The Fantastical Feasts of England’s First Celebrity Chef

People who love extreme dining praise it as gritty and high-octane, a way to push back against older dining traditions imagined as stuffy and overly refined. But dining in the past was more dazzling, and more dangerous, than we could ever imagine. Robert May (c. 1588–1664), a celebrity chef in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, made his name by staging elaborate feasts full of atmospheric effects, sensory experiences, and dramatic, even downright risky, stunts. At May’s banquets, clouds of gunpowder smoke choked the air. Animals hopped along the table. And diners were never really sure if the food on their plate was dead or alive.

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