Sunday, July 17, 2011


The freshest local ingredients, produce grown by local farmers, fish from the nearest fishing harbor, herbs grown in your own herb garden. This is what we expect from our best California restaurants and what we like to serve our guests at home. It was a big surprise to find out that it was exactly what the finest first century Roman meals consisted of as well. Last Thursday night I had a great pleasure to attend a true culinary adventure at the Getty Villa. The evening started with a lecture by food historian Andrew Dalby. It was followed by a dinner planned and prepared by Sally Grainger, a professional chef with a degree in ancient history. The planning of the menu started two years ago and the preparations for the event one year ago! The result was an absolute culinary heaven.

The dinner took place in the Inner Peristyle Garden of the Getty Villa.

The menu consisted of thirteen dishes. Very few recipes of the period exist. Ms. Grainger has used a collection called Apicius on Cookery, compiled for professional cooks, usually slaves.
The principal flavors were honey, vinegar, a fermented fish sauce and various fresh herbs and spices. Ten of the evenings dishes contained fish sauce, liquamen. Whole fish was fermented for up to three months, the liquid was then strained and bottled. Apparently the smell was so pungent that it's production was outlawed in urban areas. Ms. Grainger calls the fish sauce a magic ingredient that enhances and balances flavors.

The main course was Porcellum Hortolanum, Whole Stuffed Roasted Pig. It was stuffed with chicken, pork, pheasant, duck, lucanic sausage, cabbage, leak, dates, celery, eggs, breadcrumbs, cumin, fennel seed, oregano, thyme, pine nuts, parsley, pepper and fish sauce.
Other dishes included Lumbuli Assi, Calf's Kidney Stuffed with Coriander, Fennel Seed and Pine Nuts and Gustum de Cucurbitis Farsilibus, Zucchini stuffed with Calf's Sweetbread. Dressed with Oenogarum (fish sauce) and served with Mixed Greens. The menu also included Ius in Labrix, Sea Bass Fillets in Green Herb Sauce. Various vegetable dishes were also served, including Cymas, Shredded cabbage and Fresh Coriander with a Honey-and-Vinegar Dressing. And yes, it also contained fish sauce.
The dessert consisted of Libum, Honey infused Cake Served with Apricot Patina and Gastris, Sesame Sweetmeat.

Porcellum Hortolanum above

The oysters were served with oenogarum, fish sauce made with Sauternes, which was poured on the oysters. It was absolutely delicious.

With the evening's chef, Sally Grainger, in the Inner Peristyle Garden. It was a magical experience, and dining in the Inner Peristyle Garden brought back many wonderful memories from my Docent days at the Villa from 1984 to 1996, The Golden Era!

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