Those of us who have had the incredible opportunity to visit the Vatican may not know much about the popes who once occupied that papal seat, highest in the Catholic church, inherited from the apostle St. Peter. In the early church, popes were little more than politicians, holding on to their positions of power any way they might. While they pledged an oath to celibacy, many of them fathered children or slept with young boys.
We see this scene of debauchery and intrigue in Crystal King’s historical novel, The Chef’s Secret. Bartolomeo Scappi was perhaps the first celebrity chef, preparing incredible feasts for the pope and other church royalty. But when he passes away, he leaves his recipes, as well as his fortune, to his nephew, Giovanni. Bartolomeo leaves behind his journals written in code, instructing Giovanni to burn them because their contents would place many lives in danger.
But, of course, Giovanni, doesn’t follow those directions and discovers how to unlock the clues in Bartolomeo’s diaries. What Giovanni learns will not only threaten his own life, but many of those whom he loves.
King’s novel is well researched and thought provoking. In light of recent revelations about the clergy abusing young people, we’re reminded that this legacy was very much a part of the early church, a blot on the church’s history that was never dealt with and, in some ways, perhaps has led to the scandal the church is dealing with today,
We also learn that good food was very much a part of the lives of the cardinals and the popes who occupied the upper echelons of the Catholic Church. While women and children starved around them, the popes demanded feasts fit for a king. Those who provided those meals, like Giovanni, found their loyalties divided and when they discovered the sins being committed by those on high, their own sins seemed more likely to be forgiven.
King’s novel is a treasure. Filled with beautiful descriptions of the people, places, and banquets that were a mainstay of life in the Renaissance. This is a major achievement for a writer who seems to outdo herself with every outing.
The Chef’s Secret
Top photo: Bigstock
Crystal King author photo credit Wayne Earl Chinnock