Foie gras is in the midst of a triumphant return to white tablecloth-adorned restaurants throughout California, with some of the state's most prominent chefs celebrating on their Twitter accounts, dreaming up dishes or — in the case of Beverly Hills brasserie Terrine — throwing an all-out Foie-di Gras.
There was a reason the ban had gained enough traction to be signed into law in the first place, however, and a couple prominent chefs in the Los Angeles area aren't jumping up and down at the fact that Los Angeles U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson overturned a two-year-old ban on the decadent fattened livers of ducks and geese.
Though some chefs of vegan-friendly restaurants might come off as the initial suspects, chefs who insist on sustainable and humane animal farming practices such as Alma's Ari Taymor, and upcoming The Flats chef Kyle Schutte, refuse to change course in light of the ruling.
Taymor took to Twitter to register his disgust with the ruling.
Been serving non-gavage foie the entire time. Fuck gov't hypocrisy.— ari taymor (@AriTaymor) January 7, 2015
In an interview with Eater LA, the 2014 Food and Wine Best New Chef laureate expanded on his use of natural, gavage-free foie gras.
"The ducks and the geese normally force-feed themselves — it's an evolutionary habit they've developed where they overeat if they're given [enough] access to food," Taymor said. "You don't necessarily have to stick a tube down their throats to get them to overeat, so we work with a small farm that doesn't gavage, and we were getting it throughout the course of the ban."
You don't necessarily have to stick a tube down their throats to get them to overeat
Gavage, or force-feeding animals through a tube, is the primary method through which ducks and geese get their fattened livers for foie gras. The process is also known to create significant distress for the animals.
"Animals under distress, like those that come from aggressive gavaging ... isn't quite as good, so we wouldn't use it anyway," Taymor said. "From an ethical standpoint, it's not something we're really interested in. The animals are not allowed to move, they're being force-fed and their quality of life toward the end is very low."
Other chefs insist on eliminating the ingredient altogether, including Kyle Schutte, chef of the upcoming Beverly Hills restaurant The Flats. Schutte not only has ethical qualms with the use of foie gras, but believes the ingredient — along with truffles and bacon — are "crutches" for chefs.
"I've never put foie gras on a menu myself, and I never plan to put it on a menu," Schutte said. "I think it's overrated and that it's a bit of a crutch. Young cooks coming up in the culinary industry are conditioned to accept it as a superior ingredient when I personally don't think it is. It brings one note of fat to the party, whereas naturally raised chicken and duck livers bring a lot more flavor and a lot more diversity as to how they can be cooked."
The recent trend toward humane animal farming practices now faces tension from customer demands for foie gras. Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck penned an open letter in support of the California foie gras ban in February of 2012, citing that he hadn't served foie gras at his restaurants since 2007. However, Puck reportedly continued to serve foie gras at private functions upon request and on the menu at the Singapore branch of CUT as late as May of 2012, according to Inside Scoop SF.
Puck's publicist refused comment on the matter of the lifting of the foie gras ban, and stated that Puck and Spago chef Lee Hefter were unavailable for comment.
Despite the lifting of the foie gras ban, Schutte hopes discussion on the matter will lead to the consideration of other issues in the food industry. The former Roadhouse LA chef pointed specifically to the farming of veal, an example that he felt was "more extreme."
"I really hope we circle back around to [banning] veal," Schutte said. "I'm a meat eater, but I think every animal deserves a little bit of integrity. When we take it away from them by forcing them to be kept like veal is, or force-fed [as in the case of foie gras], it shows a complete lack of respect for these things that give their lives for our nourishment."
Taymor's concerns were considerably larger and more systemic in scope. The emphasis on foie gras, Taymor feels, takes necessary attention away from inhumane farming practices in large-scale farms that produce meat to meet consumer demand.
"The foie gras ban is a distraction from the real issues that are affecting the food systems," Taymor said. "Even an aggressive foie gras facility is more humane than 90% of commodity meat. The issue is commodity farming. The real issue is pesticides going into the water and killing salmon nesting grounds and overfishing that is completely eradicating our oceans of fish. I've had conversations with [Providence chef Michael] Cimarusti about it, and these are the issues that are of paramount importance to us, but we're being waylaid by ignorant government policies."