Linen Napkin that Hides Banned Gluttony




A famous and politically well-connected Bordeaux restaurateur is in the dog-box for allegedly having a range of protected birds available among gastronomic delicacies for which he is nationally renowned. He strenuously denies the allegations.

However France’s 100-year-old Ligue de Protection des Oiseaux (LPO) or League for the Protection of Birds, says it has brought a civil suit against the restaurant owner demanding 9000 euros in damages. The restaurateur was identified by the League as Monsieur X but in a report by Pierre Sauvey, a journalist on La Dépêche du Midi, as Jean-Pierre Xiradakis, owner of La Tupina in 6, rue Porte de La Monnaie. His picture above is one that features in a review of his restaurant on the Osezbordeaux website. 

According to a December 2012 Sud Ouest report when Jean-Pierre Xiradaki’s establishment was raided by government inspectors from l’Office national de la chasse et de la faune sauvage (ONCFS) they found: “Alouettes, grives, pinsons, interdits à la vente, … dans le frigo du garage du restaurant tenu par Jean-Pierre Xiradakis. La LPO réclame 9 000 euros” that is to say, “Larks, thrushes, finches, all banned from sale, were found in a fridge in the garage of a restaurant run by Jean-Pierre Xiradakis.” The LPO has lodged a 9000 euro claim against him with the Tribunal d’Instance de Bordeaux. 

In the news reports cited above M. Xiradakis claims that despite having paid fines for having the birds on his premise he has never sold them. He also insisted he had only ever bought larks. In response to a reporter who asked: “Were there finches among the larks?”, he said: “It’s possible, but I bought them as larks. When these birds are plucked and on a spit, I challenge you to show me the difference”. The inspectors’ initial formal report stated that they had found 76 ortolans on the premises. According to Pierre Sauvey the restaurateur claimed: “Subsequently the inspectors agreed there were 40 thrushes and 36 finches, (rather than ortolans) and these are not subject to the same strict ban. Once they have been plucked, cleaned and frozen, identification is never easy”. 

The affair however — symptomatic of issues affecting not just France but other European and North Africa countries as our nature correspondent Mike Alexander notes below — has spurred French wildlife organisations into action. 

They are redoubling efforts to ensure laws regarding protected birds are respected and enforced. For although banned the ortolan can, some reports suggest, be found by gourmets-in-the-know on certain tables provided they can afford the 150-euro price tag.

Maître François Ruffié, LPO’s legal advisor : “My grandfather was from Bearn. In the Aspe valley, everyone knew that when you wanted to eat chamois, you had to order the rabbit!

 

Now on the red list – Ortolan Bunting (Emberiza hortulana) is in danger (Credit: Wikipedia)

Mike Alexander has been following the fate of the ortolan for a while. Here is his report:

Bavarian Broadcasting is reporting on the extensive trapping of song birds in Egypt as they migrate back to Europe from their winter African resting grounds. 700 kilometers of nets have been set running almost the entire Egyptian coastline from Libya to the Sinai, the only gaps being where there are military facilities in the way. Millions of tiny birds are expected to be caught and they will then be sold as delicacies in North African markets and restaurants. The trapping is almost totally illegal but there is little likelihood of any form of prosecution taking place. 

If this African practice shocks you then perhaps you will be interested at how one of these song birds has been treated here in France. The Ortolan Bunting has long been regarded as one of the premier French delicacies with Alexander Dumas comparing it to other famous culinary delights like the Perigord truffle or fois gras stuffed quail. 

Former President François Mitterand famously chose it as his last meal and on a slightly less famous occasion Jeremy Clarkson a UK TV personality was filmed eating one in Gascony in 2007.

The birds are trapped live and then kept in semi-darkened boxes where they are fed grain until they gain four times their normal body weight. At this stage they are drowned in Armagnac then roasted and eaten whole. Connoisseurs, like the late President, prefer to eat them with a linen napkin draped over their heads which is claimed traps the aromas. Others say this is actually to hide this act of gluttony from God! 

These sparrow-sized birds are now red listed and their hunting was banned in France in 1999. Little was done in the way of enforcement however. In 2007 under pressure from the EU and the LPO the French government made further promises about enforcing the law. They are threatened in 10 European countries and have disappeared from seventeen departments in France.

The LPO is campaigning to get bird protection laws enforced

In 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, the environmental State Secretary, Chantal Jouanno told AFP the French news agency that the government had turned a blind eye to ortolan trapping in France but that things were about to change. 

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Read all Mike Alexander’s gardening advice here and here

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The Committee Against Bird Slaughter held its first bird protection camp in the south of France the following year and in a seven-day period its members discovered 14 trapping installations containing 139 traps. They estimate that up to 40 000 of the endangered birds are still traded in the country each year. 

It is difficult to get a true number of the birds trapped today as the trade appears to be continuing illicitly. Prices per bird are said to be in the region of 150 Euros each but it is the prestige that is associated with a meal of ortalans that makes them vulnerable. 

With Presidents and celebrities consuming them and politicians turning a blind eye to their slaughter, both here and in Africa, it is unlikely there predicament will improve soon.

Story: Mike Alexander
mike@mikealexander.fr

(Additional reporting by Ken Pottinger)

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