After a contentious two-year ban throughout California, foie gras is back in action after a federal judge found the ban unconstitutional on Jan. 7. Finally able to legally enjoy the delicacy, foie fans have been rejoicing all month — with crazy recipes like French toast topped with foie gras and foie gras milkshakes — and recent demand is exceeding supply.
The ban reversal does not, however, reflect a shift in general opinion. Translating from French to fat liver, foie gras long received heavy criticism and protest from animal rights organizations, and has been banned in numerous cities and countries. The feeding method, gavage, uses a tube to force-feed ducks and geese large amounts of corn, which engorges fat reserves in the bird’s liver.
Some believe that singling out this portion of meat production ignores the industry’s other inhumane practices. As free-range chicken and happy cow farms crop up, so do humane foie gras farms. Spanish farmer Eduardo Sousa, known as the “goose whisperer,” tends a free-range flock that naturally gorges itself on fatty olives and acorns littering the yard. Or the New York-based Hudson Valley Foie Gras farm with an open door policy that invites anyone, from curious diners to reporters to Anthony Bourdain, to observe production.
As foie gras reappears in restaurants across the state, Tahoe’s foie fans can get a taste too. We found three local chefs to discuss foie and what they thought of the ban. ~ Ashley Owen/Moonshine Ink
Christy Hill Lakeside Bistro, Tahoe City
It’s a shame that foie gras production always gets picked on because there are so many horrible farming, ranching, and fishing practices out there. As a chef it’s my job to know where my food comes from before preparing it for customers.
The two main foie producers in the states, Hudson Valley Foie Gras and La Belle Farms, which I work with, are extremely regulated and proudly humane. Neither one force-feeds their ducks until they can’t stand, but they do provide the ducks with plenty of space to act like they do in the wild. Feedings are not considered painful for the birds because their throats are designed to swallow whole, spiny fish much larger than the flexible plastic feeder. The gorging of food is actually a natural process in the lives of migratory birds as they gorge themselves before long flights. These birds also live much better lives than the chickens used to produce cheap eggs.
When the ban was lifted, my purveyors called me because they know I’m a big advocate. The next day I ran several specials that incorporated foie gras, and I couldn’t be happier with the sales and feedback. We’ve been serving Torchon of Foie Gras with celeriac and blood orange salad, persimmon jam, and brioche; Pan Seared Foie Gras with vanilla bean persimmons, honey-braised endive, pain purdue, and balsamic; and Coriander-Crusted Hamachi and Pan Seared Foie Gras with potato croquettes, bloomsdale spinach, and sauce bordelaise.
Le Bistro Restaurant, Incline Village, NV
I respect the opinion of people that are against foie gras, and I understand where they are coming from. As a Frenchman, I grew up with the tradition of serving foie gras; each time is a celebration. It’s something that is an expensive item, or it used to be anyway, and it was something you ate on special occasions and on holy days. The foie gras consumption around Christmas in France is huge.
During the ban we’ve had a lot of customers from California who were happy to find foie gras in Nevada, so we have been serving quite a bit of it. Now I’m serving a Terrine of Duck Foie Gras, which is marinated with sauterne wine, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. It’s then baked, cooled off for three days, sliced, and served cold with duck aspic, fruit chutney, and brioche bread.
Restaurant Trokay, Truckee
The factory farm industry, which raises animals in brutal conditions, should be the target of animal rights advocates, but information posited by some has led to a misrepresentation of foie gras. The idea of force-feeding sounds terrible, but the reality is that we feed all livestock with the intent of growing mass for consumption. Ducks naturally gorge themselves prior to migration, and because they lack a sphincter muscle in their esophagus they throw their heads back to swallow. Farms like our supplier, La Belle Farms in Upstate New York, are producing amazing duck meat products in pristine, open-air facilities, using specially designed equipment to decrease animal stress.
The ban on foie gras in California was hard for all gourmands, and we resorted to other options like bone marrow, caviar, and uni (sea urchin). Now that foie is back, it will always be a mainstay on our menu. Our Salt Cured Torchon of Foie Gras is served with d’anjou pears poached in vanilla bean, pistachio caramel, and brioche bread. For a different flavor, we top a cut of Angus beef tenderloin with seared foie gras in our Rossini du Boeuf, served with sauce perigeaux, gnocchi, sweet red spinach, and black truffle vinaigrette.