Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences


Modern Languages and Literatures

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Elizabeth Emery

Committee Member

Kathleen Loysen

Committee Member

Joanna Dezio


This research project compares two French culinary manuscripts composed in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In addition to presenting the recipes found on the table of nobles and the bourgeoisie, these manuscripts illuminate medieval traditions and practices that transcend the frameworks of religious, political and social status. Le Viandier, a manuscript by maitre queux (master chef) Guillaume Tirel de Taillevent, and the Menagier de Paris, attributed to Guy de Montigny, a Parisian bourgeois who presented this manual to his fifteen-year-old spouse so she could learn household duties, testify to the pleasures of the table, social grace, and the ultimate desire to create a profound impression on guests. These attributes, which created a favorable ambiance for facilitating decision making, were deemed essential for creating a lasting impression on visitors.

These two manuscripts are among the first to record the culinary practices of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and they thus mark a new trend, in which culinary savoir-faire was passed on in detail through written forms instead of through oral means. Le Viandier reveals that from Charles V to Charles VI the House of Valois demonstrated a high degree of creative culinary execution at the hand of Guillaume Tirel de Taillevent. Preparing for a banquet or any other festivity required an abundance of imagination. For instance, Taillevent was known to have reconstructed a cooked swan and presented it in animated form at the table during a banquet. This spectacular display was the work of an impeccable craftsman. Similarly, Guy de Montigny did not hesitate to present to his guests a dish composed entirely of bear meat. However, these two manuscripts also describe more mundane dishes, including many fish recipes necessary during religious periods like Lent.

My research brings to light the culinary masterpieces preserved in the manuscripts of Taillevent and de Montigny. These manuscripts are especially important because of the high degree of detail and preparatory execution described by the manuscripts’ authors. Their accounts immortalize the prodigious culinary masterpieces of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that would otherwise have been lost to time. Examining these manuscripts and their many recipes allows us to gain insight into an extraordinary period in the medieval French kitchen. The two manuscripts, Le Viandier and Le Menagier de Paris, describe, among other details, seasonal restrictions, the appearance of certain meats during periods of festivity, and the social impact of sharing food. No details are spared by the authors as they describe special spices and the thought process used in serving specifically colored grains, operating as culinary symbolism. Without the details available to us in these written records, the great work accomplished in the royal or Parisian bourgeois kitchens would have remained unknown to us.

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