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Foie gras battle: restaurateurs vs. activists

May 14, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's chefs versus animal activists in a battle over a controversial delicacy: the dish the French call "foie gras." A widespread ban on foie gras has led chefs to stage a special meal.

High-profile chefs at several different restaurants, including Melisse in Santa Monica, the Royce at the Langham in Pasadena, Animal Restaurant on Fairfax, and Haven Gastropub in Orange were all holding similar events Monday night. It could be one of the last times chefs can experiment with this dish.

"It is definitely one of the most popular things we serve here," said Josiah Citrin, Melisse owner and chef.

Foie gras, or enlarged duck liver, is considered a delicacy at Melisse, one of the top-rated restaurants in Southern California.

Monday night, eight different chefs worked to serve a six-course menu with foie gras included in every course, including dessert.

"The great thing about America is we have freedom of choice," said Citrin.

But the freedom to serve foie gras in California ends July 1, thanks to a law passed in 2004. The Animal Protection and Rescue League pushed for the law after a hidden-camera investigation into how foie gras is made went public.

"There is still animals getting rigid metal tubes down their throats three times a day," said Amber Coon, Animal Protection and Rescue League. "Their livers are swelling to 10 to 12 times their normal size, they're panting, they just can't breathe with these enormous livers."

Wolfgang Puck recently sent out a letter urging chefs to stop serving it. More than a 100 restaurants have taken it off the menu.

"Americans don't think cruelty to animals is OK and that's why this law was passed," said Coon.

"Most people haven't even thought about that or tried it. Unfortunately the foie gras, because of its price value, it becomes a little more of a class issue of who's been able to try it," said Chef Citrin. "I wish I could give everybody a taste of foie gras mousse, everybody would say, 'This is beautiful, I love it.'"

The dinner cost $200 Monday, not including wine. The money will be used to fund lobbyists to try and overturn the foie gras ban.


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