In the affluent village of Bray, about 50 miles west of central London, Heston Blumenthal, chef of The Fat Duck, one of only three restaurants in the UK with three Michelin stars, has shut down what Restaurant Magazine donned “the best place to eat on Earth”. The restaurant was initially closed at the end of February pending investigations by environmental health officers after complaints that more than 40 people became ill. Soon afterwards hundreds more came forward complaining of the same symptoms400 in all from late January through February.
Blumenthal canceled more than 500 reservations and estimates are that the so-called “culinary alchemist”is losing $140,000 weekly in lost bookings. Blumenthal’s pub, The Hinds Head, located next door has also received cancellations. While The Daily Mail suggests sabotage, the cause of the outbreak remains a mystery, according to the New York Times, and all initial health reports have proved inconclusive.
“This is a very complex outbreak,” health authority director Graham Bickler said. “We are working closely with the restaurant.” Food samples are being tested at the agency’s Center for Infections in London. Britain’s Health Protection Agency has investigated other diners in the area, made contact with customers who became sick since late January as well as patrons who did not report being sick at all; staff, food storage, and work surfaces are being scrutinized. Tests are being conducted for bacteria and viruses; food preparation and cooking processes are being examined. “They’re looking for a bug,” said Phillip Bicknell, a local government official, “something that’s causing the sickness, that may well be attached to the restaurant, inside or outside, or to the staff who work there, or to a customer who came in.”
All kinds of theories abound, from the staff spreading a stomach bug to customers suffering from the flusome even consider sabotage by locals wanting to force the restaurant’s closure.
Philip Harden, co-editor of Harden’s Restaurant Guide in London speculates that the diners “might have come down with Winter Vomiting Disease”that has spread through Britain this winter.
Dr. Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners claims the symptoms are more like flu than food poisoning. But Sky News reports that a customer called the restaurant to report three of four in his party got ill as well as their children.
The television sports presenter Jim Rosenthal and his wife, Chrissy, became ill along with boxing promoter Frank Warren. Rosenthal said he was still ill two weeks after his first visit. “I called the Fat Duck to tell them that after eating there all six of us had become ill. The manager called me back and told me he took the incident seriously. He did not point out that 40 others had also fallen ill..Since then, we have heard nothing,” Mr Rosenthal told the Daily Mail. “A bowl of flowers for my wife to be sick into would have been nice”
Opened in 1995, people wait months for a reservation at the Fat Duck, which seats 40 people and charges $185 per person for its 17-course tasting menu.
“I was.. more than a little disappointed with the ambiance,”writes Alison Davey with Business In Berkshire, “which I found pretentious in rather humble surroundings! The cost far outweighed the novelty value of the menu which I would summarize as gimmicky'”
With the exception of brief work experiences with Raymond Blanc‘s and Marco Pierre, Blumenthal is a self-taught chef, best known for concoctions like Snail Porridge and “Nitro-Scrambled Egg and Bacon Ice Cream” served with tea jelly, Nitro-green tea, parsnip cereal or roast foie gras “benzaldehyde.”He is also known for his distinguishing and creative style of food preparation in which he uses is a vacuum jar to increase expansion of bubbles during food preparation. Blumenthal has published four books and signed a two-year television deal in 2008.
“I’m as fastidious about the hygiene side of things as I am about the actual cooking processes,” he told the Guardian website in a video interview. “The last thing you want is somebody to leave the restaurant with so much as a slight headache”
The Fat Duck is located at High Street, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AQ, United Kingdom 44 1628 580333[mappress mapid=”187″]