Nigella bought foie gras from the Selfridges butcher who sold it under codewords 'French fillet'
23:24 GMT, 31 March 2012
Customer: Nigella Lawson purchased the meat from sacked Selfridges butcher Jack O'Shea in 'good faith'
When a butcher at Selfridges celebrated food hall was sacked for surreptitiously selling foie gras under the counter, it sparked a guessing game as to which well-connected customers were buying it.
Now The Mail on Sunday can disclose that Jack O’Shea’s customers for the controversial delicacy included domestic goddess Nigella Lawson.
And another source has identified Sir Michael Caine – a celebrated bon viveur who co-founded the Mayfair restaurant Langan’s Brasserie – as another of Mr O’Shea’s foie gras buyers.
Ms Lawson, 52, is well-known for recipes laden with animal fats and dairy produce, and she has spoken of her love of foie gras, a rich pt made from the enlarged livers of fattened geese.
But animal welfare campaigners say foie gras is cruel and, although it is legal in the UK, many stores – including Selfridges – refuse to sell it.
Ms Lawson is said to have made her purchases from the Irish butcher ‘in good faith’, believing that what she was being sold was above-board. But there are said to have been many other customers who asked Mr O’Shea, with a nod and a wink, for foie gras using the codewords ‘French fillet’.
Ms Lawson has previously told how she serves up foie gras to her husband, art collector Charles Saatchi, even though he hasn’t the palate for it.
She said: ‘When I toast him bagels and slather on the foie gras, it makes for a good dish. Does he eat it No! He turns his nose up, makes his own bagels and whips out the Dairylea.’
Mr O’Shea, 39, provided prime meat to some of London’s most celebrated restaurants, but has declined to confirm the identities of any of his clients.
He says he sold the delicacy in defiance of Selfridges’ strict ethical rules ‘for the craic’, adding: ‘I knew I was doing the wrong thing. I am a naughty little schoolboy for selling it.’
Mr O’Shea said he was aware of the ban, introduced in 2009, as ‘one of the suits’ told him – but insisted he was only responding to demand. ‘We had so many great customers,’ he said. ‘It’s a secret society thing. I didn’t do it for the business. It was to keep customers happy.’ He added that his customers loved the ‘wink-wink’ pantomime of the subterfuge.
‘Someone would come up to the counter and say, “Excuse me, do you have foie gras” “Absolutely not, missus.” Then one of the boys would grab her – it was all part of the show – and he would say, “Ask Jack for some French fillet.” She would come back and do that, and it was, “Of course, madam. I’ll be right with you.” The customer felt part of a little club.’
'I am a naughty little schoolboy': Mr O'Shea was marched from his meat counter after photos him selling the delicacy appeared in the press
Photographs showing Mr O’Shea selling foie gras for nearly 40 for a 1.7 lb portion appeared in newspapers shortly before Christmas following a tip-off.
He was marched away from his counter in front of customers on Christmas Eve, then summoned to a meeting with store bosses.
Production of foie gras is banned in the UK because of concerns the birds are force-fed. But it is available to buy in stores including Harrods and Fortnum & Mason.
Selfridges announced it was ending Mr O’Shea’s contract in February. It also claimed there had been additional concerns about hygiene at his counter.
Controversial: Production of foie gras is banned in the UK because of concerns the birds are force-fed but it is available to buy from high-end butchers
But Mr O’Shea has denied the allegations. ‘Out of 200,000 customers in three years there hasn’t been a single complaint or case of food poisoning. Nothing was stored inappropriately. It’s not in my interests to sell a chicken that’s out of date – that’s a scandalous allegation.’
Mr O’Shea claims Selfridges board members were aware of his actions and branded the ban ‘so ridiculous’, adding: ‘It’s a perfectly legal product which is misunderstood. It’s produced in very humane ways these days. It’s all been blown out of proportion.’
Ewan Venters, Selfridges’ food and restaurants director, stated ‘categorically’ that no board members knew Mr O’Shea was selling foie gras after the ban.
Expensive tastes: O'Shea's foie gras was also allegedly bought by Sir Michael Caine, pictured with his wife Shakira
A spokesman for Ms Lawson confirmed that she had bought produce there, adding: ‘It has all been very much “above the counter.” ’
When asked if Ms Lawson had ever bought foie gras from Mr O’Shea, he said: ‘I can’t comment on what she has bought, but emphasise that any purchase has been in good faith that the product being bought was above-board.’
Sir Michael’s spokesman did not respond after we put the allegations to him.