Two star Michelin restaurant chef suspended over puffer fish poisoning in Japan
A TWO star Michelin restaurant in Tokyo has suspended its head chef after a diner came close to death having eaten the potentially poisonous puffer fish.
Eating 'fugu' puffer fish is widely viewed as the mealtime equivalent of Russian roulette. The expensive winter delicacy in Japan contains a concentration of anhydrotetrodotoxin 4-epitetrodotoxin in its liver or ovaries that is up to 1,200 times more lethal than cyanide.
The skill of the chef in removing the organs is therefore highly prized.
The poison can paralyse the nerves and prevent the lungs working. There is no known antidote and death occurs within minutes - with the first indication being numbness of the lips - if the concentration is strong enough.
A 35-year-old woman eating at the Fugu Fukuji restaurant, in Tokyo's upmarket Ginza district, in November displayed the symptoms of poisoning.
She had apparently asked the chef to serve her the liver of the fish, something that particularly brave diners do, often encouraged by others in their party.
The woman, who has not been named, recovered after being treated at a local hospital, but the Tokyo Metropolitan Government temporarily withdrawn the licence of chief chef, Takeshi Yasuge.
"The chef served a liver knowing that it is toxic, even if it was a request from the customer," a public health official said.
The chef may have his license revoked, face a fine or even prison.
Fugu chefs consider themselves among the elite in the very competitive world of Japanese cuisine and are required to undergo three years of training and apprenticeship - followed by a test that only one third pass - before they are permitted to prepare their first fish.
In 2009, scientists managed to breed a non-lethal species of fugu, but it has failed to catch on in the specialist restaurants because purists believe that making the meal completely benign and free of danger ruins the whole appeal.
By tradition chefs who failed to prepare the dish correctly and caused the death of a customer were traditionally bound to commit ritual suicide with their own fish knife.
Several fatalities are reported from fugu poisoning every year, although most are of sport fishermen who think they know how to prepare their catch and end up poisoning themselves.
A spokesman for Michelin said it had no plans to withdraw the restaurant's two stars, which were awarded this month after two of the guide book's assessors at a fugu dish.
The Michelin guide lists 247 Tokyo establishments that are considered worthy of at least one star, with 16 restaurants awarded the coveted three stars.
That puts the Japanese capital ahead of Paris with 10 three-star restaurants.