Dirt: DALL-e meets Marinetti
Moving 'The Futurist Cookbook' into our AI future.
Cookbooks are predicated on a very simple idea: Readers can follow the instructions to reproduce a wide range of dishes from scratch. Of course, the difficulty of reproduction varies by the recipe. Preparation can be onerous, or the ingredients too difficult to procure. But even in these cases, cookbooks at least can whet our appetite for dishes we hope to try when dining out.
What, then, should we make of Italian avant-garde provocateur F.T. Marinetti’s 1932 The Futurist Cookbook? Described on the back cover as “part manifesto, part artistic joke,” the book is filled with bizarro recipes such as:
The Excited Pig
A whole salami, skinned, is served upright on a dish containing some very hot black coffee mixed with a good deal of eau de Cologne.
The texts for the Futurist Cookbook recipes barely qualify as actionable culinary blueprints. Moreover, most of the resulting dishes seem unfit for human consumption.
Such artistic antics were the staple of Italian Futurism, which together with Dada and Marcel Duchamp, moored the 20th century avant-garde to a prankster ethos. As the founder of the Futurists. Marinetti used as many mediums as possible to shock his countrymen out of their complacency with tradition. The Futurist Cookbook brought his approach to the dining table: “changing radically the eating habits of our race, strengthening it, dynamizing it and spiritualizing it with brand-new food combinations in which experiment, intelligence and imagination will economically take the place of quantity, banality, repetition and expense.” Most famously, Marinetti proposed to eradicate pasta from the Italian diet, a dish he believed made people “heavy, brutish,” as well as “skeptical, slow, [and] pessimistic.”
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In our era of culinary plurality and recipe overload, where everyone feels empowered to attempt nearly any dish in the comfort of their home kitchen, The Futurist Cookbook can be a quite frustrating read. Putting aside the difficulty of sourcing extremely specific ingredients such as caciocavallo and “Muscat wine from Syracuse,” the instructions are obtuse—and more importantly, unlikely to result in delicious, or even edible foods. And with no restaurants offering these cursed dishes, the menu of The Futurist Cookbook has long been condemned to be consumed only within the realm of cognition.
But the Future has come to the rescue of Futurist dining. With the advent of DALL-e’s generative visual AI, we can type Futurist Cookbook recipes into a small box, and receive photo-realistic reproductions of its dishes. Perhaps taste-approximating-AI is still a few years away, but with DALL-e, we can finally see these theoretical Futurist dishes without having to recruit willing chefs, spend a small fortune on imported cheeses, or actually inhale the scent of skinned salami doused in cologne.
Admittedly, the AI didn’t always follow the instructions to the letter—but we should allow DALL–e the artistic license we afford every great chef. And so, for your visual pleasure, here is a selection of Futurist dishes as generated by DALL-e (recipes condensed for length).
Mix eggs, flour, lemon juice, and olive oil well to form a not-too-thick batter; pluck the heads off some velvety red roses in full bloom, toss them in, and fry them in boiling oil the same way as with Jerusalem artichokes. Serve very hot.
A slice of pineapple on which sardines are laid out in rays. The center of the pineapple slice is covered with a layer of tuna on which sits half a walnut.
On a rectangular plate arrange a base formed of geometric stripes of fresh tomato sauce and liquidized spinach to create a precise red and green pattern. On this green and red sea place some little constructions made of tiny cutlets of boiled fish, banana slices, a cherry and a piece of dried fig. Each of these constructions is rendered organic by a toothpick holding the various elements together vertically.
The Soil of Pozzuoli and the Greenery of Verona
Candied citrons, stuffed with chopped fried cuttlefish. Chew them up well as if they were anti-Futurist critics.
Sweet and Strong
A traidue [sandwich] of two slices of bread and butter, spread with mustard and enclosing bananas and anchovies.
Dates in Moonlight
35-40 very mature and sugary dates, 500 grams Roman ricotta. Stone the dates and mash them well (all the better if you can pass them through a sieve). Mix the pulp thus obtained with the ricotta until you have a smooth poltiglia [purée]. Refrigerate for a few hours and serve chilled.
A cylinder of butter with a green olive on top. At the base of the cylinder: salami, raisins, pine nuts and tiny sugared sweets.
A large cylindrical rissole of minced veal stuffed with eleven different kinds of cooked vegetables, standing upright in the middle of the plate, is crowned with a thick layer of honey.
Stuff some trout with chopped nuts and fry them in olive oil. Then wrap the trout in very thin slices of calves' liver.
Prepare a saffron or tomato risotto. Let cool. Make little balls about the size of an orange. Make a hole in each and fill it with some roughly chopped braised meat and some of the juices. Add little lumps of cheese, salami or prosciutto crudo in little pieces, pine nuts and raisins. Cover with more risotto and form into a ball again. Roll these oranges in white flour then in beaten egg and finally in breadcrumbs. Fry them in lots of olive oil until golden. Serve hot.
Milk in a Green Light
Put a few teaspoons of honey, lots of black grapes and several red radishes in a large bowl of cold milk. Eat with a green disluce [complimentary light] illuminating the bowl. Contemporaneously drink a polibibita [cocktail] made up of mineral water, beer and blackberry juice.
A small empty cylinder of ice, covered outside with honey. Inside and at the base: dairy ice cream, then nuts from Chivasso and pieces of pineapple, the whole thing steeped in vermouth and crushed mint.
Italian Breasts in the Sunshine
Form two firm half spheres of almond paste. Place a fresh strawberry on the center of each of them. Then pour some zabaglione onto the plate and some dollops of whipped cream. The whole may be sprinkled with strong pepper.
Like a Cloud
A great mound of whipped cream streaked with orange juice, mint, strawberry jam and sprinkled lightly with Asti spumante.
Fire in the Mouth
At the bottom of a glass: whisky with liqueur cherries, previously rolled in cayenne pepper. Next layer: milk and honey or honey (1 cm thick) forming an impermeable division. On top of the honey: alkermes, vermouth and Strega.
1/4 green walnut liqueur, 1/4 gentian liqueur, 1/4 absinthe liqueur, 1/4 juniper liqueur.
The Futurist Cookbook and DALL-e are a perfect match, because both produce creative new outputs with the input of commonplace components. Here we see how visually-generative AIs are not just interesting as a current technological fad, but can create vivid reproductions of fantastical creations in age-old texts that have until now only existed as mental exercises. — W. David Marx and Roni Xu