Europe, follow Blackfriars’ Head Chef in his interpretations, and dip a toe into the world of Eat Medieval.
“The nourishment of body is food, while the nourishment of the soul is feeding others.”Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, Caliph, 601-661 AD
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