With a flourish, Chef Ken Frank set the serving spoons in front of us during a press dinner at his restaurant, the Michelin-starred La Toque in the Westin Verasa Resort in Napa Valley.
“This is my favorite preparation of foie gras,” he said, pointing out the fresh corn polenta and the chanterelle mushrooms.
Hey, wait a sec. Haven’t California restaurants been banned from selling foie gras since July 1?
The answer is yes, they have. That’s when a state law prohibiting the “in-state sale and productions of products derived from force fed birds” went into effect, according to the LA Times. While the ban hasn’t been a surprise – It’s been on the horizon since 2004, when then-Gov. Schwazenegger signed it – many restaurateurs have fought it, proposing instead that legislators allow farmers that raise birds and produce foie gras humanely to continue doing so.
The ban carries a $1,000 a day fine, which means that most of the California chefs who did serve foie gras have removed it from the menu. Still others have it listed as “complimentary” and paired with other expensive dishes, according to a New York Times article that ran Monday.
Ken Frank, who has written editorials against the foie gras ban, has taken a different approach. Every week, he said, La Toque gives foie gras away “to diners who we think will enjoy it,” he told us. “Foie gras did not go away,” he said. “It’s free.”
At our table of mostly food writers, opinion was torn. As foodies, all of us took the spoon from Frank and savored the foie gras’ velvety, slightly salty richness. We talked about how food laws and trends toward better produced food – including more organic and more humane options – have evolved what we eat, mostly for the better. I try to support the sustainable sushi that my favorite West Seattle restaurant Mashiko serves up.
But as this Village Voice investigation into duck farms in Hudson Valley showed, there are ways to produce foie gras that aren’t as violent as it was in the past. Shouldn’t it does seem that the law, as it is now, denies farmers who are making strides in the field access to the huge California culinary market? I do love foie gras and given the choice between seeking out humanely produced duck liver or not having it all, I would want the former.
What do you think? Do you think chefs should be able to serve foie gras?