Death cap tragedy: bistro still closed
The Canberra bistro where a fatal death cap mushroom dish was cooked and eaten on New Year's Eve had been due to reopen just hours before management learned of the tragic mistake that killed two people.
The Harmonie German Club's manager, Mick Thamer, said the Chinese restaurant kitchen had closed from New Year's Day and was due to reopen on Wednesday evening.
Instead, staff learned the tragic news that chef Liu Jun and kitchen hand Tsou Hsiang had died overnight on Tuesday from liver failure after eating a toxic stir fry prepared at the club's kitchen on New Year's Eve.
A shaken Mr Thamer yesterday said that Mr Liu, 38, had prepared the meal after hours, and there was no risk to the public.
He said Mr Liu had frequently made food for his colleagues after work.
''This is just a one off and an unfortunate mistake with dire consequences for two people.''
Friends believe Mr Jun, described as being obsessed with fresh food, picked the deadly mushrooms in Braddon on his way to work, mistaking them for straw mushrooms, commonly used in Asian cooking.
A fourth person remains in hospital in Sydney recovering from mushroom poisoning, although it is understood he was not part of this group and the timing is coincidental.
The managers of the Harmonie Club closed the Chinese restaurant voluntarily, but the ACT Health Directorate said yesterday it would not allow the venue to reopen until health inspectors had completed their investigation into the tragedy.
Mr Thamer declined to name the third person, who was discharged from hospital on Tuesday, after eating only a small portion of the meal.
''He is lucky,'' Mr Thamer said. ''He has a pregnant wife, so he is very lucky.''
That man, and another person who attended the fateful dinner but did not consume any of the poisonous mushrooms, also worked at the bistro ''on and off''.
The friends were all employees of the contractor who ran the Chinese bistro at the club. Mr Thamer said the trio's English was very poor and he backed calls for multilingual signs to be installed warning people of the dangers of death cap mushrooms.
Mr Liu, who had spent several years working in Australia, was working to send money home to his wife and two children, a seven-year-old boy and a girl, 11.
He had not seen his family for about three years, and was planning a return visit home for Chinese New Year.
Mr Liu's wife is now desperately trying to come to Canberra, but without a passport or visa, she is enduring lengthy bureaucratic fights to cremate her husband.
Ms Tsou had been in Canberra for several months on a tourist visa, but Mr Thamer yesterday denied there was any issue with her working on a tourist visa. Friends said that her adult son was also having trouble raising funds for airfares and funeral expenses.
Death caps are among the world's most deadly mushrooms. They are common in Canberra and also found in Victoria and South Australia.
The pair's friends have established a memorial fund to help the victims' families. To donate, visit any branch of the ANZ bank and quote Thomas Neil O'Dea for The Liu Jun and Tsou Hsiang Memorial Fund. BSB 012084, account number 204361633.