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Acclaimed writer chronicles history of food through recipes

Noted food writer William Sitwell chronicles the evolution of food in the new book "A History of Food in 100 Recipes," tracing recipes back to ancient Egypt. (Werner Forman Archive via Harper Collins)

When noted food journalist William Sitwell set out to chronicle the history of food, he wasn’t sure where the journey would take him. And he shares his discovery in his new book “A History of Food in 100 Recipes”.

Sitwell spent some time in the kitchen recently with Seattle Kitchen hosts and noted chefs Tom Douglas and Thierry Rautureau to share some of his adventures and discoveries.

The award-winning journalist says his travels took him all the way back to ancient Egypt, circa 1958 b.c.

“Little did I think when I’d write of how recipes were portrayed over time that I’d find myself scrambling up the dusty sides of a hill overlooking Luxor,” he says.

That’s where he discovered the tomb of a wealthy Egyptian woman who left behind her obvious love of food and cooking.

“This woman loved her cooking, she loved her food. On the wall were very precise, beautifully depicted illustrations of how to make Egyptian flat breads.”

The book takes readers from the Nile to New York and everywhere in between. It ends with the acclaimed modernist cooking of British chef Heston Blumenthal and his widely talked about meat fruit, a chicken liver parfait made to look like a mandarin orange.

“Basically, I wanted to discover the most important people, the most incredible characters, the seminal defining moments in food. And I wanted to tell the story through recipes exactly as they were written in history.”

Of all the discoveries Sitwell made in his copious travels and research, the biggest thing he found is the more things change, the more they stay the same. Like the ancient Greek food snob who traveled across Asia Minor looking for the finest ingredients and dishes, much like a judge on today’s Top Chef.

“And he railed against people who didn’t source their food properly,” Sitwell says. “He said if you want honey, you’ve got to go to Attica, that’s the finest. He talks about where you’ve got to get belly steaks from. He says that he hates thick sauces.”

But Sitwell cautions while the book contains 100 recipes, you probably don’t want to make many of them.

“This is not a cookbook to try at home. You can try, but don’t blame me if you die,” he laughs.


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