The Legacy of Christopher Columbus

Post date: 01-Apr-2013 13:36:30

13th April 2013

Christopher Columbus profoundly changed the way that we eat forever, undoubtedly the greatest food revolution since the advent of agriculture. This supperclub is a celebration of the wonderful foods he brought into cuisines all over the rest of the world. Who can imagine Italian food without tomatoes? Or Asian food without chillies?

Medieval food was pretty uninteresting, with the only added possibility of spices to liven it up. This led to the Age of Exploration, where explorers sailed off in search of spices to make their fortune. Mediaeval food for the upper classes was choc-full of spices – the middle age equivalent of consumerism – to the point where I've seen a recipe for “one hen, half a pound of spice”.

Christopher Columbus was a chancer. He was the son of a Genoese weaver; he wasn't even Spanish. He had grand plans to reach the spices of India, by going the other way around the globe. He tried to convince several countries to back him before success with Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. However, the globe was rather larger than he had thought and the Americas were in the way.

As we know the gamble paid off, but in a way that none of the participants, least of all Columbus himself, expected. He didn't find spices he recognised, but he found chillies (which he described as “their pepper”), and sweet potatoes, which he reported looked like carrots and tasted like chestnuts.

Columbus failed to plant a flourishing colony; he failed to convert the natives to Christianity and killed most of them instead; he failed to reach Asia and he failed to find any spices or very much gold. But he began to open a new world of food to mankind and profoundly changed the diet of hundreds of millions of people. It was the greatest accident in history. The discovery and diffusion of New World plants caused the single greatest change in human diets since the development of agriculture. Thanks to him we have chocolate, maize, guavas, beans (green and dried), avocados, peanuts, pineapples, squash, papayas, potatoes, cassava, passionfruit, tomatoes and chillies in our diets. We eat the consequences of Columbus's voyages every day.

Not always willingly though – they took a while to catch on. Frederick William I of Prussia ordered his peasants to plant and grow potatoes, otherwise he’d slice off their noses. In 1757, a certain Antoine Augustin Parmentier, interned nearby as a prisoner of war, first ate them, but it took a 60-year personal crusade to get the French to accept them. We now have Parmentier potatoes in his memory. Tomatoes were believed to be poisonous for years.

We will cook a selection of recipes that have used these vegetables in a unique representation of their own cuisine.

Mangalorean Pineapple Curry with red chillis

Vietnamese glass noodles with pork, prawns and peanuts

Roasted sweet potato, mograbiah and pomegranate salad

Spicy roasted squash

Insalata Tricolore with tomato, avocado and mozarella

Fasolia B’zait - Lebanese green beans mezze

Russian Salad with potatoes – the result of that nose-chopping Prussian Tsar

Spaghetti Alla Vongole - spaghetti with clams and tomatoes from Italy

Chanacki, lamb baked with aubergines, tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes from Georgia

Pakistani spiced courgettes

Perkedel Jagung – Indonesian corn fritters

Real Dark Chocolate Mousse

Delicious Polenta Cake

Cost will be £45 of which £35 will go direct to MSF. Please e-mail us on with bookings

On Friday 19th April, at 6.30pm, we will be teaching a class based on the best dishes from this menu - Columbus' Legacy cooking lesson - around the world with New World foods, Vietnam, France, Indonesia and the Middle East, do join us!