What the Foie? Upcoming Duck Liver Ban Gets Laguna Chefs Quacking

Come July 1, it will be illegal to sell foie gras in California restaurants. Some are trying to get the ban overturned, while others are talking of a foie gras black market. This could get interesting ...

If cooked correctly, a fork will glide through it with little effort.

In your mouth, it practically melts—chewing would seem almost uncivilized.

The taste is similar to a grilled Portobello mushroom cap, or a piece of perfectly prepared and seasoned tofu.

It is foie gras, or duck liver.

It’s delicious.

And it’s making a lot of people really angry.

That’s because as of July 1, foie gras will be illegal to produce or sell in California, a ban that includes the serving of the pricey delicacy in restaurants.

And that leaves chefs here in Laguna Beach and statewide reaching for their knives—physically, metaphorically, rebelliously.

“It’s frustrating to me,” says Gregory Moro, executive chef at on Coast Highway. “I love foie gras. I just think its silly for them to take that away from people. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t eat it. If you’re angry that a restaurant serves it, don’t support it. It doesn’t mean you have to ruin it for everyone else.”

The state passed the foie gras ban way back in 2004, so long ago that neither the senator who sponsored the bill, John Burton, nor Gov. Schwarzenegger, who signed it into law, are in office. The eight-year time lag was meant to give foie gras producers in the state—there is only one, Artisan Sonoma in Northern California—time to modify their preparation practices.

But some think the total ban went too far. A ban on serving foie gras in restaurants wasn’t even the bill’s main focus, which was primarily on outlawing the fattening system by which the ducks and geese are prepared several days before slaughter. It’s a process known as gavage, where the birds are force-fed corn through tubes inserted into their esophagus. This enlarges their liver, and it’s a method that’s been traced back 2,500 years to ancient Egypt.

Several animal rights groups say that gavage is painful for the animals and ruptures their internal organs, which those against the ban dispute. One anti-foie gras group in particular, the San Diego-based Animal Protection & Rescue League, claims partial credit for the ban.

“It’s very cruel,” says Dina Kourda of the APRL, who Laguna Beach Patch caught up with during a protest last week in Orange. “It’s severe force-feeding with metal pipes. Ducks have their organs lacerated and their bones broken, which leads to infections. It’s as if you were taking 30 pounds of pre-cooked pasta and force-feeding it to a 150-pound person every day.”

Kourda and a small group of like-minded supporters of the ban were in Orange to demonstrate outside the Haven Gastropub, which was hosting an exclusive foie gras tasting menu for its customers—a sort of going away party for the dish. Proceeds from the night went to the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (C.H.E.F.S.), a group that’s launched a last-ditch effort to remove the ban on serving foie gras.

Outside the Haven, foie foes held colorful banners that read HOW MUCH CRUELTY CAN YOU SWALLOW?, adorned with graphic images of ducks being fed through the gavage process. Inside, restaurant staffers sported black FIGHT FOR FOIE t-shirts, as did a plush duck toy cheekily placed in the restaurant’s window.

When July 1 rolls around, that won’t necessarily mean Kourda and the APRL will be easing up their foie gras protests.

“We’ll make sure it’s enforced,” she says. “We’ll make sure restaurants and bars aren’t serving the item, that’s illegal. We’ll do tests and see if we can order it and see if it’s on the menu. And if it’s still on, we’ll call the police. We’ll do test spots everywhere, and if they’re still serving it and the police don’t respond, then we’ll come back with protests in force.”

According to the law, foie gras violators could be hit with fines up to $1,000 for each offense, and up to $1,000 each day the violation continues.

French 75's Moro is a weathered veteran of the foie gras wars. He previously cooked at Tradition by Pascal in Newport Beach, and it was there one Valentine’s Day after the ban was passed that about 30 protestors showed up, carrying signs and yelling slogans.

“They were ruining a nice romantic dinner for people,” Moro remembers. “They kept telling me that the blood was on my hands—they were chanting that.”

Laguna Beach, a fine-dining foodie’s paradise, is no stranger to such anti-foie demonstrations. In 2009, protesters paraded outside French 75 as well as Hush (now Kikuya) for serving foie gras. Other restaurants in Laguna Beach that have or have had foie gras on their menus include , , and .

“If the law goes into effect, we’ll go with it and take it off the menu,” says Kiel Andersen, Watermarc’s chef du cuisine. “As a company, we’re not going to fight it. It’s a small minority of people who have nothing better to do. Do we want it to be gone? Heck no. Do we think it’s ridiculous? Of course.”

Similar to what the Haven Gastropub pulled off, Moro says he also plans to do a foie gras tasting menu sometime before July 1. So will , which is already taking reservations for its June 23 foie gras farewell. The school’s chef, Laurent Brazier, will be preparing a five-course foie gras dinner for guests. (Though it’s not cheap—$175 per person, or $225 with wine pairings.)

“I don’t plan on taking it off the menu unless I absolutely have to,” says Moro. “I’ve heard rumors that because of the foie gras ban, that duck fat is going to be banned too, and there goes my duck confit and my duck fat french fries, there go my duck confit tacos. There’s been talk of a foie gras black market—that people are going to go out of state to buy foie gras if they have to.”

Chicago passed a similar foie gras ban in 2006, but enforcement proved to be lax. Few citations were issued, restaurants got around the ban by selling $30 bottles of water with a “free” foie gras (since it was illegal to “sell” the item; a similar loophole exists in the California law), and the mayor, Richard M. Daley, declared that the ban was “the silliest law” the city council had ever passed. It was repealed in 2008.

“It’s a very popular menu item here in Laguna Beach,” Moro tells Patch. “I sell it all night, every night. I had a couple here a week and a half ago, they ordered foie gras for the first time, and they absolutely loved it. They were just beside themselves.”

What do you think about the foie gras ban? Vote in our poll below ...

VA May 23, 2012 at 10:02 PM
Bummer; don't really appreciate the false dichotomy poll. While I am a vegetarian, there is plenty of room between outlawing especially cruel food production practices and making everyone vegan. Also, was very disappointed to see the comments from French 75 and Watermarc chefs. I have frequently visited French 75 and Watermarc (and recommended them to my company and events planning groups for large bookings), and the insult is bad business. It is not going to change the law; it's just going to offend some customers. So my husband and I will be taking Moro's advice and not visiting his restaurant. While I eat at restaurants that serve things I have chosen not to eat for personal reasons, I also prefer not to eat at restaurants that go out of their way to tell customers to eff off and insult my personal beliefs. (Also, French 75 is dark and needs an upgrade inside, although the main bartender is friendly and welcoming. It is behind the times in more than just foie gras...)
Genie Fettig May 24, 2012 at 01:41 AM
I agree with VA above - The poll is unfair & skewed. I would have voted in the poll if there was an option that says "outlaw the cruelty, not the food."
David Chorak May 24, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Subterfuge, hey people the banks are force feeding you. http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-banks-profit-20120524,0,3994281.story
Diane Nuno May 24, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Good information. I won't be dining at French 75 or Watermarc anymore!!
Susan Osborn April 28, 2013 at 03:49 PM
I doubt if you will be missed, this law was passed without any publicity at all, shame on John Burton.


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