Veganuary is proving a controversial start to the year in the chef world, as debates bubble away in the public eye. From Sat Bains refusing to cater for vegans to the next case, a Michelin starred chef taking on one of the best restaurants in the world in "duck gate".
Vegetarian chef Pietro Leemann, from the only Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant in Italy, has gone public accusing René Redzepi of going "too far" with a duck head dish served at his Copenhagen restaurant, Noma.
Using his Facebook page to vent his disbelief, the "stunned" Swiss chef, whose meat-free Milan restaurant has held a Michelin star for over two decades, put pen to paper questioning Redzepi's approach to creativity after witnessing a picture of the mallard duck head dish which appeared on the forest and game menu at the famous Copenhagen restaurant last year.
Image: screenshot from Pietro Leemann's Facebook account
A dish that, according to Leemann, has crossed "the limits of respect for other beings who share the planet with us", comparing it to a Quentin Tarantino style "splatter style dish".
The dish in question being a colourful mallard head, with feathers intact, stuffed with its fried brain, garnished with its own beak and a spoon to eat from made from its dried out tongue. (pictured above)
He goes on to ask Redzepi, "What are the limits of creativity? ... what message does Mr. Redzepi want to convey?".
The Milan chef gets a polite written response in reply from Noma's communications director Arve Podsada Krognes stating "We understand and appreciate that some of our specific menus or dishes may seem provocative and sometimes cause controversy". But it's a Facebook post from Noma's sous chef Riccardo Canella that responds to the chef's sensitivities. A convincing reply highlighting the respect for the "seasonal" ingredient, the work behind the dish and the role of eating meat in general.
"when we eat meat (we use very little at Noma!) There is always a death in the middle, whether you are required to see it or not, to celebrate this death, we decided to pay respect to the animal by using everything, from head to legs just to not waste anything, however much splatter this may be in the eyes of many"
Here's the Facebook conversation in full, from Pietro Leemann's account:
Some time ago, browsing on social networks, I came across a dish proposed by Noma, the famous Copenhagen restaurant, which left me stunned.
It seemed to me that René Redzepi, despite being always different and creative, went too far, crossing the limits of respect for other beings who share the planet with us.
In short, in his proposal he presents the colorful head of a mallard who skilfully empties, being careful to leave his feathers attached, repaying with his fried brain. As a garnish, his yellow beak is sliced cleanly, the spoon to eat everything done with his tongue dried out.
The colleague has great visibility and the dish has gone around the world and received the comments of many. He even had an epigone, a young man in Japan thought well to imitate him, using him of bear legs served on display with his palms facing upwards.
The questions I asked myself is why amaze at all costs? What are the limits of creativity? In this present in which in any case the majority seek a closeness with nature and its inhabitants, what message does Mr. Redzepi want to bring?
Those who keep silent agree, so I decided to take a stand. I picked up pen and paper and wrote him the following letter. Actually making a great effort not to use brighter tones.
As I expected, I did not receive any answers to my questions, the communication director answered formally as follows, not taking a particular position. Actually, I don't know how he could have done it.
The letter Pietro Leemann sent to Rene Redzepi:
For years, I have been following his creative evolutions with great attention.
I admire his determination to carry out an innovative cooking concept that nourishes and inspires many colleagues. His way of doing catering is beautiful, modern and projected towards the future, his way of communicating is extraordinary and goes very far. This summer I enjoyed his vegetable season, many of the dishes I have observed are extraordinary.
A few days ago I took a look at his autumn menu. I state that I have been a vegetarian for many years, over time I have developed friendship towards nature, I feel affection and closeness to all the beings that inhabit it, not just humans.
I have no objection that other people, for their different choices, eat meat. I am convinced, however, that animals, when eaten, should be respected in their dignity, avoiding them the suffering given for example by intensive breeding.
I also consider the responsibility that everyone has not only for themselves but also for those who follow us. The messages we give through our dishes could influence many people. Each of our preparations is on the one hand a set of ingredients cooked and arranged differently on the plate, however it influences those who use it, just as it happens if we enjoy a Beehtoven suite or watch a horror on TV.
What is more correct to bring as a message is questionable, personally I prefer the first choice.
Returning to us, I saw his new creation, in which he fries a mallard brain, he serves it in his own hollowed head still well adorned with his beautiful blue feathers and he garnishes with his neatly sliced beak and as a spoon he uses his tongue dried from the same duck.
If his intent was to provoke he succeeded perfectly, to shake my sensitivity too.
Personally I find that trash dish, Quentin Tarantino to be clear, with the difference that Quentin uses tomato sauce to paint the violent death of his actors, she used a real animal.
His dish, as it was conceived, is in opposition to those values for which I fight every day. I also think that creativity should not be an end in itself but that it should be contained by ethics and morals, especially in this present not at the expense of Nature and its inhabitants, human or non-human who they are.
My writing does not want to be a declaration of war, but I would like very much to know its reasons that led to that creation.
Response from the Noma restaurant,
From Arve Podsada Krognes
Dear Laura & Pietro -
Thank you for your email.
Firstly, we are very happy to know that you enjoyed your meal with us during the vegetable season in summer and we hope to welcome you to another vegetable season in the future.
With our three distinct seasons, we have a menu that also focuses on meat and forest ingredients in the fall. We have put a lot of work and effort into preparing our menus here in Noma. We understand and appreciate that some of our specific menus or dishes may seem provocative and sometimes cause controversy.
While we may not necessarily share your opinion or approach, we really appreciate your sharing of your thoughts and encouraging discussion.
We wish you all the best and a prosperous 2020.
A further response comes from a young Italian in Copenhagen, Riccardo Canella, sous chef of Noma. (translated from Italian)
I would like to clarify the photo in question:
First of all, I know that for those who don't know our philosophy, this dish can seem extreme! It is ... and it can certainly upset people who for various reasons follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, in reality, it could also upset many omnivores ... this is precisely the point ...
The way in which Renè approaches cooking is extremely material and wants to put nature on the plate, from a vegetable to a fruit of the sea, and in this case also a wild mallard.
The dish in question is part of the game and forest menu 2019, which ended in December.
During the aforementioned game season, all the ducks that arrive at the restaurant are hunted in Scandinavia (during the hunting season from September 1 to the end of December), plucked by us and then left to hang for at least a week ...
All the heads are boiled and then sanitized with ethanol (even the feather) and covered with beeswax inside to eliminate any type of bacterial load.
The brain is fried in a light tempura and then marinated with juniper and arctic thyme, while in the "severed" beak it contains a tartare from the heart of the duck itself, lightly smoked seasoned with an emulsion of hazelnut butter ... delicious, because the Aesthetics and creativity must not put aside taste.
The reason why this dish was made is simple, when we eat meat (we use very little at Noma!) There is always a death in the middle, whether you are required to see it or not, to celebrate this death, we decided to pay respect to the animal by using everything, from head to legs just to not waste anything, however much splatter this may be in the eyes of many, I assure you that Mallard is less stained with blood than the chicken breast wrapped in the boxes of plastic that you buy at the supermarket, not to mention the low-priced and off-season vegetables that you always buy in the supermarket at home ...
I respect the chef who made that post very much, I think he is a person of great culture and kindness, rare things these days, I hope he will be able to come this summer to try the vegetarian menu and be able to see how we work ...
I don't feel I have to say all this in defense of the restaurant where I work, I don't think there is a need, just a little culture and knowledge for those who don't know but have an opinion on everything.
A hug and good day