[Pope Francis I commemorative plates via Zazzle]
The new pope has been shaking things up in Rome.
He’s a famously austere man who’s been chosen for a life of pomp, pageantry, gold hats, and tricked out Popemobiles. But that’s just not him. His eating habits make that abundantly clear.
The newly-minted Pope Francis I set the tone in his first official hours. After the papal election he headed back to the conclave housing for a communal meal with the cardinals, despite the fact that the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera depicted the conclave meals (rather unkindly to the nuns from the Sistine Chapel who did the cooking) as “similar to fare served in hospitals.” The paper also reported that all of the other cardinals described the food as “rather forgettable compared to the menus at the restaurants in nearby Rome.” On Vatican moving day, the Pope passed on the grand papal residence on the top floor of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace in favour of a simple, kitchenless two room apartment from which he’ll take his meals in a communal dining room with all the other Vatican residents.
In the kitchen with Francis and Benedict.
Pope Francis stepped into the red shoes of a predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who had made very different dining choices. Benedict not only resided in a palatial papal penthouse apartment, he redid the kitchen with marble countertops and new appliances. Benedict swapped out the Polish nuns who cooked for John Paul II and brought in his own kitchen crew including a pastry chef to satisfy his notorious weakness for tiramisu, strudels, and tarts.
The moderation of Pope Francis distinguishes him from a long line of epicurean popes.
Gelasius I introduced the crepe to France and Clement VI put the “Pape” in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The personal chef to Paul II wrote a cookbook that was the first ever printed on a press, and Pius IV predated TV’s Iron Chef by about 400 years when he orchestrated Vatican food challenges like a 24-course all-veal meal, another with salted fish in every dish, and an entire dinner made of only butter, cheese, and eggs.
Pope Francis is the church’s first Jesuit pontiff, a Catholic order with its own set of dining traditions and table manners. The Jesuits believe that the soul shouldn’t be overly focused on meals because indulgences at the table are a path to other temptations and an abandonment of self control. Meals need to be simple to keep the eater from imagining other sensual delights. The tradition instructs eaters to fill up on bread to avoid the ‘disorder’ that comes from being tempted by other foods.
He’s divinely chosen but still, a pope’s gotta eat. The blog Catholic Cuisine has recipes for every day of the liturgical year including an homage to the cuisine of the pope’s homeland of Argentina.