Baroque Banquet and cooking with Ken Albala

We have had the pleasure of having food historian and author Ken Albala, as our Elizabeth Chopin Visiting Professor 2015. Ken Albala has been teaching one week of a four-week food history course.

On March 24th, approximately 40 people including journalists and academics from other institutions attended an introductory lecture by Dr. Ken Albala followed by a spectacular Baroque Banquet sponsored by the Betty Chopin Visiting Professorship. In the Atrium of Webster Vienna’s premises a truly educational, multi-sensory event took place. "It was a truly exceptional experience!" said Dr. Arthur Hirsh, Director of Webster Vienna.

Dr. Albala is one of the most reputable social historians in the western world (MA Yale, PhD Columbia, Phi Beta Kappa), author or editor of over 22 books on Food History, dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles and academic conference presentations, as well as numerous TV, radio, and film appearances in North America, Europe, and Asia. A European Renaissance historian by academic training, he is one of the pioneers in the creation of the sub-discipline of Food History within history scholarship. Students in Webster Vienna’s Culinary History course had Dr. Albala as a guest lecturer in an intensive one-week segment of the course. Not only did he display impressive erudition in his lecture but also passion for the history of nutrition allowing students and guests to gain a better understanding of human civilization and cultural developments. As Dr. Regina Kecht, Academic Director, put it: “Apart from his great publication record, Prof. Albala is a true intellectual, something we often miss in academia - there was no hubris, no arrogance but sincere inquisitiveness and joy of sharing this sentiment.”

The young Quantz Quartett playing baroque music, in particular, Henry Purcell, provided as much delight to the guests’ ears as the gorgeous baroque flower decorations on the beautifully arranged table setting did to the eyes and the sense of fragrance. Guests were treated to an elaborately served meal done in the style of the English Restoration era of King Charles II. The meal and recipes were taken from a cookbook published in London in 1660 by Robert May. The cooking was all done by Dr. Ken Albala and the students in the class. The challenging part was to find the original ingredients and cook them as historically accurate as possible to 17th century recipes. Prof. Albala noted: “I was extremely impressed with the commitment the students displayed. I have never experienced this extent of dedication in students before.”

Mag. Reinhard Ortner, the donor of the Betty Chopin Visiting Professorship realized how very grateful Webster Vienna is for his commitment to bringing great professors to our campus and enabling us to do special things like a Baroque Banquet. Very special thanks to Dorothy Kopel and Chris Newman, whose submission for a Betty Ortner-Chopin Guest Professorship brought an extraordinary academic to our campus and allowed our students a great learning experience that we could not offer otherwise. Our students, who have been working with Prof. Albala this week (in the classroom and in the kitchen) will, on all accounts, never forget this learning experience! And judging by the comments of the guests from other universities, they will not forget the opulent, historical banquet either.