Reflection on the entremet, a medieval in between

The entremet was a medieval entertainment combining luxury dishes and plays, served and performed between the courses of royal banquet. Monumental and narrative, it set a story with sumptuous edible constructions. Descriptions of entremet can be found in Du fait de cuisine, a culinary treatise from the 15th century, written by Maitre Chiquart, cook to Amadeus VIII, Duke of Savoy. Castle of love is one of the most famous, served during a banquet of the Duke. Giant castle of meat loaf adorned with the banners of the Duke was carried by children angel dressed, out of which rosewater and spiced wine flowed across machicolation. Head wild boar was roasted and painted in green, gold and yellow glaze, spitting out fire. Fish was cooked in three ways, without having been cut into pieces : the head was boiled, the tail was roasted, the middle was fried, and different sauces, green and orange, distinguished each part. Live birds were slipped into a baked pie shell through a hole cut in its bottom. The unwary guest would release the flapping birds once the upper crust was cut into.

All these animated and eye-catching dishes were also used as accessories by the actors to play different stories, mostly historical such as the fall of Constantinople or The Crusades in order to promote the power of the court. It took place on the table before being progressively removed on specifically designed stages. The table hosted food, sculpture and performance in the same time and space, turning into a common platform for art and celebration without any hierarchic categorization. In that sense, it is rather a temporal frame which determines apparition and disappearance of art than a space dedicated to it. Entremet is an ephemeral manifestation of ongoing transformations and twists. Temporary and edible, it is apprehended through its absorption, intensifying the attention and involvement of the guests. They also identify it with a narrative genre and consume it as a story. Taste and fiction are gathered in the same plate, without any distinction. The entremet embodies fictional characters and substitutes to reality an imaginary world that the guests are invited to enter. They eat what they are ready to believe, as Christians swallow the Host. The entremet has a high power of transposition, producing figurative and fantasized images of the world. The consumption of edible images is a way of building the belief that allows oneself to be projected into an idyll. It is enough to see how food marketing today has appropriated this idea to sell new products. An exceptional product is a term invented to define rare, luxurious and high quality food, associated with an exceptional customer, by consequence sophisticate, genteel and rich. Childs want superhero shaped cakes to get their superpowers. Food is a dream factory and entremet its climax.

But the entremet depends on a codified frame and takes place during an interval only. It provokes a rupture in the ceremonial of the banquet, without nevertheless emancipating from its rules. During the entremet, the role of each protagonist is maintained : the guests are the spectators of the show, thus the critics ; the host is the main character, thus the subject of all flatteries ; the waiters are the performers, thus the artists providing the amusements. It is only for its interstice value that entremet is defined as a space of freedom. Numerous interstices play this role, usually expressed in a phantasmagoric or euphoric genre : the grotesque intermezzo in Italian opera, the blasphemous marginalia in manuscript prayer book, the island as a metaphor of utopia, or, more common, the after work drink, between office and home, cleverly renamed “happy hour” in every pub attended by the working class. The interstice can overstep the rules of propriety because of its briefness and levity. Furthermore, the entremet was the only moment during the banquet where the guests could have free conversations and activities. This seems to imply that freedom only occurs during an ephemeral time framed by collective agreement. The common understanding that links freedom to impermanence provides common ground to its reality.