While it’s not a Michelin star as we all know it, the first food award originated in Ancient Greece.
The Ancient Greek world was not limited to today’s borders. Many cities in other Mediterranean territories spoke the Greek language and were of the same religion and culture. An example of such is Sybaris, one of the major cities of Magna Graecia.
The writer Athenaeus, whose work Deipnosophistae is quite an important basis for the study of ancient food customs, tells of the everyday reality there. The vanity and laziness of the inhabitants went hand in hand. It was a city mainly marked by rest, good food, and the ostentation of one’s wealth.
Anecdotes of the times tell of how a sybarite pulled a muscle merely by watching a peasant hoe. This gives us a very clear idea of what their daily life must have been like.
The Sybaris cuisine
The constant search for the rarest and most delectable products led the city to becoming one of the most critical ports for the exchange of foodstuffs, especially fish. The city’s wealth was defined by its location.
The land on which it stood produced some of the best wines in the Mediterranean. Furthermore, there were gardens of exquisite herbs and strawberries, and ample amounts of honey provided Sybarites with a superior product year-round.
Likewise, Athenians had a special love for fish and marine products, especially the eels they caught in the waters of the Crati River.
The Sybarites’ passion and mania for food could often be a negative point for citizens. They were quite lackadaisical and focused on showing off their rare delicacies. Nevertheless, this exaggerated material attachment also led to one of the most unique gastronomic innovations of the times.
The best cook award in Ancient Greece
According to Athenaeus, the figure of the cook was highly respected and appreciated in Sybaris. Therefore, their love of food also led to their valuing the very person who prepared it with patience and talent. It was hence determined that this finesse be rewarded in some way. It was in this ,manner that a kind of “culinary patent,” or food award, was brought into being.
The cook who managed to create a novel dish combination defined by unique and bold flavors was honored with a type of food award. Thereby, the recipient of the award became the only individual who was permitted to prepare the specified dish for an entire calendar year.
This would ensure that the chef’s fame would skyrocket in no time. Who but a Sybarite would have paid gold to try a sumptuous and rare new dish that he could tell everyone about?
Sybaris was certainly quite an extravagant and worldly city dedicated to the pleasures of life and undoubtedly open-minded. It was a city ahead of many others during ancient times.