A Supreme Court judge in Valencia has dismissed the case against a Michelin star restaurant in the city after the death of a diner there last year.
Riff restaurant in Valencia made global headlines last year when it was reported that a 46-year-old woman had died after eating morel mushrooms in a dish there last February. A year later, Valencia’s Supreme Justice dismissed the case against the restaurant after a forensic report concluded that the woman had suffered from acute respiratory failure as well as mild food poisoning which “cleared up without treatment”, according to a report by Spanish news agency EFE,
Over 70 diners were interviewed for the report, with 30 of them reporting mild symptoms of food poisoning after eating at Riff between the 13th and 16th of February 2019. The report concluded that the woman died of natural causes and that she suffered acute respiratory failure as a result of a pre-existing kidney disorder.
The case dismissal, therefore, ends the case against head chef and owner Bernd Knöller.
Knöller closed Riff after the incident in March, however, the restaurant retained its Michelin star in the 2020 Spain and Portugal guide, published before the report’s conclusions were published.
Inspectors visited Riff restaurant immediately after the incident, however, they failed to identify any obvious cause for the food poisoning. Knöller explained that the probable cause of the food poisoning was the morel mushrooms he used in a rice dish.
Morels are mildly toxic when eaten raw, however, the toxicity usually disappears when the mushrooms are cooked. Knöller believes the problem with the morels started before they reached the Riff kitchen.
“We had sourced them [the mushrooms] from our regular mushroom supplier who I have been working with for over 25 years. As I remember, these particular morels were the most beautiful and uniform specimens we had ever seen. The mushrooms apparently had not come from Spain or from Europe but were from China, probably from Sichuan where the Chinese successfully cultivate them.
“Despite repeated requests, the supplier was not willing to confirm in writing the origin of the mushrooms. We were only able to ascertain the mushrooms’ origin from the dealer through oral information.
“Unfortunately, and despite repeated requests, we were not informed about it in writing, and there is nothing in that respect in the report by the judge and the medical examiners. Personally, I would be interested to know what treatment those fresh mushrooms had received in order to withstand such a long, arduous journey in perfect conditions.
“Closing the restaurant temporarily was my own decision. A combination of shock and media pressure made it impossible for me to continue working at the time. However, the Valencian Health Authority publicly reported after their immediate inspection that it found no reason to close the restaurant.
“The case was finally closed last week. So now it is time for me to take a deep breath and continue to do what I most enjoy: cooking.”
While undoubtedly a tragic case, chef Knöller’s exoneration is not going to get the global coverage that the original poisoning incident did. For many publications, the headline-grabbing incident involving a food poisoning case, a tragic death and a Michelin star restaurant proved too tempting not to cover. Hopefully, chef Knöller and Riff restaurant can put it all behind them and enjoy a period of growth and profitability. While the local community rallied around the chef during the incident, the chef explained that the negative press coverage affected foreign tourist visits to Riff, which made up half of the restaurant's footfall and has since dwindled to practically zero.