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Crystal King’s epic new novel, Feast of Sorrow, tells the tragic tale of ancient Roman and original cookbook author Apicius (ah-pic-eeh-us), complete with stories highlighting his gluttonous rise to power through the opulent delicacies prepared by his enslaved cook, Thrasius.
Through the cook’s eyes, Feast treats readers to luxe feasts with such sweet and savory treats as roasted peacock, sausages of pheasant with melon relish, and salt belly pork with garum, cumin, and lovage.
So just imagine the unique three-course offering and wine pairing on deck for the author’s upcoming event at Benedetto in Cambridge, where King will guide guests through a meal prepared by chef Michael Pagliarini.
In addition to the main courses, King’s work also explores ancient and exotic herbs and spices such as silphium, which now only exists in close substitute form. Originally grown on a tiny island off the coast of Libya, silphium was going extinct even as Romans enjoyed its seemingly strange flavor.
In her own experience, King found something similar to silphium in an inferior herb she dubbed asafoetida. As explained in Feast of Sorrow, asafoetida has a potent stench of sulfur and onions; if there’s one thing King says she has learned in recreating ancient Roman meals though, it’s that a little bit of some things goes a long way. Take the potent garum, for example, which she likens to an extremely strong fish sauce. If used sparingly, King says garum adds a nice salty umami kick.
As for experiencing these tastes beyond the page, readers don’t need to imagine anymore. Working out of the accompanying Feast of Sorrow cookbook, chef Pagliarini is preparing a three-course, Apicius-themed meal tasting and wine pairing at Benedetto next week. Diners get a copy of the book, along with a chance to delve into the strange and sad life of Apicius—through food.
Asked about her own expectations, King says she gave Pagliarini free reign over the menu, and isn’t sure what dishes will be served. She can’t wait to find out.
“Michael Pagliarini is … such a food geek,” King says. “He’s so into the chemistry of the food and what makes the flavors blend and jump out”
She continues: “When I first started talking to him, I realized within a few minutes that not only does he make great food now, but I think he’d do justice to all these ancient recipes.”