A world famous restaurant has come under fire this week after several reports of accidental poisoning, one of which has led to the tragic death of a customer. RiFF restaurant in Valencia has been accused by several members of the Spanish media of mistakenly poisoning around 18 diners with a poorly prepared mushroom dish. The eatery has been closed down, pending the results of an intensive external investigation.
According to a report in The Telegraph newspaper, 46-year-old María Jesús Fernández Calvo was celebrating her husband’s birthday alongside her 10-year-old son, when she was presented with a dish of morchella fungi. Considered a delicacy in parts of France, morchella are incredibly dangerous if not cooked correctly, due to the presence of a powerful toxin. Despite leaving the restaurant in what looked like good health, Ms Fernandez Calvo died later that night after bouts of extreme vomiting and diarrhoea.
After several other diners, including Fernandez Calvo’s husband and son, also reported similar symptoms, inspectors are determined to ascertain exactly what can have lead to such tragedy. It is not yet confirmed, for instance, whether the morchella mushrooms were what is known as “true morels” - still dangerous, but potentially delicious - or highly toxic “false morels”, which though near identical in appearance should never be eaten.
Traditionally, true morels are dehydrated, before being cooked in a warm bath of water or milk, so as to remove any potential toxins. If eaten raw, they have been known to cause serious food poisoning and, in extreme cases, death. False morels, by contrast, should never be eaten, as they contain the deadly chemical monomethyl hydrazine. Identifying the difference between the two species can be almost impossible, even for a mushroom expert.
Speaking to reporters in the aftermath of the incident, regional health chief Ana Barceló revealed that, “We will have to wait...before we can determine whether it was the ingestion of a food that directly caused her death, or whether it prompted a state that led to this fatal outcome.” She went on to add that, in the meantime, samples of all ingredients have been sent to the National Toxicology Institute for further analysis.
When news of the story first broke, RiFF’s German head chef Bernd Knöller, who began his career in Britain in the 1980s, expressed his shock and “deep sorry” over the tragedy. In a statement, Knöller revealed, “I have offered my complete cooperation to the Valencian health authority from the very start in order to clear up the facts, with the hope that we can establish the causes as soon as possible,” whilst voluntarily closing down the kitchen until the exact circumstances around the tragedy can be established.
With foraging for food becoming increasingly popular, disasters such as this are on the rise. For anyone who isn’t 100% sure about what they are eating, this story serves as a stark warning. No matter what you may think about your food, accidents can still happen. Even the experts sometimes get it wrong.