Fighting for Foie Gras

Foie gras and more foie gras at Lafitte. Here, with beef cheek, gigante beans and broccoli rabe.

I’m not usually met with protesters when I go out to dinner.

But such was the case last Thursday night at the “FU Foie Gras” dinner at Lafitte in San Francisco, where 10 peaceful protesters held up signs outside the restaurant, imploring people to stop eating foie gras, the luxurious fattened liver of a goose or duck.

If you’re a fan of that rich delicacy, you better enjoy it while you can. Come July 1, California will become the only state in the nation to ban the sale of foie gras.

A peaceful protester at the Lafitte dinner.

Protesters picketed for a little over an hour before leaving.

Animal welfare supporters, many of whom have been picketing restaurants that have foie on the menu, applaud the upcoming law that will stop what they believe is inhumane treatment of the birds, which are speed-fed with a tube down their throat to engorge their liver. But many chefs are rallying against the law, which they believe is unnecessary and unfair. A number of them, including Lafitte’s Chef-Proprietor Russell Jackson, have visited foie gras farms in the United States and found no such mistreatment, especially because ducks have no gag reflex, breathe through their tongue, and naturally increase their consumption when they migrate.

There are only three major producers of foie gras in the United States. Two are in New York: Hudson Valley Foie Gras and La Belle Farm. And only one is in California: Sonoma Foie Gras.

Gotta have a few skulls around when the restaurant is named for a pirate.

Since late last year, restaurants throughout the state have been hosting special foie gras dinners to educate the public and build grassroots support for the pricey ingredient that’s been produced as far back as ancient Egyptian times. Proceeds have gone to support CHEFS (Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards), a pro-foie advocacy group made up of restaurateurs and other culinary professionals.

Lafitte has been hosting sold-out foie gras dinners monthly since October and plans more right up until the July 1 deadline. Last week, I was invited as a guest of the restaurant to experience its $89 six-course prix-fixe that featured foie in every dish, including dessert.

Chef Russell Jackson directing his crew in the kitchen.

The kitchen readies dessert.

Beyond the protesters outside, there also was a Canadian TV crew inside filming the event for an upcoming documentary on the issue.

Chef Jackson welcomed diners by imploring, “Don’t let the rhetoric stop us from our rights. This is worth fighting for.”

Foie gras torchon with spring veggies.

Silky artic char gravlax with foie gras mustard and buckwheat crepe chips.

He didn’t have to convince his diners, who cleaned their plates after every course. Dinner began with porcini-cured foie gras torchon with spring artichokes and asparagus, followed by slivers of artic char gravlax with an insane foie gras mustard that would be good on anything plus tiny cubes of cardamom gelee that brought bursts of spice intensity to the dish.

Next, piped foie gras mousse with pistachio praline that made you think of peanut butter and jelly, what with its accompaniments of grapefruit, blood orange and lemon gelee.

Foie mousse with citrus gelee and bran "soil.''

A winning combo of albacore and seared foie gras with cardoon puree.

Imagine a tater tot enveloping a piece of fish and you have the next dish: seared albacore crusted in potato rosti. Seared foie gras over the top added even more richness for a spectacular combo.

The main course was beef cheek in a red wine gastrique. Foie brulee covered the top of the tender meat, creating an irresistible crackly, slightly sweet top just like everyone’s favorite dessert.

The actual dessert was a play on French toast, served with roasted pineapple, a candied tarragon leaf, and yes, foie gras ice cream. The latter was more subtle than expected. It was like a very rich vanilla ice cream with a little more complexity on the finish. Jackson quipped that he’s made the ice cream with a much more pronounced foie flavor, but didn’t want to overload folks that night, especially after so many other courses of the fatty liver.

Foie gras ice cream (yup!) with pain perdue.

Other restaurants continuing to host special foie gras dinners in the Bay Area include Txoko in San Francisco, Martin’s West in Redwood City, and Alexander’s Steakhouse (locations in Cupertino and San Francisco). Also, check out the foodie meet-up experience known as DishCrawl, which will be hosting foie dinners at various Bay Area locations throughout April.

For more insight into the foie gras controversy, see my story in Food Arts magazine.

More: Dinner at “the Plank” at Lafitte

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Date: Tuesday, 20. March 2012 5:25
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Chefs, Enticing Events, General, More Food Gal -- In Other Publications, Restaurants

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24 comments

  1. 1

    Wow maybe I shouldn’t give up on Lafitte, the FU Foie Gras party I went to left me disappointed, but your dishes look like he is improving his menu as he goes. Too bad it will all end soon, as it seems he is getting really good at it!

  2. 2

    Yum, yum, yum! The push to ban foie gras makes me sad.

  3. 3

    Not all farms mistreat their birds… Of course, I am not happy to see animals suffer unnecessarely.

    That is a wonderful meal! Just mouthwatering looking.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  4. 4

    I love foie gras, it’s sad to see the ban coming up soon in CA! The six-course prix-fixe at Lafitte looks and sounds scrumptious. I gotta check which restaurant in LA got a similar event/menu that I can indulge before July!

  5. 5

    Disgusting – it is torture for culinary enjoyments…

  6. 6

    As a huge fan of foie gras, I cannot believe that they are actually going to go through with the ban in CA, wow.

  7. 7

    Thanks for the coverage. The only result of this terrible law will be putting Sonoma FG out of business. BTW: I plan to have a lobe shipped to SF every year for an outlaw FG party.

  8. 8

    Wow. The meal looks delicious but I can imagine how awkward it must have been to pass a line of protesters on your way in. I’m not sure where I stand on the matter, but I will say that your photos are making me drool a little :)

  9. 9

    I love Lafitte, but I have to say I’m on the no foie gras camp. But it’s just a matter of taste for me. The rich ingredient is just too much for me to eat without feeling weighted. I know lots of people love the texture and taste, but not me. But I’m not against letting people enjoy it if it comes from a certified farm that does not abuse the birds.

  10. 10

    That French toast looks awesome. I hope there’s a way to repeal this ban soon, like Chicago did.

  11. 11

    Bob: Knowing you, that will be a heck of a party, too! LOL

  12. 12

    Foie gras used to be a really special ingredient to use and eat. I wonder if the proliferation of foodie-ism has led to its over use, and thus attract the ire of animal rights activists. Foods like foie gras shouldn’t be taken for granted. Savor and save it for special occasions.

  13. 13

    I also hope there is a way to repeal this ban!

  14. 14

    I hope that they can repeal the ban. I just wish I wouldn’t travel so far for dinner.
    Your photos look absolutely delicious. I’m sure that you enjoyed every morsel.

  15. 15

    I can see why some of the public would be upset over this matter. However, I feel that it is a little hypocritical. Anyone who eats meat will also cause an extent of suffering to animals. This is no different.. That’s how I see it. If they don’t wish to participate in devouring foie gras, then don’t. I don’t see any sense in banning an entire state though.. Just my 2 cents

  16. 16

    Dear Carolyn,

    I’m not a big fan of foie gras but I would be silly not to eat it if presented to me. A friend bought us a top quality can from Europe which is still sitting in my pantry and I think it’s time to crack it open after reading this. Quite amazing to learn CA is going to ban the sale of this. I don’t think all duck and goose farm mistreat their animals so I wouldn’t be supporting that ban.

  17. 17

    It’s disappointing that folks ban a category instead of addressing the problem. Instead of doing the hard work of promoting and legislating humane farming practices, a minority passes a sweeping law focused on one product.

    Organic farming was promoted the hard way. While more difficult, it recognizes the freedom of choice. The result is that over the years, organic food pricing has fallen, practices have become well established, and a most interesting side benefit: much non-organic produce receives some of the same treatment.

  18. 18

    Wow I’ve never seen protesters at a restaurant before! Although I was outside Harrods in London and saw anti fur protesters and it was a bit scary as my sister had a fur bag! I must admit that the flavour of foie gras is stunning :)

  19. 19

    It’s awful that people going out for dinner have to be accosted by protesters on their way in. I’m against the mis-treatment of animals but I know some of these animal protestors are more about there own interests than the interests of the animals. xx

  20. 20

    I am not a pro foie gras eater but sometimes it can be delicious. at my wedding, we had little foie gras pralines & it was to die for even that I normally don’t like it at all. It was prepared by a 1 Michelin star chef! :)
    I also haven’t seen protesters before a restaurant before! that’s a bad experience!

  21. 21

    The thing that makes the legislation really unfair is that it doesn’t discriminate based on how the production is done. Here’s a pretty good piece on foie gras production, which includes a video:

    http://www.cheeseslave.com/chef-dan-barber-brings-sustainable-humane-foie-gras-to-america/

  22. 22

    Very interesting read. I am a vegetarian and solely purchase organics, including eggs. And although I am not about to start eating meat of any sort, I have to agree with the above comment-er. I would think the ban should be based on fair and humane practices, or why not ban all?

  23. 23

    Do let us know when Alexanders is having their foie gras dinners as I’d love to go!

  24. 24

    I spent part of my youth in Gascony which is known for it’s foie-gras and I’ve never witness mistreatment of the animals. They were roaming free all day and were actually rushing to the “feeder” when it was time, trying to cut line to get fed first. They always look pretty clumsy and funny to me. I doubt that PERDUE chickens get as much as a good treatment… And yet that’s probably what the protesters had for lunch that day. Ah, the irony.

    Looks like a fantastic meal!

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