Twin Cities chefs dish on the foie gras controversy

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

Not exactly a foie duck, but you get the point
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, foie gras production in the United States is extremely limited and takes place on only three farms. Two of the farms are located in New York and the third is located in south eastern Minnesota, which is where the majority of Twin Cities chefs purchase their product.

The controversy behind foie gras stems from the primary practice known as gavage, in which a large tube is inserted directly into the ducks throat in order to overfeed them. This practice is what leads to the engorged, fatty livers that have been regarded as a worldwide delicacy for centuries. Whereas upfront this practice sounds nothing shy of barbaric and is the reason why many advocate against the manufacture and use of the product, there is of course another side to the story.

One of the first chef's to reach out to us was Don Saunders of the Kenwood. Chef Saunders suggested an article to us that was originally published on Serious Eats. The article follows the writer through a tour of one of the United States three foie gras farms. The author makes quick note of the relatively neutral living conditions of the ducks and proceeds on to the overall physiology of the duck noting that in the wild, ducks swallow their food whole, which includes whole fish. The ducks esophagi are in fact built to handle that kind of intake due to a pouch in their esophagus, known as the crop, which is meant for storing excess food and can actually hold more than what is fed to the ducks during the gavage process. Ducks and geese also do not come equipped with a natural gag reflex which also allows them to easily handle the extra intake of food.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras
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.

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