For thousands of years, food was cooked over an open fire. In medieval Europe, the kitchen was part of the main living area of farmers’ modest dwellings. The fireplace was often directly on the earthen floor, under an opening in the roof to allow smoke to escape. Only wealthier homes had a specific room in which to prepare meals, with one or more fireplaces and sometimes an oven. Illustrations taken from Bartolomeo Scappi’s cookbook Opera dell’arte del cucinare (1570) give exceptional insight into how kitchens ran in 16th-century upper-class homes. The kitchens depicted are equipped with brick hearths, running water over a sink, raised fireplaces and a mechanical rotisserie.
From the end of the 18th century, the Industrial Revolution radically changed cooking practices. The arrival of the coal-fired oven, followed by gas stoves and finally electric cookers made chefs’ work a lot easier.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, upper-class kitchens began to work according to a strict hierarchy. At the beginning of the 20th century, the renowned French chef Auguste Escoffier reformed working methods by organising the roles of kitchen staff into a brigade system. His book, Ma Cuisine, published in 1907, laid the foundations for modern French culinary art.
At the same time, new technologies were gradually becoming more widespread. The Household Arts Show was created in Paris in 1923 to promote new appliances among the population and encourage households to adopt gas stoves and then, in the 1930s, electric stoves. The latter half of the century witnessed the arrival of microwave ovens and induction hobs. Refrigerators became part of homes in the 1950s.