Catering History

A brief look back in time shows that Heriot follows a long tradition. And we don’t mean the family tradition which goes back some 170 years. We’re talking the “hospitality trade” which stretches back to 4000 BC. Which is quite a stretch.

The origins of catering are to be found in China. The first inns and places where you could eat were there. It was a start of a tradition of “hospitality” which basically means – being kind to strangers. And it has continued.

The next dominant civilization which picked up on this was Egypt. Now here we have a bit of a dilemma. One can obviously identify the catering requirements for those building the pyramids. But as we understand it most of the back-breaking stuff was done by slave labour. So the need to feed would have been there but with very little emphasis on quality cuisine. However this is an early example of mass catering.

At the same time Egypt saw a kind of early cafe society where great minds and government ministers met, ate and thought big thoughts.
Because food always helps to stimulate the minds.

At the same time we have the rise of conquest. As armies, such as the Egyptians, wanted to extend their territory. So troops on the march need feeding. Again the development of mass catering came from this operation.

Moving on through the years the Romans had to feed armies in the hundreds of thousands. And once their empire spread and the troops who remained to protect their gains built fortresses to do so. Caterers would be both on the move and some would stay put to provide a more established function for the garrisons.

As the Roman empire spread so did the rise of places of hospitality. People on the move need refreshing. So for the commercially astute they would build early fast food places where most travellers would pass.

The real idea of hospitality in Europe had to wait for the early Middle Ages and the rise of pilgrimages. Christians making long journeys to places of worship in the Middle East had to go through many countries. Often they were on foot and so in need of food and rest. So many places were established on the more popular routes guaranteed a large number of guests.

Meanwhile in the great castles of Northern Europe the main diet of meat, often caught in the summer hunting months had to be cooked in the winter. So a bit of catering imagination was required of the chef to be creative with wild boar, and venison. The rise of “cuisine” comes from there. By the 14th century you have major trade networks moving fruit, vegetables, and spices from the East being introduced to remote northern countries such as England. This gave the chef a huge opportunity to really go for it.

The great banquets which became the hallmark of special occasions, and later Hollywood movies, showed course after course of meat dishes. Many of these dishes we don’t do now but the animal providing it was cooked simply because it had moved.

Meanwhile in the Inns the less exalted people could enjoy a bit of specialty cooking and drink. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales has his pilgrims eating and drinking before each embarks on their own story. So hospitality produced conviviality.

As you can see the feeding of many is at the heart of the hospitality industry. And as our reports show we are part of that long tradition.

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