Besides celebrities shaving their heads and politicians snapping photos of their junk, there are few things the media love as much as a fancy restaurant that makes people sick. In 2009, when a norovirus hit Heston Blumenthal’s gastronomy temple the Fat Duck in England, news crews swarmed to revel in the irony of one of the world’s best restaurants giving patrons tummy troubles.
So, it almost felt like deja vu when the headlines hit last week about an outbreak of the same norovirus—which Time describes as “an easily transmissible disease that is rarely fatal but that causes millions of cases of severe gastroenteritis each year”—at René Redzepi’s Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant that has topped the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the past three years. The Huffington Post proclaimed, “‘World’s Best Restaurant’ Hit By Vomiting, Diarrhea Outbreak,” while the Daily Mail went with the headline, “60 diners at world’s best restaurant struck with vomiting bug,” conjuring a terrifying image of an oversize arthropod upchucking on a bunch of helpless diners.
A lot of outlets immediately supposed that since Noma is well-known for serving unusual, foraged ingredients like wild vegetables and live ants, these ingredients must have been the cause of 63 guests getting sick. The fact that there was a sink without hot water (not Noma’s only sink, for the record) snowballed into assumptions about health-code violations in the kitchen.
To try to set matters straight, Redzepi released a statement via Noma’s website to explain the situation. According the letter, “The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration…advised that [the virus] was spread via a staff member, who was a carrier and did not show any symptoms of the virus.” So, essentially, a cook with a stomach flu shouldn’t have gone to work.
If you’ve been following the news reports about the outbreak, it’s worth seeing what the restaurant has to say for itself before taking everything reported at face value. Read the full statement here.
The Time piece is also well-balanced and well-reported, so start there if you want a good overview of the situation.