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‘Dead Bird’ Is Fine Dining’s Winter Aesthetic

Tasting menus around the world celebrate fowl play with claws, heads, and feathers

A duck wing from Noma that features feathers still in tact. Photo by Ditte Isager for Noma
Hillary Dixler Canavan is Eater's restaurant editor and the author of the publication's debut book, Eater: 100 Essential Restaurant Recipes From the Authority on Where to Eat and Why It Matters (Abrams, September 2023). Her work focuses on dining trends and the people changing the industry — and scouting the next hot restaurant you need to try on Eater's annual Best New Restaurant list.

The hottest look this season is the look of a dead bird.

In mid-October, fine dining trendsetter Noma transitioned to its game menu, serving a fried mallard wing with the feathers still on and ever since looking at it, I’m now noticing high-end restaurants across my Instagram feed are really into dead birds. It’s not necessarily that they were inspired by Noma — rather, I believe my eye was. Thanks to the Noma feather wing, I’m seeing dead birds everywhere.

Of course birds-for-eating that look like birds-just-dead are nothing new — plenty of Chinese restaurants hang roast ducks from their necks in windows, announcing the birds’ animal form and also their deliciousness to hungry patrons and passersby. But at this moment in fine dining, dead birds are most definitely a mood.

When Southern star Sean Brock dined at San Francisco’s Michelin-vaunted tasting menu spot Coi last month, chef Erik Anderson served him a wild mallard garnished with feathered wings. Other guests at Coi this winter had the chance to look at bird heads, too. (Plus egg cups shaped like webbed feet for good measure.)

In December, chef Paul Carmichael put a jerk baby chicken on his tasting menu at Momofuku’s Sydney outpost Seiobo. Lying on its back, its head looking up and out, its feet curled at the edge of the plate, the chicken looks like it met its death by sleeping through a house fire. Diners were meant to eat it with their hands, according to Instagrammer @fooderati, who describes the whole thing as “juicy AF.”

At Smyth in Chicago, a small, delicate bird with branches for legs was served in the center of a large plate. You’d be forgiven for wondering if it’s not a prized ortolan, but it’s actually squab. The restaurant also served squab resting atop a roasted leaf pile kicking its feet up this fall.

A squab also looked mighty dead at everyone’s favorite Los Angeles spaceship Vespertine, where according to LA Times contributing food editor Peter Meehan, the squab was presented whole, but then cut up and served over two courses.

And there’s reason to believe the look will soon move beyond birds. At Central, there’s this deathly presentation of fried piranha skin:

Have you seen any other extremely dead animals on tasting menus lately? Let me know by tagging me in the comments on the ‘grams, @hillarydixlercanavan.