Review: Robert Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb

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Author: Robert Farrar Capon
Publisher: Random House
Reading Level: Leisure

“Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful” (40).

Sadly I was introduced to Robert Farrar Capon upon his passing. The Supper of the Lamb came highly recommended. I knew two things about this book: it dealt with cooking and included theological reflections. Those are correct as far as they go, but The Supper is so much more and doesn’t neatly fit into either category.

Quite literately Capon structures The Supper around lamb. He begins by discussing how to cook a lamb leg in four different ways. Four meals. Four preparations. Four delicacies. Until the end of the book where there’s an appendixes, sort of, of other recipes, he hardly derails from his mission.

What you will find is that his chosen path spirals around and around the topic of the supper of the lamb. The Supper overflows with theological reflection. Capon expounds upon a robust and aged doctrine of creation. All things are good. All things are to be enjoyed. All things made by God. In The Supper, this creation doctrine is reveled in as far as it relates to food. For example,

Every real thing is a joy, if only you have the eyes and ears to relish it, a nose and a tongue to taste it. . . . Admittedly, that is a hard insight to keep track of. Food these days is often identified as the enemy. Butter, salt, sugar, eggs are all out to get you. And yet at our best we know better. Butter is . . . well, butter: it glorifies almost everything it touches. Salt is the sovereign perfecter of all flavors. Eggs are, pure and simple, one of the wonders of the world. And if you put them all together, you get not a sudden death, but Hollandaise--which in its own way is not one bit less a marvel then the Gothic arch, the computer chip, or a Bach fugue. xxvii

He also expounds in the first chapter on the necessity of amateurs, lovers of things:

The world may or may not need another cookbook, but it needs all the lovers--amateurs--it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes, and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: It is, far more often than it should be, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral--it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.

In such a situation, the amateur--the lover, the man who thinks heedlessness a sin and boredom a heresy--is just the man you need. More than that, whether you think you need him or not, he is a man who is bound, by his love, to speak. . . . A silent lover doesn’t know his job. . . .

Indeed the whole distinction between art and trash, between food and garbage, depends on the presence or absence of the loving eye. Turn a statue over to a boor, and his boredom will break it to bits--witness the ruined moments of antiquity. On the other hand, turn a shack over to a lover; for all its poverty, its light and shadows warm a little, and its numbed surfaces prickle with feeling. . . .

That, you know, is why the world exists at all. It remains outside of the cosmic garbage can of nothingness, not because it is such a solemn necessity that nobody can get rid of it, but because it is the orange peel hung on God’s chandelier, the wishbone in His kitchen closet. He likes it; therefore, it stays. The whole marvelous collection of stones, skins, feathers, and string exists because the Dominus vivificans has his delight with the son of men. (3-5)

That friends is a developed creation doctrine applied to life, and that’s not all he’s also relentless pointing our eyes to the consummation of all things, to the final supper of the Lamb. The Supper is a full life’s theology distilled into a book about cooking. My apologies for heavily quotating Capon, but I believe the best way to encourage you to read The Supper besides saying, “You must read this,” is letting Capon speak to you. His writing compels and is an art itself (there’s a pinch or two of poetry in the book).

This will be the book you will want to immediately add to your wishlist and then purchase and read as soon as possible. It’s thin as pages goes, but thick where it counts. I would also recommend this book for those interested in doing art from a Christian worldview. May Capon’s own lifeblood get into the veins of all involved. “The road,” Capon tells us, “from temple to kitchen is quite plain” (53).

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”