Four All-Star Chefs Call for Annual Exception to Serving Woodcock and Ortolan

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Some of France’s top chefs are calling for a relaxation on the controversial ban on serving Ortolan Bunting and other small birds

Four Michelin-star chefs in France have been calling for a return to being allowed serve small birds in restaurants, despite a conservation-inspired ban – for one day a year.

These are heavy-hitters in the culinary world, with two of the chefs (Alain Ducasse and Michel Guérard) having achieved the maximum three Michelin stars. The two other Michelin-starred chefs Jean Coussau and Alain Dutournier make up the foursome that are asking authorities in France to relax the ban on serving traditional small birds in restaurants for “one day per year”. Woodcock (which is still perfectly legal to hunt in Ireland at this time of year) and the migratory sparrow-like Ortolan Bunting have traditionally been hunted in the south-west of France but have been forbidden on restaurant menus for some time now in order to preserve their numbers.

The four masters of cuisine were brought together at the initiative of food magazine Sud Ouest Gourmand. They point out that the “total ban goes against centuries of tradition and local custom and encourages a nefarious black market with exorbitant prices.”

“It’s a plea from the heart,” says 81-year-old Guérard, one of the men credited with having invented la nouvelle cuisine. “We’re not bloodthirsty hunters. We’re as respectful as the ecologists and the defenders of the protection of endangered species… As well as respecting the feelings of everyone, it’s also a case of respecting the secular traditions, particularly those of the Landes, of a transparent return to authenticity and of passing on to the younger generations a wealth of knowledge in the preparation and cooking of these birds.”

 Nouvelle Cuisine founder Michel Guérard: “We’re not bloodthirsty hunters. We’re as respectful as the ecologists"

Nouvelle Cuisine founder Michel Guérard: “We’re not bloodthirsty hunters. We’re as respectful as the ecologists”

The consumption of woodcock, lark, thrush, finch, ortolan and other small birds is forbidden in French restaurants, the powers that be having classified them as endangered species. Thus, the ortolan bunting (emberiza hortulana), which sells on the black market for between €150 and €200 a piece, is protected since 1999. This is despite the fact that, as Alain Dutournier (of 2-star Le Carré des Feuillants restaurant in Paris) reminds us, a recent Canadian ornithological study “counted 15 million ortolan couples in Scandinavia and Russia.”

The four chefs point out also that the long-beaked woodcock can be eaten in restaurants in Belgium, Spain, Great Britain and Switzerland, while in France, “the country of its tradition – THE point of reference – we’re punished and we are not allowed to pass on this tradition to the coming generations,” says Alain Dutournier.

Gascony chefs like Alain Ducasse (of the Plaza Athénée in Paris, amongst others) who was born in Orthez in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department and who spent his childhood on his parents’ farm in Castel-Sarrazin (Landes), cite the example of Sweden in support of their argument. There, the freshwater crayfish can be served on three days of the year.

Consequently, Michel Guérard said to the AFP, the “four musketeers” have decided to make their case official submitting a formal application to the relevant French authorities “to obtain a derogation of one day or one weekend of consumption per year” as opposed to the total ban currently in place.

The trapping of the ortolan bunting during its migration from northern Europe to Africa by means of a matole – a trap that captures the bird intact – is the subject of an annual media awareness exercise by Allain Bougrain-Dubourg, the president of the French bird protection society Ligue de Protection des Oiseaux.

One Reply to “Four All-Star Chefs Call for Annual Exception to Serving Woodcock and Ortolan”

  1. Véronique Mermaz says:

    Do you know how many French people eat woodcock? A handful? 🙂

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