Photograph by Jill Greenberg
At the stroke of 11:59 on the night of June 30, L.A. chefs will say good-bye to foie gras. Sixty seconds later the delicacy becomes subject to a statewide ban prohibiting the production and sale of any item that involves the force-feeding of ducks and geese. To create foiegras—fattened liver—farmers deposit corn mash down the birds’ throats through a metal tube. Cruel? Voters thought so in 2004, and now chefs are grappling with the reality that a cherished ingredient will be, ahem, off the table.
“We didn’t have a voice when the law was passed eight years ago,” says Vinny Dotolo, who along with Jon Shook executes a foie gras-laden menu at their Fairfax restaurant, Animal. “Hell, Jon and I were barely cooking.” Dotolo is among a number of chefs who oppose the ban. “Most people don’t even know what foie gras is,” says Greg Daniels of Haven Gastropub in Pasadena. “It was an easy target.”
Animal rights groups insist that foie gras is untenable. “You can’t enlarge an animal’s liver by ten times without the animal suffering horribly,” says Farm Sanctuary’s Bruce Friedrich. It’s not just activists who think so: Wolfgang Puck wrote an open letter embracing the ban. So far it’s the $1,000-per-plate fine that’s motivating chefs to comply—outwardly, at least.
“This is going to be harder to overturn than Chicago’s,” says Daniels, referring to that city’s 2006 ban, which was repealed after two years. “That was a city ordinance. This is a state thing.” Until July chefs such as Dotolo, Daniels, Mélisse’s Josiah Citrin, and LudoBites’ Ludovic Lefebvre will host fund-raising dinners to benefit the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (CHEFS), which has hired lobbyists to work toward reversing the ban. It argues that inhumane treatment is the exception, not the rule.
What if the law sticks? “We’ll obey it,” says Dotolo. “But I know there are some guys out there who are saying, ‘Fuck this, I’m going to keep selling it.’”