Restaurant Serves Millionth Strangled Duck
Apr 30, 9:17 am ET
PARIS (Reuters) - Select guests gathered at a top Paris restaurant on Tuesday to sample the one millionth duck to be snatched from grassy marshland, carefully strangled and ritually cooked with its own blood.
The legendary Tour d'Argent has been serving up eight-week old ducklings, reared in the west coast Challans marshes, since 1890, meticulously preparing them according to an age-old tradition, and serving each one with a souvenir numbered tag.
Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt ate duck No. 33,642 in 1910, Charlie Chaplin guzzled No. 253,652 some 45 years later, and celebrities like Elton John and Nicole Kidman and footballer Ronaldo have sampled more recent birds.
On Tuesday, the Tour d'Argent will uncork some of its finest wines and lay on fireworks above Notre Dame Cathedral, which diners will be able to see from the window as they tuck into the restaurant's one millionth roast "Caneton" (duckling).
"It's a real spectacle. That's what you go there for. When it's being prepared in front of the tables with Notre Dame in the background, it's like a miniature theater show," enthused restaurant critic Jean-Luc Petit-Renaud.
"One million ducks. It's marvelous, really moving," he told French TF1 television ahead of the feast, which has been reserved for a select 140 aficionados of fine food.
The Queen of England, as a princess, and Japanese Emperor Hirohito have both sampled a Tour d'Argent Caneton, famous for being served in a heady, cognac-laced sauce dosed with blood.
The secret, fans say, is in strangling the ducks, keeping the flesh succulent, rather than slitting their throats.
A former owner of the 421-year-old restaurant discovered the method over a century ago from a chef near Rouen who would buy cheap ducks that had been suffocated on the way to market. He tried the chef's succulent duck dish and was smitten.
At La Tour d'Argent today, carcasses of freshly strangled ducks are pressed to extract the blood which is mixed with cognac and port to make a rich, sizzling sauce.
"If for the chef each dish is a work of art, for me, it's a story unfolding, a face drawing itself, the return of a happy moment," said Claude Terrail, a debonair 85-year-old who inherited La Tour d'Argent from his father in 1947 and will pass it on to his 22-year-old son Andre on Tuesday.
"There is nothing more serious than pleasure," he adds.