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The Fat Duck 2009


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With this whole debate around the closing of the Fat Duck my wife and I remembered an incident that we observed following our (otherwise perfect) experience at this restaurant about two years ago.

It was lunchtime and after our meal we decided to walk a few steps down to the Waterside Inn and back, before entering our car. On our return, we saw a group of four coming out of the Fat Duck restaurant who had been having lunch at a neighboring table. One lady was in obvious discomfort and had to be supported by two others. They crossed the busy high street where she threw up her entire lunch into a bush as we were approaching.

Not for a moment do I believe that this was a case of poisoning - all the rest of us were fine. My suspicion is that it can cost some unexperienced (and perhaps involuntary) diners quite an effort to eat and enjoy what is put in front of them at the Fat Duck. Somebody who grew up on baked beans, fish and chips, roast chicken and the like, and then only gets into Heston's place as part of a group, may struggle to suddenly eat snail porridge and sardine ice cream, just to name a few examples.

What I am trying to say is - next to the food hygiene risks that may or may not come with avant-garde cooking techniques, there can also be the psychological problem of occasional non-foodies who are completely overburdened by the whole experience and have to fight their potential disgust during the entire mealtime.

The timing of the person getting sick in your anecdote pretty much rules out food poisoning, though not necessarily alcohol poisoning. :blink:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

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I totally agree. I took a group of clients to the Fat Duck some years ago and it was a big mistake. They weren't foodies and of course had heard of the place and were desperate to go. The food wasn't enjoyed that much by most of them, which spoilt my enjoyment.

I do feel sorry for Heston - and agree that he is handling it extremely well. He said on Breakfast TV today that he would personally phone all the customers and I believe him!

That said, I have also spoken to a few chefs who feel that some of the strange cooking methods are an accident waiting to happen.

Your last sentence struck a chord with me, my daughter (who is a chef) said much the same thing. I disagreed with her and cited norovirus as a possible cause but she wasn't having any of it :raz:

I think HB is handling it brilliantly, but then he would, he seems like one of life's good people.

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i'm not specifically blaming sous vide, using it as a catch all term, but low temp 39 degree cooking is just a breeding ground for bacteria surely?

Gary are you certain this figure is correct I thought it was generally in the 60's. The Baldwin paper Jackal shares specifies cooking times that are mainly in the mid 50's. I can understand your concern if your experience of this is at 39 as it is quite a good temperature to culture micro-organisms.

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i'm not specifically blaming sous vide, using it as a catch all term, but low temp 39 degree cooking is just a breeding ground for bacteria surely?

Gary are you certain this figure is correct I thought it was generally in the 60's. The Baldwin paper Jackal shares specifies cooking times that are mainly in the mid 50's. I can understand your concern if your experience of this is at 39 as it is quite a good temperature to culture micro-organisms.

Err no. Pastaurisation depends on time as well as temperature, as Douglas Baldwin shows. The US FDA specify 89 minutes at 55C/131F for all parts of the food for meat, corresponding to a 10 to the power 6.5 reduction in Salmonella. The meat must reach this temperature in less than 6 hours to prevent Clostridium perfringens from multiplying to dangerous levels. Fish is generally cooked at lower temperatures, and so not pasteurised. Food safety comes from cleanliness and other means, just as with the raw fish in sushi.

For large pieces of food it also takes time for the heat to penetrate. Thats why a rare steak is mostly uncooked in the centre, or the yolk of a soft boiled egg still runny (egg yolk coagulates at a lower temperature than egg white). Fortunately the yolk of an egg and the inside of a steak, unless the chef has poked it with a dirty fork is mostly sterile, You cant assume that for hamburger.

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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BTW - I searched through the articles available to me on line - and found no evidence that health authorities had done what would be the norm here in the US - interviewing everyone who got sick - finding out exactly what they ate and when they ate it - trying to discover common threads in their dining experiences - and then exploring the sources of the food(s) they had in common. Doing all of this doesn't necessarily result in answers - but it is normal procedure here in the US.

I also ran across this in one of the articles:

"The chef, who is self-taught, opened The Fat Duck in 1995 and it was awarded a third Michelin star in 2004.

However, in the same year, food and safety officers found 'borderline' levels of listeria in the foie gras and expressed concern that 'no core temperatures of the meat are taken'.

But these problems were swiftly dealt with and Mr Blumenthal has since introduced more stringent procedures."

Wouldn't be the first listeria problem with foie gras. D'Artagnan had the same problem in 1999. Wonder if the authorities have examined not only the Fat Duck kitchen - but the facilities that supply its foie gras? In the D'Artagnan case - it was found that the factory that produced the foie gras was contaminated with listeria. So production had to be moved to another factory (a factory contaminated with listeria is pretty much a total loss). Robyn

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I see that sports commentater Jim Rosental is having a pop at Hestons handling of the affair on Mail online

Is this the start of negative public outcry?

I hope not.

Link to the "article" here:

Mail Online

I'm not sure what exactly he wanted Heston to do - carry on investigating what exactly has caused this or send flowers to everyone instead?

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This thread as gone way off! Can I just say, in the middle of this listeria talk, I for one Im glad to see the Fat Duck has been given the green light to reopen. Its still a place I have never visited, doesn't appeal for some reason. No not food scares!! :biggrin:

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This thread as gone way off! Can I just say, in the middle of this listeria talk, I for one Im glad to see the Fat Duck has been given the green light to reopen. Its still a place I have never visited, doesn't appeal for some reason. No not food scares!! :biggrin:

Agreed completely.

Great news.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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What a dickhead. He's milking the situation for all he can. I think he should be ashamed of himself, sounds like a spoilt brat :angry:

Whether or not he's a "dickhead" (living in the US - and not being a sports fan - I never heard of the guy) - the simple fact of the matter is 6 people in his party went to the restaurant - all ate the same menu - and all got sick. The fact that 6 reasonably healthy middle-aged people all got sick after eating the same meal is pretty good evidence to me that they got sick because of what they ate.

And now - with there apparently being no thorough investigation why these people - and many others - got sick (at least no investigation that has been reported) - the restaurant reopens. If 40 people went to our local McDonald's and got sick - the health authorities would shut it down ASAP and not allow it to reopen until it had determined why people got sick and the restaurant had fixed the cause of the problem. For an interesting story about a company that dealt with many people who got sick eating its food (and a few died) - look up Jack in the Box. They do in fact close restaurants here all the time when they find serious food safety violations during regular inspections (whether or not people have gotten sick) - and do not allow them to reopen until the violations have been corrected. Note that all restaurant inspections are printed in our local newspaper on a weekly basis.

I do not think the standards that apply to my local burger stands should be more strict than those that apply to fancy restaurants - no matter how expensive they are - how many Michelin stars they have - or how much foodies love them.

I will note that when D'Artagnan had its foie gras problem - it recalled all of its products from restaurants all over the country - and did not sell any new product until it had tracked down the cause of the problem. And for small retail buyers like me - it simply called us and told us to trash the stuff we'd bought - and issued us refunds. What it did almost caused it to go bankrupt (this happened during a busy Christmas holiday season) - but I developed a huge amount of respect for the company - and am still a loyal customer. Robyn

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And now - with there apparently being no thorough investigation why these people - and many others - got sick (at least no investigation that has been reported) - the restaurant reopens.  If 40 people went to our local McDonald's and got sick - the health authorities would shut it down ASAP and not allow it to reopen until it had determined why people got sick and the restaurant had fixed the cause of the problem. 

Why would you say that there has not been a thorough investigation? For starters it was Blumenthal who closed the restaurant before the authorities even heard about it. They appear to have conducted a lot of tests yet they have been unable to determine the cause of the illness. I'm by no means an environmental health expert, but I would have thought that if they haven't been able to determine the root cause after a few days of testing then it's going to just get more and more difficult. If it was caused by a virus, I don't believe they would be able to prove it

For an interesting story about a company that dealt with many people who got sick eating its food (and a few died) - look up Jack in the Box. They do in fact close restaurants here all the time when they find serious food safety violations during regular inspections (whether or not people have gotten sick) - and do not allow them to reopen until the violations have been corrected. Note that all restaurant inspections are printed in our local newspaper on a weekly basis.

I do not think the standards that apply to my local burger stands should be more strict than those that apply to fancy restaurants - no matter how expensive they are -  how many Michelin stars they have - or how much foodies love them.

Is it a case of double standards here though? I haven't seen any evidence of similar cases in the UK that have been treated differently

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And now - with there apparently being no thorough investigation why these people - and many others - got sick (at least no investigation that has been reported) - the restaurant reopens.  If 40 people went to our local McDonald's and got sick - the health authorities would shut it down ASAP and not allow it to reopen until it had determined why people got sick and the restaurant had fixed the cause of the problem. 

Why would you say that there has not been a thorough investigation? For starters it was Blumenthal who closed the restaurant before the authorities even heard about it. They appear to have conducted a lot of tests yet they have been unable to determine the cause of the illness. I'm by no means an environmental health expert, but I would have thought that if they haven't been able to determine the root cause after a few days of testing then it's going to just get more and more difficult. If it was caused by a virus, I don't believe they would be able to prove it

For an interesting story about a company that dealt with many people who got sick eating its food (and a few died) - look up Jack in the Box. They do in fact close restaurants here all the time when they find serious food safety violations during regular inspections (whether or not people have gotten sick) - and do not allow them to reopen until the violations have been corrected. Note that all restaurant inspections are printed in our local newspaper on a weekly basis.

I do not think the standards that apply to my local burger stands should be more strict than those that apply to fancy restaurants - no matter how expensive they are -  how many Michelin stars they have - or how much foodies love them.

Is it a case of double standards here though? I haven't seen any evidence of similar cases in the UK that have been treated differently

I haven't read anything about any investigation which went beyond the 4 walls of the restaurant. The source of the problem is most likely a factory (like one which produces foie gras) or a farm (where animals or people contaminate produce). Or something similar.

FWIW - if I were a betting person - I'd put the virus theory at about 50 to 1 odds. Robyn

Edited by robyn (log)
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Just to add a bit of anal, mundane detail.

Food poisioning, whether proven or suspected, is a notifiable disease to the Health Protection Agency. There are legal steps that have to be taken, and judging from what Heston has said publicly, The Fat Duck seems to have gone above and beyond any restauranteur would do. The HPA and environmental health would never have let the place re-open if there was still a case to answer.

Reading Jim Rosenthal's experience (however depressing it is to have had to open a Daily Mail story on my computer) sounds suspiciously like a viral-type illness, and if I had to hazard a guess, Noro or Norwark-virus.

It would have helped if the affected people had investigations done. Food poisioning from Salmonella, Campylobacter or Listeria (yes it still exists and it kills newborn babies. That's why we tell pregnant women not to eat unpasturised cheese) is easy to prove from stool cultures. Viral cultures can also be done, which are bloody rare as a cause of food poisoning. This would have helped all concerned and ended the speculation.

I think Heston Blumenthal's been brave, open and honest about everything. Dealing with these cases when you're the highest profile restaurant in the UK can't be easy and I respect him for how he's handled it all. I would go back to the Fat Duck tomorrow. If I could ever get a bloody table again!

Adam

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Its estimated to be costing him, something like £14,000 a day in lost takings.

Remember that all of his overheads(except food) carry on as normal.

What a body blow,it must seem like a nightmare to him.

"So many places, so little time"

http://londoncalling...blogspot.co.uk/

@d_goodfellow1

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And let's remember that he's only been making a profit for the last couple of years and not a (comparatively) huge one at that. If it goes on much longer he might well be in a certain amount of financial problems which in my view will result in higher prices shortly to help compensate. Very sad for such a genuinely nice chap (for those lucky enough to have been and to have met him!!) :wub:

Let's just hope he'll have the financial backing from one source or another to keep going.

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Its estimated to be costing him, something like £14,000 a day in lost takings.

Remember that all of his overheads(except food) carry on as normal.

What a body blow,it must seem like a nightmare to him.

Does he own or rent the building in which the restaurant resides?

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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Its estimated to be costing him, something like £14,000 a day in lost takings.

Remember that all of his overheads(except food) carry on as normal.

What a body blow,it must seem like a nightmare to him.

Does he own or rent the building in which the restaurant resides?

Sorry can't pretend to know anything about his financial circumstances,leasehold or freehold.?

I do expect his wages bill alone to be absolutley massive,especially for all the chefs he employs.

Never mind front of house costs.

"So many places, so little time"

http://londoncalling...blogspot.co.uk/

@d_goodfellow1

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Sorry can't pretend to know anything about his financial circumstances,leasehold or freehold.?

I do expect his wages bill alone to be absolutley massive,especially for all the chefs he employs.

Never mind front of house costs.

Though, I suspect, like any top kitchen, some staff are stagiers, working for very, very little, if not for free.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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Sorry can't pretend to know anything about his financial circumstances,leasehold or freehold.?

I do expect his wages bill alone to be absolutley massive,especially for all the chefs he employs.

Never mind front of house costs.

Though, I suspect, like any top kitchen, some staff are stagiers, working for very, very little, if not for free.

If I were a young chef I would pay him to work there!!!!

No matter what the wages bill Im glad that its not coming out of my bank account!

There is one positive out of all this.

He is universally liked and very highly respected.

I don't for one minute expect his business to suffer,when this chapter is over with.

Just imagine if it were someone else's misfortune

Gordon Ramsay for instance.

"So many places, so little time"

http://londoncalling...blogspot.co.uk/

@d_goodfellow1

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The BBC is now reporting that 400 customers have reported being sick!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/berkshire/7927715.stm

That's 5 days worth of bookings - sounds very worrying

Now then, I have been on this earth long enough to be a little cynical about 400 people,

suddenly and mysteriously claiming to be ill

Something does not smell right here.

Its so easy now for an unscrupulous individual to jump on the bandwagon,for perhaps

kudos or worse still,the promise of a free meal.

Stuff like this would kill most business's.

"So many places, so little time"

http://londoncalling...blogspot.co.uk/

@d_goodfellow1

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