When books meet cooks

Laurent Séminel / Mathias Richard
Laurent Séminel / Mathias Richard

In 2010, UNESCO added the “gastronomical meal of the French” to the Intangible cultural heritage of humankind, a decision that suggests that cuisine can be a form of art. Should recipes, then, also be considered as a literary genre? Thanks to Eucor, some twenty MA students and PhD candidates from Strasbourg and Basel have just addressed this issue together, during an intensive seminar, combining two successive workshops, held in each city.

These meetings did not only provide an opportunity to study how a new, gastronomic literature was created and developed from 1800 on, or to understand why Alexandre Dumas was accused of writing like a cook, or to observe that satire often uses recipe-like texts. The participants also looked into the actual cooking-recipes devised by the Futurists or into the rules of composition developed by Oulipo, and the course more broadly enabled all participants to question the relations between “high” and “low” culture, press and books, rules and avant-garde, programme and realisation, humour and bodily functions, etc., in a multidisciplinary perspective, combining literary theory, history, cultural studies, sociology and media studies.

Furthermore, the seminar had the academy meet the practice and the viewpoints of contemporary creators. During the Strasbourg workshop, the participants discussed with Laurent Séminel, the head of Menu fretin, a publishing house aiming at the “learned gastronomes”. He explained, for instance, how issues of copyright force the editors to modify the most well-known recipes, by changing their ingredients, their proportions or even the steps to be followed. In Basel, the poet and performer Mathias Richard, whose work partly relies on the implementation of set of rules that he calls “machines”, showed that these self-imposed recipes may help to avoid stereotypes, by fighting mass-discourses as well as one’s own “constructions”.

This co-taught seminar, which gathered students from France and Switzerland, as well as Germany, Italy, China or Iran, has also built a bridge between the research programmes that are currently conducted by its organizers: Prof. Hugues Marchal, from the University of Basel, is leading an SNF-project on the French didactic poet Jacques Delille, and Prof. Bertrand Marquer, from Strasbourg University, is conducting a project on food and literature in the 19th Century, with the support of Institut universitaire de France.


Thursday, 14 December, 2017 - 14:45