I suppose if, say, Denny’s was to offer Grand Slams breakfasts of from 20 to 30 dishes, the restaurant chain may seek to expand to such inspired fare as prompted by Marx Rumpolt, head cook to Elector of Mainz, Daniel Brendel of Homburg and writer of Ein new Kochbuch ("A New Cookbook," 1581), the first textbook for professional chefs in training. Perhaps then, in addition to the bacon and eggs, we'd see such offerings as boiled porcupine, carp pie, pig’s head stuffed with frogs, boiled cow udders, and ram testicles in chicken blood sauce. Yum.
But though you can forgo the smidgeon of most seasonings on a Rumpolt menu item, you will want to take it with a grain of salt. After all, Rumpolt’s gastronomic weird science—employed in skills that gained him not only the ability to “roast livers of all sorts, but also to cook quadapeds, winged creatures, animals of shallow river and deep sea”--came to him via some strange magic and an enchanted ring. That's if, I suppose, you’re given to whimsical and witty flights of culinary fancy—bursts of “fictional biography” and cherry-picked cultural history, if you will--contained in Santa Fe author of the aberrant Brendan Connell’s kaleidoscopic but slightly uneven Lives of Notorious Cooks (available Dec. 5). We’re talking about playing fast and loose with 51 short—including several one- or two-page flare-ups—off-kilter and often disquieting profiles, whether dubious in details or not, of chefs throughout world history and legend, from Agis to Xavier, from a cannibalistic ancient Greek and his consensual victims/victuals, to a Bourbon King of France who cooked ortolons within the bellies of partridges.
And so we’re treated, or occasionally force-fed, course after course of such surreal morsels as the account of 18th century British actor Robert Baddeley, “low comedian and cook of high art" whose endeavors to entertain led to such dishes as “fried violin strings,” or “eel hash in the shape of slippers, and turkey deviled to look like psalm books.” Then there’s the curt chronicle of Abu Kassim, whose sherbet was not only a sure bet--“Sherbet for the heart! Sherbet for the mind! Sherbet for the soul” he cried--it could make men so drunk and discombobulated that, in one case, a man “lost his hands. They were later found at a circumcision feast, clapping to the sound of a kettle drum.”