Procopio Cutò, or Francesco Procopio Cutò or Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli (9 February 1651 - 10 February 1727) was an Italian chef from Sicily. Billing himself as a modern Procopius, he founded in 1686 what has become the oldest extant cafe in Paris, Café Procope. It became the first literary coffeehouse in Paris. For over 200 years the cafe-restaurant attracted notables in the world of arts, politics, and literature.
Some sources say Procopio was born near Mount Etna in Sicily around the town of Aci Trezza. Other sources say he was born at or near Palermo, Sicily. A certificate of baptism of 10 February 1651 has been found in the archives of the parish church of Sant'Ippolito in Palermo, one day after the birth of Procopio. The document shows his first name as Francesco and his surname as Cutò, a typical Sicilian surname. A third possibility is that he was born near Palermo and lived in Aci Trezza for a period of time.
Procopio received his name of dei Coltelli from the French, who misunderstood his Sicilian family name of Cutò, which is a homophone of couteaux, "knives" in French. Coltelli means "knives" in Italian. Hence, translating back into Italian gives Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli (Francesco Procopio of knives), the other name he is known by. "Francesco Procopio" are his forenames; Francesco was his grandfather's name.
Procopio married Marguerite Crouin in 1675 in the church of Saint Sulpice. The marriage record shows the witnesses as his father Onofrio Cutò and his mother Domenica Semarqua. Procopio and Marguerite had eight children during their long marriage before Procopio became a widower.
Procopio played in the snow when he was a boy. The snow was mixed with fruit juices and honey to make a type of sorbet. This type of "ice cream" was eaten by both rich aristocrats and by peasants. This is where Procopio got the idea of developing gelato. The history of gelato shows Procopio as a most influential person in promoting this new food.
Procopio worked first as a fisherman like his father Onofrio. His grandfather Francesco, becoming part of Procopio's name, was also a fisherman from Aci Trezza who built gelatiere machines (ice cream makers) part-time, when he was not fishing. Francesco eventually left his invention to Procopio as an inheritance. Procopio tinkered with his grandfather's "ice cream" machine making various improvements. Procopio eventually felt that he had developed a machine that would produce gelato on a large scale and decided to promote the new product. He left Sicily and went to France by way of Italy.
Procopio acquired the skills to become a cook, possibly in Palermo on his way to France. Procopio arrived in Paris sometime between 1670 and 1674. There he joined the guild of the distillateurs-limonadiers (English: distiller - soft drinks manufacturers) and apprenticed under the leadership of Armenian immigrant Pascal who had a kiosk (la loge de la limonade, English: lemonade stand) on rue de Tournon selling refreshments, including lemonade and coffee. Pascal's attempt at such a business in Paris was not successful and he went to London in 1675, leaving the stall to Procopio who took it over, and later moved to rue des Fossés Saint Germain.
Procopio had learned in about 1680 how to make a beverage of ice made of lemonade using salt to lower its temperature and keep cooler longer. Procopio had a special royal license from King Louis XIV to sell a melange of refreshments including spices, iced drinks including "frozen waters", barley water, anice flower, orange flower, cinnamon flower, frangipan, and his improved version of the Italian "ice cream" of fruit based gelatos like lemon and orange. This gave him exclusive rights to these unique sweet and cool products from his kiosk booth at Foire Saint Germain.
Prior to Procopio arriving in France there had been other cafés (coffee houses) there, although they were not called cafés at the time. Some were referred to as lemonade stands, meaning they sold various cold drinks including lemonade. There had been a café in Marseille in 1644 before Pascal and Procope that soon became defunct, and a Levantine had opened a coffee house in Paris in 1643, which had also failed:
En 1643 déjà un Levantin en avait bien ouvert un à Paris,... mais cela n’avait pas réussi.
English: In 1643 already, a ‘Levantine’ opened one (coffee house) in Paris, but that did not succeed.— F. Fosca
It seems, however, that the Armenian Pascal was the first to call his establishment a "café" or coffee house where one drinks coffee.
Procopio soon added coffee to his refreshments' list and the kiosk became a cafe. Procopio introduced the Italian "ice cream" gelato at his cafe and is one of the first to sell this new European product directly to the public. Prior to then it was reserved for royalty only. Procopio's café served it in small porcelain bowls that resembled egg cups. He is sometimes referred to as "The Father of Italian gelato".
Procopio opened his café in 1686, and it was named Le Procope, from the French version of his name. It was referred to as an "antre" (cavern or cave) because it was so dark inside, even when there was bright sunshine outside. Procopio purchased a bath house and had its unique fixtures removed; he installed in his new café items now standard in modern European cafés (crystal chandeliers, wall mirrors, marble tables).
Procopio opened his café about the same time that the Comédie-Française opened its doors. Conveniently, the theater was located across the street from his café. Procopio's café is considered the first true modern coffee house. The brasserie that Procopio started with serving drinks and food is the oldest Parisian restaurant.
It is the oldest cafe in Paris that is still in business today, over 300 years later. A plaque at the establishment states that it is the world's oldest continually functioning cafe.
Procopio's café and "ice cream" establishment was one of the first in France to serve coffee and gelato. Café Procope ("Le Procope"), being across the street from Comédie Française, attracted many actors, writers, musicians, poets, philosophers, revolutionaries, statesmen, scientists, dramatists, stage artists, playwrights, literary critics and Americans to frequent the establishment. His café in the 17th century turned France into a coffee drinking society. It is considered the most famous and successful cafe in Paris. To fans of French history Procopio's business is considered the holy grail of Parisian cafes.
Procopio's café became a very popular cultural and political gathering place. Notable people who have frequented the café include Maximilien Robespierre, Victor Hugo, Paul Verlaine, Honoré de Balzac Pierre Beaumarchais, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Alain-René Lesage, Georges Danton, Jean-Paul Marat, Honoré de Balzac and Denis Diderot. Even Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Paul Jones, Oscar Wilde, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Napoleon Bonaparte and Voltaire visited Procopio's cafe not only for coffee and intellectual conversations, but for gelato.
There are words above the door at Procopio's establishment that read: Café à la Voltaire. Voltaire is known to have said: "Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal."
The birthplace of the Encyclopédie, conceived by Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert, is said to be at Procopio's café.
Procopio obtained French citizenship in 1685. He married a second time in 1696 and fathered five more children with Anne Françoise Garnier. He was married a third time at the age of 66, in 1717, to Julie Parmentier and had another son.