Michelin-starred Valencia restaurant closed amid fears diner died from poisonous mushroom

Health inspectors are investigating a Michelin-starred restaurant in Valencia after a woman died and 28 others were taken ill hours after ordering a tasting menu.

Michelin-starred Valencia restaurant closed amid fears diner died from poisonous mushroom
The culprit is believed to be a risotto dish made from morel mushrooms Photo: bendick/Depositphotos

Maria Jesus Fernandez Calvo, 46, died on Sunday after a bout of vomiting and diarrhea following a birthday meal with her husband and 12-year-old son at Valencia’s RiFF restaurant.

It is understood that all three suffered vomiting and diarrhea within hours of consuming a tasting menu on Saturday, but while the husband and son recovered, the woman died in the early hours of Sunday.

It has since emerged that 26 other diners also reported feeling unwell after eating in the restaurant, according to a report in the online newspaper Público, although their symptoms were milder.

Health authorities are exploring whether a morel mushroom risotto is the cause of the outbreak and the possibility that the dish mistakenly included a highly toxic funghi that looks similar to a morel.

The deadly 'false morel' is very similar in appearance to the morel mushroom but is highly toxic.

Head chef, Bernd H. Knöller, closed the restaurant on Monday morning to allow public health officials to carry our a full investigation.

Investigators did say that there were no apparent hygiene problems that could have contributed to food poisoning but that samples of ingredients and raw food products included in the menu would be sent for analysis.

“We will have to wait for the autopsy to be carried out on the woman 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, or if she had an existing condition,” explained regional health chief Ana Barceló.

Forensic teams will work to determine her death was caused by the poisoning or whether she may have choked on her own vomit or had a pre-existing condition exacerbated by the illness.

RiFF was opened by Knoller in 2001 and awarded a Michelin star in 2009.   

It features a €135 ($153) tasting menu including black truffle, imperial caviar and lobster.

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Restaurant of legendary chef loses third Michelin star

The restaurant of famed French chef Paul Bocuse, who died almost two years ago, has lost the coveted Michelin three-star rating it had held since 1965, the guide said on Friday.

Restaurant of legendary chef loses third Michelin star
L'Auberge de Collonges-au-Mont-d'Or was 'no longer at the level of three stars', the guide said. Photo:
The retraction of the coveted three-star ranking, coming just three years after Bocuse's death,  has prompted anger and dismay from many of his peers.
The Auberge du Pont de Collonges, near food-obsessed Lyon in southeast France, was the oldest three-starred restaurant in the world, having held the accolade without interruption since 1965.
The Michelin Guide told AFP on Friday that the establishment “remained excellent but no longer at the level of three stars” and will have only two in the 2020 edition of the famous red book — known as the “Bible” of French cuisine.
The Bocuse d'Or organisation, which holds the annual international cooking competition he created, greeted the announcement with “sadness” and expressed its “unwavering support” for the restaurant.
Bocuse's family and his kitchen team said they were “upset” by the decision, and celebrity chef Marc Veyrat, who recently sued the Michelin Guide over a lost third star, described the move as “pathetic”.
“Monsieur Paul”, as Bocuse was known, died aged 91 on January 20, 2018, after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.
Dubbed the “pope” of French cuisine, he was one of the country's most celebrated of all time, helping shake up the food world in the 1970s with the lighter fare of the Nouvelle Cuisine revolution, and helping to introduce the notion of a celebrity chef.
Michelin boss Gwendal Poullennec visited Bocuse's restaurant on Thursday to deliver the news, guide spokeswoman Elisabeth Boucher-Anselin told AFP.
Even before Bocuse's death, some critics had commented that the restaurant was no longer quite up to scratch.
But Michelin's decision, a year after stripping Veyrat of his third star just a year after awarding it, immediately stirred controversy.
While food critic Perico Legasse told BFM television the guide had committed an “irreparable” error in a quest for media attention, Veyrat said he had “lost faith” in a new generation of Michelin editors he accused of trying to make a name for themselves by taking down the giants of French cuisine.
“I am sad for the team that took up the torch at Collonges,” tweeted the three-starred chef Georges Blanc.
The restaurant has been modernising its look and its menu, pursuing a philosophy its management team describes as “tradition in motion”.   
“The chefs have reworked the dishes. They have been refining them for more than a year, evolving them while retaining their original DNA and taste,” the restaurant's manager Vincent Le Roux told a regional newspaper recently.
The restaurant is scheduled to reopen on January 24 after three weeks of renovations — three days before the official launch of the latest Michelin Guide.
Bocuse described himself as a devotee of traditional cuisine. “I love butter, cream, wine” he once said, “not peas cut into quarters”.
According to Michelin, restaurants are selected on four criteria: the quality of the products, the expertise of the chef, the originality of the dishes and consistency throughout the meal and across seasons.
But critics say the costs of ensuring such standards have made Michelin stars an untenable proposition as more diners baulk at spending massively on a meal.
A handful of French restaurateurs have in recent years relinquished their prized three-star status because of the stress of being judged by Michelin inspectors.
In 2018, the guide allowed, for the first time, a restaurant to withdraw from its listings after Sebastien Bras, the chef at Le Suquet, said he no longer wished to cook under that type of pressure.
The 2003 suicide of three-star chef Bernard Loiseau was linked, among other reasons, to speculation that his restaurant was about to lose its three stars.