NIGELLA Lawson has called in lawyers to deny claims that she bought "under the counter" foie gras at Selfridges in London.
The celebrity chef vehemently denied a newspaper report published at the weekend suggesting that she bought the controversial French delicacy from Jack O'Shea, a prominent butcher, at his former concession in the department store.
Although production of foie gras – made from the enlarged livers of forcefed geese – is banned in Britain, it can be sold legally and is stocked in a number of London shops. But controversy over its production divides food lovers.
It even threatened to undermine the Franco–German alliance last year when Bruno le Maire, the French agriculture minister, said he would boycott a food fair in Cologne in protest over the exclusion of the delicacy.
It has also split the world of celebrity chefs. Gordon Ramsay has come under fire for using foie gras, which he has recommended pan fried: "Really nice and crispy on the outside." He demonstrated how to cook it to an assistant chef on an episode of his programme The F Word in 2009.
But Albert Roux is among a string of top chefs who oppose foie gras, saying that details of the treatment the birds endure should be carried on packaging, similar to the health warnings on cigarettes. He said the traditional forcefeeding of ducks and geese should be replaced by more humane methods in which they are allowed to gorge themselves naturally. Mr O'Shea, who has supplied meat to Michelin–starred chefs in the past, was escorted out of Selfridges just before Christmas after he was secretly filmed selling foie gras.
Selfridges banned it on animal welfare grounds two years ago after a high profile campaign led by Sir Roger Moore, the former James Bond actor.
Mr O'Shea, however, continued to offer it for sale to a select group of customers who requested it using the code name "French fillet".
His "secret society" came to a hasty end two days before Christmas last year when an undercover reporter filmed him selling it and joking about how it was not allowed.
Yesterday, Miss Lawson took to Twitter, where she has almost 128,000 followers, to insist that the claims were false. She wrote: "Need to make it completely clear, story in Mail about my buying foie gras total fabrication ie a lie." The message referred to an article in the Mail on Sunday.
A short time later she appeared to have put the furore behind her when she posted a recipe for "Roquamole" a green dip made from guacamole and Roquefort cheese.
Mr O'Shea, who said he prided himself on his animal welfare standards, was unrepentant after his dismissal from Selfridges last year. He said at the time: "I couldn't give a damn, my conscience is clear. Stuffing a goose with grain is like stuffing me with Guinness."
A spokesman for Miss Lawson said yesterday: "It is categorically untrue that Nigella Lawson has bought foie gras from Selfridges, or any other outlet for that matter."
Her legal firm wrote to editors stating that the claims were false, untrue and defamatory. The letter made it clear that Miss Lawson did not usually complain to the media but, due to the emotive nature of the ethical issues surrounding the production of foie gras, she felt she had "no choice but to make her position clear". Mr O'Shea was unavailable for comment last night.