Was Rene Redzepi's 'mallard brain served in its own hollowed head' dish a step too far?

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 23rd January 2020

Copenhagen restaurant Noma's sous-chef Riccardo Canell has publically addressed allegations that René Redzepi "went too far" when he created a dish consisting of a duck's head, hollowed and filled with its own cooked brain, with its own beak for a garnish and its tongue to be used as a spoon.

Pietro Leemann, the chef and owner of Italy's only Michelin-starred vegetarian restaurant, Joia, expressed his discontent about the dish on his Facebook page, where he said René had gone "too far" with the dish, "crossing the limits of respect for other beings who share the planet with us."

Are chefs responsible for how people feel about their food?

He said: "The questions I asked myself were why amaze at all costs? What are the limits of creativity? In this day and age, when a majority of people seek  closeness with nature and its inhabitants, what message does Mr. Redzepi want to bring?"

Because it was so outrageous, and given René's visibility, Pietro continued, pictures of the dish have circulated around the world - and that he even had a 'copycat' in Japan, where a chef served bear paws stuffed with their own meat. 

Of course René isn't the first test his customers' sense of ease - an obvious other example being Alain Passard, whose Frankenstein-rotisserie pieces have seen him sew half a duck to half a chicken and attach a pigeon's head on a lamb roast - but in the age of social media, it was all too predictable that the dish would cause some controversy. 

'Like a Tarantino, except that Quentin uses ketchup to paint violent death'

In a letter to René, the chef explained that for him, chefs bear the responsibility of what message their food conveys, and that for him it expressed gratuitous violence. "It was a trash dish - like a Quentin Tarantino film with the difference that Quentin uses tomato sauce to paint the violent death of his actors, he used a real animal."

An initial response came from the team at Noma, stating that "a lot of work and effort is put into preparing menus here," and that the dish was integral to the restaurant's autumn menu.

"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."

Finally, Noma sous-chef Riccardo Canell weighed into the debate. 

'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'

He said that although the dish could seem extreme - not just to vegetarians or vegans, but to omnivores - that this "is precisely the point." 

"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." 

Riccardo stressed his undying respect for Pietro saying he believes him to be "a person of great culture and kindness" and that he hoped that he would return to Noma to taste the spring menu. 

"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."

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 23rd January 2020

Was Rene Redzepi's 'mallard brain served in its own hollowed head' dish a step too far?