20 May 2012

California chefs angry over foie gras ban

2:28 pm on 20 May 2012

A simmering row between animal-rights campaigners and some top chefs in California has spilled onto the streets.

On 1 July, a ban comes into force in the US state on pate de foie gras, the gastronomic delicacy made from the livers of force-fed ducks.

Some chefs have formed a campaign group to combat the perception they don't care how the birds are treated.

Several prominent restaurants have staged events to celebrate foie gras as a menu item, a move that has brought protesters onto the streets.

About 30 demonstrators staked out the Michelin two-starred Melisse restaurant in Santa Monica chanting "Helpless ducks are force-fed, eat somewhere else instead."

Inside, owner and chef Josiah Citrin offered guests at the ticket-only event a six-course menu that included foie gras in every dish, from entrees to desserts.

The meal, which cost $US200 a head, included pressed foie gras terrine, lobster with foie gras and salsify and, for dessert, foie gras butter kuchen with local cherries and foie gras ice-cream.

Mr Citrin is even selling T-shirts emblazoned with "Touche Pas a Mon Foie Gras" (Keep Your Hands Off my Foie Gras) and featuring a picture of a duck in a chef's hat.

The CHEFS lobby group presented a petition to lawmakers in Sacramento a few weeks ago, and at least four LA-area restaurants have held events to highlight the cause.

Even more directly in the firing line is California's only farm producing the delicacy. Artisan Sonoma Foie Gras Farm, founded more than 20 years ago by Guillermo and Junny Gonzalez, is closing down.

The couple, who studied in France's Perigord region before establishing themselves in Sonoma, north of San Francisco, insist their production methods are not cruel.

"Our farm is being forced to shut down at the end of June, and the most unfortunate fact is that science has not been given a chance to play a role in this debate," Guillermo Gonzalez told AFP.

He expressed concern that "a powerful special interest group with an anti-meat agenda was able to impose its morals on us all".