One of the last times I had the chance to eat foie gras was memorable. Thanksgiving 2011 at Campanile. The restaurant was dim, the atmosphere hectic. Our server flitted around like a bee, and removed the menu as soon as we decided which prix-fixe option to order. She delivered a kabocha soup as the first course, topped by something completely unidentifiable. What the heck was it? I pushed it around the bowl, then the second course suddenly arrived. Only later did I review the menu and discover the secret ingredient’s identity: foie gras. Mais oui.
Maybe in France I would have expected such a splendid soup topping. As Devorah Lauter explains in the LA Times today, the French adore their foie gras. She writes:
Most French families eat foie gras for special occasions and around Christmas, and the industry counts more than $2 billion in annual sales, according to the French foie gras advocacy group CIFOG, as well as about 100,000 direct and related jobs, according to the Agriculture Ministry. The French consume about 72% of the world’s foie gras, according to the ministry.
And according to chef Guillaume Garot, food industry chief for France’s Agriculture Ministry, foie gras is:
“…the synonym of conviviality, sharing and, in a certain way, happiness.”
Many French chefs are appalled that California recently passed a ban on foie gras. They worry it could set a precedent that would travel to other areas, and eventually to France.
Animal activists, meanwhile, are more than pleased. They believe that the process of creating foie gras — force-feeding ducks and geese to fatten the liver — is animal cruelty.
Chefs value foie gras for its rich taste, and because it can be prepared and served in a variety of ways. L.A. diners learned this when the city’s major chefs served up dozens of foie gras innovations — foie gras and jelly doughnut, foie gras “cotton candy,” etc. — just before the ban went into effect.
Now, some L.A. chefs are fighting to repeal the ban, and may look to France for support. Foie gras can be made in humane ways, they argue. And they worry (me, too) that all the foie gras hullabaloo is distracting us from more important food issues. What about saving bluefin tuna? Creating humane poultry slaughterhouses? Or ensuring fair labor practices on farms? Plus, they say, governments shouldn’t be able to restrict a restaurant’s freedom.
Chef Laurent Delarbre of La Tour d’Argent, considered an iconic French restaurant, seems to understand this point. He told Lauter:
“After foie gras, why not escargots? And then let’s get rid of beef, lamb, get rid of everything except little blue, yellow and green pills!” he said. “But where’s the pleasure in that? We need to eat to live, but we’re lucky that in France meals are still about pleasure.”
I wonder what Delarbre would advise if I told him what I just discovered in the back of my cupboard — Bloc de Foie Gras de Canard du Sud-Ouest, 130 grams. That’s a fully-cooked chunk of duck foie gras, produced in the southwest of France, an area responsible for more than 70% of the country’s duck foie gras, and more than 80% of its goose foie gras. The tin has a sticker that says 89 Francs, making me wonder if it was purchased here (Surfas?) or in France. I am sure that it is about ten years old. Do I eat it? (Assuming it’s still good!!) How? With the ban in place, I’d feel a little silly letting it hide in my cupboard for another ten years. Monsieur Delarbre, care to cook my dîner?