Bernd H. Knöller, the German owner of a Michelin star restaurant in Valencia Spain, has spoken out after a judge ruled in his favour totally exonerating his splendid award winning restaurant which over the last 12 months faced global attention.
The owner of the restaurant known as RIFF
“A few weeks ago, the judge ruling in the case decided to close it because no direct causal relationship could be established between the woman’s death and my restaurant. Medical examiners determined a pathological condition as the cause of death of the deceased.
Contrary to what had been alleged in the media, none of the 20 or 30 persons concerned (each newspaper had a different number) were hospitalized nor indeed had any of them sought medical attention since the symptoms were limited to minor food poisoning. According to the experts’ report, the probable cause was the morels used in a rice-based dish. As I knew, morels contain a mildly toxic substance when raw, which is generally believed to be destroyed in cooking, although apparently some mycologists have been demanding their prohibition for years.
We had not collected the fresh morels ourselves, as some media alleged, but had sourced them from our regular mushroom supplier who I have been working with for over 25 years. As I remember, these particular morels were the most beautiful and uniform specimens we had ever seen. The mushrooms apparently had not come from Spain or from Europe but were from China, probably from Sichuan where the Chinese successfully cultivate them (something the Swiss, who have put a lot of money into their own trials, have not succeeded in doing).
Despite repeated requests, the supplier was not willing to confirm in writing the origin of the mushrooms. The judge and medical examiners did not include anything about the origin of the mushrooms in their reports. However, we were only able to ascertain the mushrooms’ origin from the dealer through oral information. Unfortunately, and despite repeated requests, we were not informed about it in writing, and there is nothing in that respect in the report by the judge and the medical examiners. Personally, I would be interested to know what treatment those fresh mushrooms had received in order to withstand such a long, arduous journey in perfect conditions.
Closing the restaurant temporarily was my own decision. A combination of shock and media pressure made it impossible for me to continue working at the time. However, the Valencian Health Authority publicly reported after their immediate inspection that it found no reason to close the restaurant, a fact which, if mentioned at all in the press, was usually added as an aside at the very end of the article.
We received a lot of support, from friends and colleagues of course, but also from our regular customers whose show of support was very moving for me. They filled our restaurant again as soon as we reopened three weeks after the incident. I have been operating my restaurant for 26 years but did not expect to receive such staunch support from our customers. It was truly overwhelming! The RiFF is still in business today because of their kindness.
However, the number of foreign customers, which previously accounted for almost half of our clientele, was reduced practically to zero following the incident and the worldwide news coverage, particularly in Germany where it was reported extensively, with the tabloid newspaper Bild even claiming that the tasting menu had a price tag of €200 and not the actual price of €39.
While the Spanish restaurant guide Repsol immediately withdrew our 2 Suns (of 3 possible), we were very pleased and grateful that Michelin showed the courage to award us one Star for 2020 despite the negative press coverage. In fact, the 2020 guide was published even before the investigations had concluded. Michelin’s strong stance was very important for us.
The case was finally closed last week. So now it is time for me to take a deep breath and continue to do what I most enjoy: cooking”
Warm regards from Valencia,
Bernd H. Knöller
We the Euro Weekly News spoke to a regular customer of the gorgeous restaurant Mr James Bannister who told us ” Whilst it was sad what happened, I’ve never stopped using, the food is fantastic, the quality is excellent and the service exceptional – my wife and myself were never in doubt, I’m so glad Bernd has this weight lifted off his shoulders”