Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Farewell to Foie Gras

By Jesse Hirsch
Tue, Mar 20, 2012 at 9:36 AM

“I’m wearing a bulletproof vest right now, and I’m armed!” These are the precautions Chef Russell Jackson said he took to prepare for his all-foie gras dinner last weekend. Jackson, owner of Lafitte restaurant in San Francisco, has provoked the expected amount of rage and rancor since staging his first “FU Foie Gras” event last fall. He said he receives hourly death threats against him and his family, and the protestors “terrify the living shit” out of him. Still, Jackson plans to double or triple the frequency of these dinners, and apparently now he’s packing heat. Other San Francisco chefs are planning similar events before California’s foie gras ban takes effect in July.

Lafittes Dinner Invitation
  • Lafitte's Dinner Invitation
For the most part, things have been less confrontational on this side of the bay. Foie gras has quietly disappeared from most menus, and the few places still serving it are not making a big to-do. Bay Wolf announced a foie gras dinner series earlier this year, but cancelled it after protestors swarmed the first event in February. “I realized I couldn’t guarantee the safety of my customers and staff …. This isn’t a fight I want to pick,” said owner Michael Wild.

Farewell to Foie Gras was one of Bay Wolf’s periodic themed meals, like its upcoming dinner paired with offerings from Linden Street Brewery. Wild thought it would be “fun” to send foie gras off in style; he says he didn’t anticipate any issues. While it might seem naive not to have expected some friction, he certainly didn’t foresee protestors screaming at his patio-seated diners, or hitting one customer and calling her a fat cow. Wild also said he received well over 1,000 angry emails and letters.

La Rose Bistro in Berkeley serves foie gras periodically, paired with apples, figs, or quail eggs. Chef Damien Jones said it’s something that (especially older) customers demand from a French bistro. “You have to give the people what they want,” he demurred. At the same time, Jones isn’t looking to court controversy; I had to reassure him there were other local chefs serving foie gras before he’d publicly out himself. “In France, this wouldn’t be a big deal,” he said glumly.

Although most East Bay French restaurants do not serve foie gras — including La Note, Bistro Liaison, and Gregoire — there are still a few local spots that do. Meritage serves a filet mignon entrée with foie gras, Hudson offers it as a $13 add-on to their burger, and Kiraku’s menu features foie gras served atop stewed daikon. (I got several angry emails after mentioning this dish favorably in a review.)

When Wild asked my opinion on the issue, I took the food critic’s typically equivocal stance: “I’m paid to eat, and I try to stay open to as many options as I can.” I’ve read the literature, and gavage gets a lot of different spin depending on who is telling the story. (For an interesting perspective, read Physiology of Foie from Serious Eats.) I don’t order much foie gras, but neither do I have an absolute rule to avoid it.

And thanks to the new law, the moral imperative will soon be out of my hands. Jackson uses words like “catastrophe,” “disastrous,” and “nightmare” to describe California’s impending ban, whereas Wild just shakes his head in disbelief. “With the number of things going on in this world, causes that warrant real passion, this seems like a non-issue,” he said.

Comments? Tips? Get in touch at Jesse.Hirsch@EastBayExpress.com.

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