Celebratory banquets and feasts have been around since ancient times. Recently scientists excavated a burial cave in Galilee, northern Israel and uncovered the remains of at least 71 tortoises and three wild cattle, suggesting that humans were organising mass banquets 12,000 years ago.
We’re familiar with the cartoonesque images of Medieval banquets where kings and knights gorge on whole chicken carcasses. But historical banquets were very different from the events that we see today. Banquets have an important place, from accompanying training sessions to business banquets that help strengthen the bonds between companies and their partners.
Banquets are an exciting way to celebrate a range of occasions and a great opportunity to impress your guests and make them feel valued. But what makes a great banquet? Although times have changed we can still learn a lot from famous historical banquets and what made them unforgettable and enter the history books forever.
1. The Medici Wedding, 1600
Create an atmosphere of theatre and fantastical delight that your guests won't expect and won’t experience anywhere else. This can be achieved by the original theme you choose or the entertainment and food you decide to serve up on the night.
In 15th Century Florence, a dynastic wedding took place between Marie de Medici and Henry IV of France. The grand festivities for 300 people were held at the Palazzo Vecchios Salone dei Cinquecento and design by sculptor and architect Bernardo Buontalenti.
Sources say that there were more than 50 courses at the banquet. Shortly before the starter, guests unfolded their napkins and songbirds flew out.
Another highlight of the meal were sherbets of milk and honey, inspired by Marie, who had brought the recipe for sherbet from France.
2. Nicolas Fouquet’s Fete Worse than Death
If you’re planning an event, there’s one step that’s essential to making that event happen: creating your event budget. Budgeting for an event can be a daunting task but good budgeting will help you avoid making costly mistakes and avert any nasty surprises.
In 1661 Nicolas Fouquet, finance minister to Louis XIV threw such a lavish banquet that he was arrested. Then Vatel, the highly strung chef who created Chantilly cream and killed himself when he was unable to provide fresh fish for the king's dinner, made a sumptuous, dairy-heavy feast. Fireworks marked the end of the meal, but there were more to come: Fouquet's party had been deemed too ostentatious by the king, who inferred a misappropriation of the Crown's money. Fouquet was arrested and later imprisoned for life. His wife was then exiled, and his beloved chateau was taken away from him. So, a little economic planning would have been very useful.
3. Nero’s Ultimate Dinner, Rome, AD64
Take inspiration from Emperor Nero and create experiences through unusual flavour combinations. We've all got strange food combos that we like and a banquet is a perfect place to proudly share your unique food pairing! It also gives you the opportunity to mash up brands to match your theme or venue.
The Romans were fond of a slap-up dinner, preferably one that involved gluttonous excess and lashings of promiscuity. According to the historian Tacitus, one banquet - organised by Tigellinus for his deviant emperor, Nero, AD64 - stands out as the most "prodigal and notorious" of the lot.
Resources suggest that banquet guests were treated to dormice sprinkled with poppyseed; sow's udders; a hare with wings attached, to represent Pegasus; a calf boiled whole wearing a helmet; and more than 50 other Roman delicacies. Although we’re not advocating boiling a whole farm animal and dressing them up, food should wow and surprise your guests.
It’s time to celebrate all weird (yet delicious) food combos.
4. The Epicurean Masters of the World, 2007
Organising a banquet is your opportunity to set the bar high and inspire people to want to attend. It is also a great way to raise funds for a charity of your choice.
At The Epicurean Masters of the World", attendees paid £15,000 each (tax and service not included) for a seat at the Dome Restaurant in Bangkok's State Tower.
The menu was prepared by six three-star Michelin chefs (including Alain Soliveres of the Taillevent in Paris and Antoine Westermann of the Buerehiesel in Strasbourg) and the 10-course meal included a "crème brûlée of foie gras with Tonga beans", served with a 1990 Louis Roederer Cristal; "a tartare of Kobe beef with Imperial Beluga caviar and Belons oyster", served with a 1995 Krug; and "Veal cheeks with Perigord truffles", served with a 1955 Château Latour.
The chefs flew in ingredients from 35 different countries for the 1 million-baht blow-out.o
5. The Feast of Beasts, 1870
A small budget should not be the reason why an event fails. Its success depends on ingenuity, resourcefulness and a little flair. Be creative with limited resources.
On New Year's Eve 1870, at Noel Peter's restaurant in Paris, Monsieur Bonvalet, arranged the ultimate carnivore's party for 20 of his friends. Paris at that time had been under siege from the Germans for months and so food was scarce in the capital.
Nevertheless, Bonvalet, used his connections at the local zoo and designed an innovative menu. Guests were treated to escalope d'elephant with a shallot sauce and roast bear à la sauce Toussenel. We’re not suggesting that you raid your local mangerie, but according to reports the feast was a roaring success.
Lime Venue Portfolio’s Edinburgh, Bristol and Twycross zoos be aware!
6. François Mitterrand's Last Meal, 1995
Whilst the demand for locally-produced, organic, Fairtrade and sustainable options continues to grow, new research shows that sustainable menus improve overall delegate satisfaction. Consumers are more and more interested in where their food comes from than ever – from the breed to the farm and the farmer’s name and that their dining experiences aren’t having a negative impact on the local environment.
When François Mitterrand - a man who had, in his 14 years as President of the French Republic, garnered something of a reputation as a gourmand - discovered he did not have long to live, he planned a meal. And not just any old meal.
On New Year's Eve 1995, Mitterrand invited 30 friends to Landes, in the south-west, to share a dinner of oysters, foie gras, capons and the endangered ortolan bunting bird.
The ortolan is about the size of a man's thumb and said to embody the soul of France, but is illegal to eat. Mitterrand's party consumed their poor little ortolan in the traditional way. After being drowned in Armagnac, the ortolan was roasted, then eaten entire - bones and all. It is customary for diners to wear a napkin over their heads, to hide the sinful act of eating the tiny bird from God. Mitterrand was bashful enough to wear his napkin, but brazen enough to eat two birds - a sin he could explain to his maker eight days later, when he died from prostate cancer.
7. The Regent's Banquet, 1870
Create a well-balanced menu that allows guests to enjoy the evening without being stuffed. A good balance of ingredients will support positive mood, provide guests with more energy so they can enjoy the occasion more. The argument for reducing waste are also compelling, for both the planet (less waste to landfill; conservation of natural resources) and hospitality operators (reduced costs).
The Prince Regent - later George IV of England - was such a glutton that it was said his uncorseted belly hung between his knees.
On 18 January 1817, George invited the greatest (and most expensive) chef in the world, Marie-Antoine Carême, to prepare a unique and extravagant dinner in honour of the visiting Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia. Carême had previously cooked for Napoleon, the Rothschilds and the Tsar. But on that cold night in 1817, Carême outdid all his previous achievements - creating 127 dishes. The evening's pièce de résistance was a 4ft-high Turkish mosque constructed entirely out of marzipan, although there were pigeon pies, saddles of lamb and a hundred other delicacies.
8. The Field of Cloth, 1520
Ensure that everyone can access the activities and entertainment on the evening. This can include food and accessibility of the location. From mindfulness to offering an extra activity that appeals to a specific niche your ideal audience shares. This could be a love of a sports team or a historical reenactment. Create a sense of place with decor and select music that makes them feel at home. Music anchors emotion and can be nostalgic so use it to set the scene and control energy levels.
In 1600 Europe, a continent divided between the great powers - most notably the French and the Habsburg empires - was threatened from the East. In 1518, the major powers had signed the Treaty of London, a non-aggression pact to ensure they repelled the march of the Ottoman Empire.
In the spirit of this new-found bonhomie, Henry VIII of England and François I of France agreed to hold a carnival, over three weeks in June, which would become known as The Field of the Cloth of Gold. The party, which took place between Guines and Ardres, near Calais, was one of the most lavish diplomatic splurges ever recorded. There was jousting, music, huge tents (Henry had a 12,000 sq ft temporary palace built), and a disgusting amount of food. The festival turned sour for Henry when, in its last week, he lost a wrestling match to François.
9. Man-Han Feast, 1720
Banquets have been and always will be a great opportunity to bring people together. From lunches to intimate dinner parties or a gala dinner, food can be used strategically to help people come together and eating the same food as someone you've just met can help build trust and closeness.
Tong Yuejian, the salt merchant who left behind his Classic Cooking manuscript toward the end of the 18th century, also commented at length on the menu of the original Man-Han Feast of 1720, as did a contemporaneous book called The Painted Boats of Yangzhou, which was a discourse on the pleasures of that city. While these accounts were written decades after the feast occurred, and may be no more than hearsay, they do offer an astonishing picture.
The purpose of the feast being promotion of unity between Manchu rulers and Chinese subjects, the menu was designed to join the two cuisines. There was no attempt at fusion. Rather, both cuisines were celebrated in a banquet of five parts, with parts one, two, three and five being Chinese, while part four was Manchurian (a game-oriented cuisine).
10. Jayalalitha Jayaram, Reception Banquet, 1995
Stand out from the crowd and choose a unique landmark building can add an element of grandeur to your event.
Or like Jayalalitha Jayaram create your own. The former Tamil Nadu chief minister and movie star hosted a reception banquet for over 150,000 guests at her foster son's wedding in the 20 hectare (50 acre) grounds in Madras, India on 7 September 1995.
The wedding is reported to have cost over 750 million rupees (US$23,299,162), with the dining area alone costing an estimated Rs 15 million (US$465,983) and the menu an estimated Rs 20 million (US$621,311). A fortress topped with cannons and winged mythological creatures was constructed from plywood at the entrance of the wedding grounds. The 5 km (3 mile) drive from the temple to the grounds was strewn with rose petals and lined with 600 Grecian columns strung with coloured lights along with giant papier-mache models of ancient Indian princes.
To host a banquet is to open up your guests to the ultimate indulgence; exciting food and flavours, exceptional dining, dramatic sets and theming fine wines. The venue can create a truly memorable backdrop to the event, and at Lime Venue Portfolio, we only deal in unique and unusual venues, so drama and theatre come as part of the package.
Every day we see the astonishment on guests’ faces as they arrive at a beautifully lit Hatfield House, dine amongst the steam trains at the National Railway Museum or sip drinks under a jet at Imperial War Museum North. Contact us to find out more.
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