What does an oil spill have in common with a squid broth served at a small French seafood restaurant? Everything, as it happens.

On December 12, 1999, the oil tanker Erika shipwrecked off the coast of Brittany. The outcome was devastating: Approximately 19,000 tons of oil it had been freighting (of its total cargo of 30,000 tons) spilled into the ocean waters. As noted in an advisory report carried out by the Permanent Commission of Enquiry into Accidents at Sea, “It was very difficult to contain this pollution because of the type of cargo being carried and because of the severe weather conditions and it eventually soiled several hundred kilometres of coastline from Brittany down to the Ile de Ré” (CPEM 1999: 7). In the aftermath of the spill, during cleaning efforts in 2000 and 2001, between 240,000 and 280,000 tons of polluted material was removed (Laubier et al. 2004: 239). For businesses that relied on coastal resources to operate, the spill was particularly catastrophic, with the year 2000 seeing the biggest impact to fin and shell fisheries (Deere-Jones 2016: 19).

Notwithstanding the regional effects of the spill, in order to examine the intermingling of negative event and creative output, I will focus on the local example of La Marine, a small Michelin-starred seafood restaurant located on the island of Noirmoutier in the Bay of Biscay. Alexandre Couillon took over La Marine, then a humble seafood eatery, from his parents in the same year as the oil spill. Not only did the spill envelop the local environment, it also saturated the creative output of the head chef of La Marine in a surprising and, as will become clear, cathartic way.

This article, then, will examine the rise of Couillon in the aftermath of Erika. The focal point will be on how the storytelling about his food and his reputation as a creative chef have taken form across different media. In the digital age, we consume at least as much, if not more, of “our” food online. For this reason, it makes sense to look at how the life of Couillon and his practice are disseminated on various digital platforms. My interest in La Marine began with the popular Netflix show Chef’s Table: France, the first season of which features Couillon. I started using the episode about him and La Marine in my teaching at a design school to get students thinking about how the creative process depends more on external circumstances than the inherent talent, or “genius,” of the designer. In this way, I wanted to understand the network of different interests and impressions that sustains Couillon as the signifier of a culinary creativity embedded in a specific regional identity, but which is also disseminated globally. To develop my analysis, I started mapping references to Couillon online, from magazine blogs to commercial review sites (I even delved into legal documents from the European Commission concerning regional food quality assurances). My purpose in adopting a digital methodology is twofold: first, to expand on the idea that, as Victor Margolin points out, “most foods…have some relation to an artificial process” (2013: 384), and that, in addition to the material artificiality of pesticides, hormones, and GMO, the digital rendering of food that we are witnessing today augments the artificiality of the process; second, to examine what happens to the aura of the “romantic” chef—“an imaginative mastermind equipped with almost magical abilities of creation, a ‘creative genius’ with unusual talents who must fight opposition to defend their unique creativity and artistic freedom” (Wilde and Bertran 2019: 10)—when exposed to a network-oriented analytical model influenced by Bruno Latour.

Setting the Scene: From Spill to Dish

Noirmoutier, the island home of La Marine, was in close vicinity to the Erika spill (the ship split in half and sank about 150 km northwest of the island), and from December 12–24 oil slicks drifted into yet closer proximity. Consulting the spatial impact map in Laubier et al., it becomes clear that La Marine was more or less encircled by the oil slicks (2004: 240). Since fishing was banned in the region as a consequence of the spill, Couillon was not able to get any shellfish for several months after the spill (Basanta 2016); for a young chef trying to reimagine the family business, the future seemed dire indeed. However, a rapid clean-up operation led by French authorities ensured that most local operations (by all accounts) were up and running again in time for the 2001 tourist season (Deere-Jones 2016: 19). Fortunately, La Marine’s fate hadn’t been sealed by the spill, and the restaurant subsequently came to thrive, earning first a Bib Gourmand in 2002, followed by a Michelin star in 2007 (Bourge 2016). Now doubly starred, La Marine is number 8 on the list of best European restaurants, as determined by Opinionated About Dining (OAD 2019). In fact, in the above-mentioned Chef’s Table: France—which features La Marine and Couillon in the second episode of the first season—the spill became the catalyst for one of the most inventive dishes of Couillon’s career: a fresh oyster served in the middle of a thick squid broth. The dish came to be known simply as L’huître noire Erika (Erika Black Oyster) (Bourge 2016), and it is one of two dishes that the French Michelin Guide calls attention to in their assessment of La Marine (Michelin 2020).

From the Michelin guide, which mentions not only Couillon’s talent but also his “sensitivity” as a chef (Michelin 2019, 2020), to various food critics (not to mention his diners), he is talked about in the tradition of chef-centric rhetoric, which appeals to the diner by way of the chef’s “personal culinary language” (Wilde and Bertran 2019: 10), making each dish an expression of her or his experience. What is interesting is how Couillon’s experience itself has been mediated by the Netflix episode, which has added another layer of “reality” to dining at La Marine. For example, the highlight of one diner’s meal was meeting Couillon, who “showed us the exquisite fireplace that was one of the opening scenes in the episode, and was also used to smoke one of their ice cream desserts” (Kennie88 2017). It is a testament not only to the quality of the dish itself but also to the powers of narrative that most reviews on sites such as Tripadvisor mention the Erika oyster. The aura of the dish grows with each online mention. It is not quite what Timothy Morton has called “an aura without an object” (2010: 105), but the virtual proliferation of the dish, on Netflix and social media, does mean that the experience of actually eating the dish takes a backseat to its representation: Noirmoutier’s remote location, combined with the cost of dining at La Marine, almost certainly guarantees that more people will consume it virtually than in real life. Couillon’s Erika oyster is thus caught between artificiality and reality. To get a better sense of how this tension plays out, I will turn to Bruno Latour’s network theory, which allows us to rethink dichotomies such as Nature (reality) and Culture (artificiality).

Between Nature and Culture: Mediating the Consumption of the Erika Oyster

The Erika oyster dish is a perfect example of what Latour has in mind when he talks about mutations, hybridity, and the connection between Nature and Culture. In Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climate Regime, he says that even though it is difficult, if not impossible, to think beyond Nature and Culture as two different things, it is perhaps “not entirely impossible to probe on the near side” (2017: 20). And he goes on, “If we are indeed dealing with one and the same concept consisting of two parts, this demonstrates that the parts are held together by a common core that distributes differences between them” (20). Latour’s lesson to always look for connections between small- and large-scale events and elements resonates in the example of Erika and La Marine. Seeing the world in this way helps us to open our eyes to how accidents or chance occurrences might, literally, spill into other, sometimes far-reaching domains. Challenging the stability, or indeed prudence, of such massively entrenched concepts as Nature and Culture means that we must also challenge the language used to describe individual chefs. In the latest edition of the online Michelin guide, Couillon is referred to as the “uncontested captain” of Noirmoutier (Michelin 2020). However, the point I will be making is that relations rather than individuals on their own are the drivers of change and, hence, creativity. The formation of relations, in other words, is what allows us to appreciate the precarity of the Nature/Culture divide.

Much of the trouble, Latour says, has to do with the fact that whenever we try to define Nature, we have to at the same time define its opposite, which is often called Society or Civilization or simply Culture. Since it is impossible to define either in isolation, we might as well realize that both Nature and Culture belong to the same concept—they are bound together, like with an elastic band. To make this idea seem less abstract, Latour uses the example of “man” and “woman” to explain what he means. In the Western tradition, “man” was seen as the universal agent of humanity—just think of how this has been represented in language: “mankind,” for example, was long used in English to refer to all of humanity. Replacing in language “man”—as in “mankind”—with “human” has helped us make some progress in the area of gender equality (2017: 16). And Latour is looking for a way to do the same with Nature and Culture.

Figure 1:

L’huître noire Erika.

Image Appears Courtesy of Alexandre and CéLine Couillon, Owners of La Marine

Figure 1:

L’huître noire Erika.

Image Appears Courtesy of Alexandre and CéLine Couillon, Owners of La Marine

The problem is that there is not a word like “human” that is able to bring Nature and Culture together, so Latour proposes that we mark the connection typographically: Nature/Culture (2017: 16). This is not the most elegant solution, and it does not solve the problem of deciding which came first, Nature or Culture. However, it allows us to recognize that one cannot exist without the other, and that there is always some kind of transmission or mediation happening between them. Our experience of consuming Couillon’s oyster dish “remotely,” witnessing its genesis on Netflix or reading a blog post about it, is then mediated by a representation that nevertheless evokes in us certain sensations and emotional responses. Regardless of how we consume the dish, we will of course never experience it completely naturally, as its aura (the cultural layers enveloping it) stands in the way of our “pure” access to it.

Figure 2 helps us to understand what Latour has in mind when he talks about how we tend to view Nature and Culture as two opposing concepts. The middle figure—the specific person in this illustration is modernist architect Le Corbusier—takes a natural object, places it in a scene, and presents it to a viewer—here represented on the right by a mechanical eye on the tripod—who is then supposed to understand what Nature looks like. For our purposes, we might change “subject” to “diner” and “object” to “food.” So, translating Latour’s example to the example of La Marine, Couillon sought to “mediate” his memory of the Erika spill to diners with the hope that they would come to appreciate the emotional nuances of the event, which has now been translated into something to be enjoyed. Latour’s model of mediation shares an affinity with the so-called “chef-centric model” (Wilde and Bertran 2019: 9). In this unidirectional model, “the chef takes the lead, surprising the diners or ‘telling them a story’, often making use of magic or make-believe. The chef surprises; the diner is surprised” (9). On the face of it, Couillon’s approach aligns with the unidirectionality of haute cuisine; however, the nature of the Erika oyster dish complicates this teleology, as, upon careful analysis, the three positions—chef, food object, diner—are all interdependent, part of a network of natural and cultural exchanges that found a central node in the Erika event, when the presence of a global oil culture disrupted not only the natural environment in the Bay of Biscay but also the seafood culture of the region, marked by tradition and national pride. Couillon’s position (and authority) as chef retreats into a place alongside the other elements in the network of relations that subtends the dish, or puts it on the “table,” so to speak.

Figure 2:

Drawing by Samuel Garcia Perez. The drawing also appears in Latour’s Facing Gaia on page 18.

Image Appears Courtesy of the Artist

Figure 2:

Drawing by Samuel Garcia Perez. The drawing also appears in Latour’s Facing Gaia on page 18.

Image Appears Courtesy of the Artist

The oyster and squid broth dish that came together by accident at La Marine serves as a mediating point between the nature of Noirmoutier and the culture of the restaurant, as situated in this particular region of France. Couillon, in the Netflix episode, recounts the kitchen mishap that gave him the idea to recreate the Erika spill on the plate: a trainee forgot to remove the ink sac prior to cooking a squid bouillon, resulting in a very dark, ostensibly inedible broth. Instead of throwing away the viscous broth, however, Couillon used it to reinvent the painful memory of the oil spill as a new point of creativity. The accidental, thick squid broth is what connects the oil spill to the present in the diegesis of the Netflix episode. The memory of the spill is so vivid in the mind of Couillon that the black broth immediately becomes a metaphor for oil. To add another layer of texture to the broth, bacon grounds the dish in the soil of France.1 Rounding off the dish are tapioca pearls and a sugar lozenge (Bourge 2016). Drawing on Latour, then, we can understand the dish as mediating a whole network of relations: from the cultural to the natural—the dish is a hybrid that could not exist without reference to all the other elements identified in the dish, which is then remediated on various virtual platforms. Although the dish has become part of Couillon’s aura at this point—and the Erika disaster, which could have sunk the restaurant, now helps brand La Marine—the temporal and spatial connections of the network suffusing the dish make us question the efficacy of the chef-centric model to explain the composition and effect of the dish.

To make sense of how these connections interact, I have constructed a simple collage (fig. 3), which I also use in the classroom to make students appreciate the analytical applicability of Latour’s network-actor theory. In the top left corner, we have a classical representation of French national culture as a woman in the form of Louis Lafitte’s painting Allégorie pour le mois de Thermidor. Not simply denoting the middle of summer, “Thermidor” contains revolutionary connotations in the French consciousness (Robespierre was captured on July 27, 1794—9 Thermidor in the Republican Calendar—signaling the end of the Reign of Terror). We can connect this cultural element to the natural resources and seasonal rhythms of the island of Noirmoutier where La Marine is located. Next in our entanglement, we have of course the oil spill that devastated the marine life in the region. Then, there are the animals that end up as ingredients in the dish to consider. Finally, the dish itself, as the central node of the network. Underpinning the connections is the affective result of the entanglement. In the Netflix episode, it becomes clear just how powerful this hybrid dish is, as the food critic in the clip (not pictured here) responds in a highly emotional way once the dish “clicks” for him—voice breaking, he describes how he wiped away a tear after he had his first bite of the oyster. User reviews of the dish tend to emphasize the near-transcendent effect of the dish. One Georgie Bailey, consultant and self-proclaimed gourmet adventurer, describes the transformational quality of the dish: “A wave of pleasure and wonder washes over earlier uncertainty. This is not just a visually challenging, quirky, thought provoking dish, it is an exquisite perfectly balanced expression of flavour and texture” (Bailey 2017). The online magazine Civilian says that it “looks unappetising but tastes sublime” (Guthrie 2019). Reading about La Marine, the Erika dish keeps surfacing, and it is clear that, while the restaurant depends on and is sustained by the local environment, it relies on its global (online) reputation and gastronomic tourism to thrive as a business. The emotional and aesthetic effect of the dish, however, cannot be ascribed to the chef himself—he never would have had the idea for the dish if it had not been for the oil spill and, later, the trainee’s accident with the broth. Two accidents, one major and one minor, therefore, are the origins proper of the dish.

Figure 3:

Collage illustration by the author.

Figure 3:

Collage illustration by the author.

But at this point we should be cautious: The end result, the affect produced by the dish, cannot be boiled down to a simple process of cause and effect. Rather, I propose, we should understand the formation of Couillon’s dish in the language of “translation,” which, according to actor-network theorist Michel Callon, concerns “the identity of actors, the possibility of interaction and [how] the margins of manoeuvre are negotiated and delimited” (1986: 203). Here, it is important to note that the oil or the squid are no less actors than the crew on board the Erika or Couillon in his restaurant, for that matter; they all contribute to create what we might refer to as a multidirectional model of gastronomic design.

Forming Alliances

Let’s begin with the identity of oil in the context of our example. In the hull of the Erika, its potential was clear: Upon reaching safe port, the oil would be distributed to other freight ships that would use it as fuel, thereby ensuring the ongoing operation of international seafaring commerce. The processed oil that the Erika was freighting can be traced back to the ocean, since, as Matthew T. Huber reminds us, “Crude oil is of course the product of millions of years of ‘fossilized sunshine’ expressed in unoxidized marine plant life” (2014: 230). In this dark return (in French, an oil spill is called une marée noire, which translates to “a black tide”),2 the processed oil, no longer compatible with its marine origin, became a black sun upon the Atlantic waves, blotting out the shimmering life that sustained so many animal and human lives in the Pays de la Loire region.

To understand the relationships between actors and how they further or impede network formations, Callon suggests asking questions that establish the identities of the actors and the links between them (1986: 204). What is the nature of the alliance between the oil spill and the formation of the squid dish? “Alliance” might strike us as a peculiar word in this context, as the oil spill was, ostensibly, an entirely negative event. However, alliances do not need to be thought of as voluntary arrangements that equal partners enter into willingly. As Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari write in A Thousand Plateaus, alliances run between “the terms in play and beneath assignable relations” (2005: 239). They look to the animal and plant kingdoms for examples, so, for instance, “There is a block of becoming between young roots and certain microorganisms, the alliance between which is effected by the materials synthesized in the leaves (rhizosphere)” (238). As a distinctly “negative” example of an alliance, they point to literature, specifically Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, in which Captain Ahab forms “a monstrous alliance” with the great white whale that ate his leg (243). Without alliance, whether positive or negative, there can be no progression. And so it is in the context of La Marine. As previously noted, the Erika spill coincided with the twenty-two-year-old Couillon assuming control of the restaurant. It was extraordinarily bad luck, and it is not hard to imagine the temptation to close the doors of La Marine soon after opening for the first time. Perhaps the family connection to the restaurant and the island is what kept Couillon going; what is certain is that the oil spill event would come to play an important creative role in the formation of the restaurant’s story. Returning to the narrative of the Netflix episode, the minor accident in the kitchen that serves as the initial origin story of the dish created a new, simpler path for Couillon, who had been overcomplicating his food, losing touch with the individual ingredients and their relationship on the plate. In a sense, and ironically, once the memory of the oil spill surfaced, the creative slate was wiped clean.

Central to Callon’s understanding of alliances is what he calls a process of “problematization,” which concerns a “double movement” defined by how researchers, on the one hand, seek to frame their field of inquiry by positing specific questions of investigations and, on the other hand, how social and natural actors might trouble the inquiry based on what they “want” (1986: 6, 8). In the case of La Marine and Erika, we are of course not dealing with researchers; instead, it makes sense to look at the situation from the perspective of how the local and the global interact and influence each other. The Erika spill, ostensibly, marks a complete contrast to the localized circumstances of Noirmoutier: The Erika was an actor moving through global and economic networks, only touching the life on and around Noirmoutier in a circumspect manner prior to the spill. Nevertheless, the black stain of the spill was to linger in the region, even after cleanup efforts had been completed. In the Netflix episode, Couillon vividly recounts how his daughter would return from playing in the sand on the beach with black stains on her hands a few years after the spill (Basanta 2016). Ten years after the spill, tar residues could still be found on exposed coastal surfaces, and vegetation (in the form of lichen, primarily) was only coming back in some areas affected by the oil (Jézéquel and Poncet 2011). In this sense, then, the oil product came to form an alliance with the local environment, which was affected by severe weather conditions in the month of December (France was hit by the worst storm in two hundred years).3 In a 2004 study attempting to establish the connection between polluted sea creatures and food consumption, the authors were able to determine that mussels harvested after the spill posed a threat, specifically in relation to liver damage, if ingested by mammals, due to the mutagenic and carcinogenic properties of the kind of heavy fuel oil the Erika was carrying (Lemiere et al. 2004: 387).4 The Erika spill thus suffused and altered the local environment, inscribing upon the sand and rocks the signature of global oil culture. Making visible the viscous stuff that we rely upon to transport ourselves and the goods we consume creates space to reflect upon the “deep time” of converting “ancient zooplankton and algae” into fuel (Scott 2014: 7) as well as how immediately the improper presence of oil can disrupt local affairs.

Time, both as event and memory, is significant to Couillon’s oyster dish. In Roland Barthes’s influential essay “Toward a Psychosociology of Contemporary Food Consumption” (first published in 1961), he begins with a discussion of what he calls “sugar time.” Prior to the globalization of American food styles, Barthes was able to write about the experience of going “to a dairy bar, where the absence of alcohol coincides with a great abundance of sweet beverages” (2013: 23). Visiting a dairy bar, of course, “means more than to consume sugar; through the sugar, it also means to experience the day, periods of rest, traveling, and leisure in a specific fashion that is certain to have its impact on the American” (23). Preparing and eating seafood on Noirmoutier is invariably tied to the schedule of the local port, and like sugar, in the American context Barthes considers, seafood on Noirmoutier is an “institution,” which comprises “a set of images, dreams, tastes, choices, and values” (Barthes 2013: 23). La Marine overlooks the L’Herbaudière port, where, according to the Noirmoutier tourism website, a hundred local boats unload their catches every day to be sold at auction (Île de Noirmoutier n.d.). As such, since La Marine is a seasonally oriented restaurant that relies on local produce and seafood—the oysters used in the Erika dish are apparently specially farmed for Couillon (Guthrie 2019)5—the creation of dishes relies on recurring seasonal events (and, of course, untimely accidents) and memory.

Although all cultures use food to create and sustain identities, memory and food seem particularly redolent of French culture thanks, in part, to Marcel Proust. In Within a Budding Grove, the second volume of his opus, In Search of Lost Time, the narrator compares the dinner table to “an altar at which were celebrated the rites of the palate, and where in the hollows of oyster-shells a few drops of lustral water had remained as in tiny holy-water stoups of stone; I tried to find beauty there where I had never imagined before that it could exist, in the most ordinary things, in the profundities of ‘still life’” (2002: 519). The transformational power of food is ubiquitous in Proust, and in this passage the empty oyster shells participate in a tableau of religious splendor; it seems as if it were only after the act of consumption that the vessel could assume its inherent divine function. Couillon’s oyster tableau works in reverse: Rather than foregrounding the vessel, his oyster displaces the wreckage in a triumphant return of the creature—and no less his restaurant itself—that had been so threatened by the spill. Nevertheless, the design of the plate and the manipulation of the ingredients sustain the dark aura of the Erika spill.

At this point, we can imagine that Couillon’s central question of himself and his restaurant would be something along the lines of, “How can I rebuild my business following the Erika catastrophe and at the same time define a clear identity for my cuisine?” In the instance of the dish that was to become his creative calling card, some of the actors did not assume any kind of provenance for Couillon until the trainee’s mistake in the kitchen. The squid was what we could call a “sleeper” actor up until the moment the thick viscosity of the broth reminded Couillon of the Erika spill. This is not to say that its status as an actor depended on human intentionality; rather, it had not previously been part of the problematization process concerning La Marine’s future.

It would be absurd to say that the squid had an interest in becoming part of the dish, of course, but here we can use Callon’s term “enrollment,” which “designates the device by which a set of interrelated roles is defined and attributed to actors who accept them” (1986: 10). Callon’s example centers on scallops, the fishers who depend on their preponderance and health, and a group of researchers who are attempting to help the fishing community in St. Brieuc Bay, northwestern France, to create a sustainable scallop population. Central to the project under investigation is “negotiating” with the scallop larvae to anchor to so-called collectors that are “immersed in the sea where they are sheltered from predators as they grow” (5). As Callon points out, “To negotiate with the scallops is to first negotiate with the currents because the turbulences caused by the tide are an obstacle to the anchorage” (11). On top of that is the problem of parasites that threaten the health of the shellfish larvae. For the scallops to “accept” the anchorage scheme proposed by the researchers, the environmental conditions need to be just right. Acceptance, in this understanding, does not necessarily depend on a concept of intentionality. Extending Callon’s analytical terminology to the La Marine case, we can say that the success of the dish depends on the squid accepting its role as an ingredient. However, its role, or even identity, was never to exist in this particular way; the error that made the broth turn viscous resulted in the body of the squid delivering even more than was asked of it. Nevertheless, the squid broth becomes the central actor in the conception of the dish, as it is what triggers Couillon’s memory of Erika and the oil blanketing the waters surrounding Noirmoutier. In this way, then, turning the tables, it is Couillon who must accept the inherent connection to Erika in the new conception of La Marine and his own more humble role in the creative process.

Applying the Example of La Marine to Design Practice

When I use the example of La Marine in class at the design school where I teach, I seek to connect it, naturally, with the concept of design. In The Philosophy of Design, Glenn Parsons identifies four keywords of design as a concept—namely, invention, planning, problem-solving, and plausibility. In the example of La Marine, we can see how invention sometimes comes about through accident, and we must be alert to the unexpected when we are dealing with design. The difference between imagining and designing that Parsons identifies in his book is crucial in this regard (2016: 11). According to Parsons, since design has a distinctly practical dimension, everything we design—be it a social media strategy or a food dish—should focus primarily on creating processes rather than things. Design, as a practice, stands apart from “design in general by its focus on conceiving, rather than constructing, the surfaces of primarily practical things” (24). The reason for this is that a solid, executable process can be translated to future projects. Thus, while we may create specific solutions to specific problems in relation to a specific case, the process we go through to reach the solution can be repeated in later case projects. Parsons’s final point, then, is that uppercase Designers focus on creating plans for producing practical and interactive solutions to real-life problems (23).

It is an important lesson, for aspiring chefs and designers alike, that we can never be fully in control of our process. Actor-network theory can help students and pre-professionals to look beyond the worn-out notion of chef as auteur or designer as creative “god.” Recognizing that the connections between actors are more important than the sum of an individual’s achievements, however counterintuitive it can seem at first, is liberating and opens up to a more expansive creative and affective process. There is nothing to suggest that Couillon has adopted a designerly gastronomic approach—which Danielle Wilde and Ferran Altarriba Bertran suggest as a solution to the unidirectionality of the chef-centric model previously discussed—where diners and chefs, as equal participants in the meal experience, enter into “a form of negotiation” to test out different ideas through eating (2019: 16). Nevertheless, the Erika dish, and Couillon’s reflection that it marks a turning point towards a simpler approach to cooking, does indicate a shift in process rather than a single product output. While this particular dish clearly offers diners an experience of wonderment that reaches beyond La Marine (particularly online, as we have seen), the sustained success of the restaurant speaks to a young chef finding his voice. Regardless of what the chef’s creative model might be, the dish—as initially defined by the tragic oil spill—is buoyed by a network of relations, of which a plate in a restaurant is just one component.

Notes

1.

Pork from Vendée has been granted a so-called “Protected Geographical Indication” (PGI) by the European Commission. These indications are used to certify that a given product has a certain quality and reputation inherent to the region. In their 1997 application to the Agriculture and Rural Development, EC, the French Ministry of Agriculture noted that an important factor in nominating the region stemmed from “a reputation for pork production…which was particularly good in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The present-day reputation of Vendeäe pork is attested by its exclusive use in certain regional charcuterie products” (Agriculture and Rural Development, EC, 1997).

2.

In Nietzsche’s The Eternal Recurrence, the philosopher relates his concept of recurrence directly to “energy,” as he says that, in addition to “every pain and every pleasure,” the “cosmic process” will reveal “every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine once more, and the whole fabric of things that makes up [our] life” (1911: 250). There is thus something tragically poetic about oil spills, as the refined product returns with destructive force to the domain that nourished it.

3.

For a detailed overview of the storms that hit France in December 1999, see the event report by Risk Management Solutions (RMS 2000).

4.

In the specific article, “Genotoxicity Related to Transfer of Oil Spill Pollutants from Mussels to Mammals via Food,” the authors show that, based on experiments where rats were fed contaminated mussels from the area of the Erika spill, “[g]enomic damage was registered in the liver and, to a lesser extent, in the bone marrow” (Lemiere et al. 2004: 391).

5.

Derek Guthrie, reviewer for Civilian, gushes about Couillon’s commitment to local produce and products: “Did I mention local? That day’s new golden mini radishes were picked just before service and dipped in a pine emulsion from the forest. Asparagus, weeks before the rest of us get our buttery fingers on it, was offered too. Sourdough is baked to order, served hot from the oven with homemade seaweed butter, and the wine list is dominated by the surrounding Vendee [sic]” (Guthrie 2019). The scallops are “dived within sight of where I was sitting” (ibid.).

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