Twin Cities chefs dish on the foie gras controversy

A locally prepared dish utilizing locally raised foie gras
A locally prepared dish utilizing locally raised foie gras

Foie gras... It's the ultimate symbol of silken, rich, culinary decadence, but beyond that, it has moved into the forefront of Twin Cities culinary conversation. A heated debate has sprouted around what many claim to the be the apex of luxury ingredients. When it comes to fancy, high-end, expensive foods, foie gras ranks right up there at the top, yet it also comes with a raging stigma that has many animal rights activists and concerned eaters up in arms. Is the fatty goose and duck liver really all that bad? We reached out to several of the Twin Cities top culinary minds to get their take on foie gras.

While many chefs have different reasons for standing behind the ingredient, one overwhelming poignant theme rang through in almost all of their statements; know thy facts.

See also:
Foie gras fight comes to Minnesota with protest at 112 Eatery

Foie gras has long history and was first taken from wild geese and ducks late in the season just before migration. In a recent blog post by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl for Minneapolis/St. Paul magazine, she lays down her opinion on the product and gives an overview of foie history. She explains that ducks naturally feed themselves in excess to help store energy for their long winter migrations which leads to a natural swelling of their livers. In fact, it's said that the origins of foie gras can be traced back to ancient Egypt where they would overfeed their fowl in an effort to get a more substantial product. It seems important to note that as it currently stands,
Seared foie gras from Hudson Valley Foie Gras, one of three producers in the U.S.
Seared foie gras from Hudson Valley Foie Gras, one of three producers in the U.S.

When talking to local chefs about foie gras, one person comes up repeatedly in conversation: Christian Gasset. Gasset is the person responsible for Au Bon Canard, Minnesota's only foie producer and the only producer of foie gras outside of New York. Many chefs have made the several hour trek down to Gasset's farm only to report on the remarkable conditions in which his ducks are kept. In fact, the ducks spend the majority of their lives outdoors which is in contrast to the horrifying foie duck photos floating around. There are a great deal of inconsistencies in the information spread by anti-foie groups with the reality of farms like Au Bon Canard and its sister farms in New York, but perhaps this is the difference between European foie production versus the domestically produced livers.


A Time for Foie from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

Resident chef, turned filmmaker and globetrotter, Daniel Klein of the Perennial Plate, has had first hand experience with the production of foie gras, although he visited a farm that raised geese naturally without the use of force feeding. He recently produced a short video on a Spanish producer that opts out of the gavage process, allowing his ducks to come and go as they please and harvesting his crop just before winter migration. According to Klein, "Conventional foie gras production is hard to justify morally when there are natural and humane alternatives to the delicacy. That being said, I think it is silly to attack the foie gras industry in America which is made up mostly of small family farms where the geese appear to be treated very well compared to industrial meat standards."

Solera's chef Jorge Guzman chimes in on this sentiment, further explaining that chefs often go to great lengths to ensure that their ingredients are not only of the highest quality, but that they're raised with care. "As chefs in Minnesota, we are fortunate enough to be able to source our products from farmers who care about the land, animals and families they feed. We don't source product from a farmer who inhumanely treats his animals, pollutes his land, and has a general lack of consciousness when it comes to caring about the practice of their trade. Foie gras ranks on this list just as highly as all of our other products and is sourced in the same manner," explains Guzman.

Chef Landon Schoenefeld, of Minneapolis's critically acclaimed Haute Dish, has taken a bigger personal interest than most when it comes the recent attacks on foie gras. He recently launched an online campaign to help educate people on the pro-side of the debate called 86 Foiephobia. It's chef Shoenefeld's hope to aid in public education on the realities of foie production particularly when it comes to the natural physiology of the ducks. In response to the recent protest, he explains: "We're dealing with local farmers that are treating their animals way better than the commodity produced chicken, pork and beef that you'd get in your supermarket, so why are we attacking these people that are artisinally producing beautiful products?"

Giving a slightly different perspective on the issue, chef Vincent Francoual of downtown Minneapolis's Vincent, explains, "My family celebrated my birth, christening and all kinds of other family gatherings with dinner with at least a foie gras course. Foie gras making and eating is part of my culture."

Chef Francoual also has strong opinions in regard to the way foie gras oppositionists are going about their protests. He tells us, "The anti foie gras group has all the right to their belief and the right to speak up, but when they start to protest in of front a restaurant where god knows how hard this business is and how passionate the workers are, I say they are crossing the line."

The James Beard Award-winning chef Jack Riebel of Butcher & the Boar also throws in his two cents on the recent anti-foie movement: "I wish people would exercise the same enthusiasm for Monsanto and Big Ag as they do for foie gras."

Of the chefs we talked to, the overwhelming sentiment is that if you don't want to eat foie gras or support businesses that sell the product, that's your personal choice. Several chefs mentioned that there are restaurants in town that consciously choose to not make foie gras a part of their menus. The chefs also noted that protesters pressing photos of abused animals on the windows of independent, locally-owned businesses for patrons to see should make sure they do their research about the restaurant's foie gras sourcing, since the photos come from different farms.

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