French chefs seek to put banned songbird back on menu

Tue Sep 16, 2014 11:44am EDT
 
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PARIS (Reuters) - Four French chefs are requesting a waiver to serve a long-banned delicacy - a small songbird called the ortolan that fans including late President Francois Mitterrand used to devour, bones and all, while wearing a napkin over their heads.

The request for the once-a-year waiver is being lodged among others by Alain Ducasse, the internationally acclaimed chef with a top 3-star rating from the Michelin gourmet dining guide, Le Parisien newspaper reported.

The ortolan, a seed-eating songbird that is little bigger than a child's hand, has been banned from restaurant menus in much of Europe since 1999.

Said to have been part of Mitterrand's last meal before he died in 1996, one customary French way of preparing ortolan consists of force-feeding it until fat and dousing it in Armagnac alcohol before roasting it whole in the oven.

Fans often wear a large, usually white, napkin over their head while eating. Some say the napkin serves to conceal them spitting out bones, others that it helps to seal in aromas and still others that it serves to fend off the shame of being seen by God eating a song-bird.

The request for the right to serve up ortolan one day or one weekend a year would be lodged in coming days with the French authorities, Le Parisien newspaper cited one of Ducasse's fellow backers, 3-star chef Michel Guerard, as saying. A representative for Ducasse did not immediately answer a request for comment.

(Writing by Brian Love; editing by Mark John)