Over the past several days, no ad campaign has been as inescapable as the one hyping Food Network’s recently aired “Super Chef Battle”. The innumerable commercials and Web banners that ran in support of the event made it seem like a culinary version of a Thunderdome match, crossed with the Apollo Creed versus Ivan Drago bout from Rocky IV. P.T. Barnum would be proud.
But whenever one of the Food Network ads popped up, we couldn’t help but think of the decline and fall of ancient civilizations, and what their missteps might teach us about the perils of gluttony. Many years ago, we remember reading that Ancient Rome started heading downhill once its patricians started building statues of their favorite chefs. Alas, we’ve since been unable to verify the veracity of this claim, though tales of Roman gustatory excess are legion. But we can certainly point the finger at one ancient celebrity for going one step too far in honoring his cook: the Lydian king Croesus. The utterly fantastic 1914 booklet Roman Cooks pointed us toward Herodotus’s account of the king’s adulatory nod toward a favored food provider:
Besides these various offerings, Croesus sent to Delphi many others of less account, among the rest a number of round silver basins. Also he dedicated a female figure in gold, three cubits high, which is said by the Delphians to be the statue of his baking-woman; and further, he presented the necklace and the girdles of his wife.
Shortly thereafter, Croesus was defeated by the Persians, and Lydia’s great age of power came to an end. Could our current chef idolatry be a harbinger of similar decline?
(Image via Sam Spade’s San Francisco)