The story of a duck

Jesse Portillo ist ein Fotograf aus den USA, der im Jahr 2016 in Berlin lebte. In dieser Zeit arbeitete er unter anderem an einem Projekt mit dem Michelin-Stern Restaurant "Nobelhart & Schmutzig" in Berlin Kreuzberg. Als Lieferant des Restaurants spielt auch unser Prignitzer Landhof eine entscheidende Rolle in seinem Projekt.


Das Ergebnis seiner Arbeit finden Sie auf der Webseite von Jesse Portillo.


Im Folgenden können Sie die Geschichte, die er ebenso selbst geschrieben hat, lesen und sich einen Einblick in sein Projekt verschaffen.


Nobelhart & Schmutzig


         In today’s world, most of us only encounter our food in its edible state, but we are generally oblivious as to how it gets there. We are blissfully unaware of the path our food takes and the effort needed to grow, raise, gather, process, distribute, and prepare it. Not only is it not on our radar, but we don’t like to face the queasy dilemma of eating a being that was once alive. Take the time to contemplate how an animal can be so delicious and yet obviously deceased meat on our plate.

         Under the direction of Owner Billy Wagner and Chef Micha Schafer, Nobelhart & Schmutzig creates remarkable food of the highest quality. To do that, they must start at the beginning. They are not only creating some of the best cuisine in Berlin, but working with people that are collecting and producing food that shapes culture. Realizing that they must know where their ingredients come from and how they are grown, Billy and Micha take great pride in the production of their ingredients before they ever reach the restaurant. Sourcing only from local farms, they focus on celebrating seasonal harvest sensations. The secret to their success is that they don’t just make a meal; they create an exceptional culinary experience. Through this experience, they tell the story of German food production.

This is the story of a duck. This is a story of a dish, conceived by the creative minds at Nobelhart & Schmutzig. This is the story of a collaboration. This is a story that encompasses the 5,000 hours needed to produce the exceptional duck on that plate.

This story begins at the small farm of Prignitzer Landhof, run by Karin Schlegel. The farm is located a two-hour train ride north west of Berlin in a small town of about one hundred residents named Klein Gottschow. Wide-open spaces of green grass surround the town, only to be interrupted by the antique red brick houses scattered amongst the few lone trees and an occasional wind turbine. This is a home for animals. Karin is a lover of animals - someone who works with them for the enjoyment rather than the monetary value. She is passionate about the care and health of each individual animal rather than the volume or ease of production in her business. Eight dogs, sixteen cats, sheep, a few tame deer, donkeys, two emus, a group of peacocks, and a cow, make up the growing and loving family of Prignitzer Landhof, not to mention the several species of birds raised for food. 

         The dish begins in the spring when the duck first arrives as a duckling to the farm. The duck will live out its entire life here, roaming the farm as it eats a bounty of wheat grain, corn, peas, grass, and stones, which help with the digestion process. Conventional ducks grown for food live a life span of three to four months, but here Karin’s ducks mature for six months before they are ready to be converted to meat. Once the duck has grown to the right age and size, Karin, along with two other women, works tirelessly for 11 hours straight to transform each duck into something that begins to look like what we may buy in a grocery store.

         It takes approximately one hour for each duck to journey through the nine-step process of going from animal to meat. Karin stuns the animal, placing its head in a V-shaped device that sends an electrical current through its body. Then the bird travels to the cone. An upside down stainless steel cone is mounted to the wall. The duck is placed face down allowing only its head to protrude out from the bottom of the cone. At this point its head is severed, allowing the blood to drain from the body. Once the bird has been drained, it is removed from the cone, the wings are clipped and the feet are trimmed off, and the bird is placed in a rotating turbine of warm water. The warm water loosens the feathers, making them easier to remove. Once the feathers have become loose, the bird is transferred to a drum shaped machine containing many rubber fingers protruding inward. When the machine spins, the rubber fingers pull the duck’s feathers away from the body. The bird then travels through one last machine that helps to pull out any missed feathers. Since ducks have stronger feathers compared to other birds, Karin and the other women must take meticulous care to remove every missed quill. The bird goes through a series of dips in wax and water, creating a shell around the body. When the wax has cooled, it is removed, pulling away more of the quills that are left behind by the machines. At this point the bird is almost ready, but must still be tweezed by hand to remove any leftover quills. The women then remove its organs, saving the important ones for consumption. Once the bird has been washed and packaged, it is ready for its journey to Berlin. 

         It’s easy to villainize the people that produce our food, labelling them as killers. We put up a wall of protective ignorance to save ourselves from the emotionally and physically straining job that must be done so we can eat. We rely on others to do what we are unwilling to do. But we do eat meat, and meat comes from a living, breathing animal.

“You can’t eat it alive” –Karin Schlegel

         At first light Karin loads the ducks into coolers and makes the two-hour drive into the city. This is where the ducks will finally arrive at the restaurant. They are inspected, processed, and taken to the cellar downstairs to be aged. The ducks will spend another two weeks hanging in monitored refrigerators, aging to perfection. This not only makes them more tender, but also creates a deeper, more concentrated flavor profile. Once the ducks have been aged, the breasts are trimmed for the dish. The rest of the duck is used to create stock. When it comes time to cook, the duck breast is removed from the fridge. The breast is placed on the cutting board and a series of precise cuts that just break through the fatty skin are performed, creating a cross-hatched pattern across the breast. At this point the breast is placed into a small pan. Topped with a little salt, the breast is flipped half way through the short, maybe ten-minute cook time. Once the duck is cooked, it is sliced in half and plated. The duck is surrounded by a somewhat sweet sauce made from a beet reduction, a section of raw beet topped with a bit of salt, and a piece of duck tender cooked in a similar way. The dish is now finished and served.

         When placed before you, this dish may trick you into believing that it was simple to create. But behind the dish are countless days of experimentation, hours of production, a team of friends, family and coworkers, and one idea that started it all. At Nobelhart & Schmutzig, they have made the decision to be “Vocally Local,”-to champion strictly local ingredients. They challenge themselves to factor in the seasonality of the ingredients in crafting the daily menu. They put an emphasis on building strong relationships with their producers to ensure the finest quality of ingredients. Billy and Micha are not just making a meal; they are creating the “taste of the Berlin.”

         When we sit before a meal, why not take a moment to think about what goes into that meal. Think about the people working together to make it happen. Consider the many ingredients that all have their own story of how they got there. Lastly, think about the vision, the idea, and the concept that created the dish. When we make the decision to look deeper, the world of food opens up to us.