Twin Cities chefs dish on the foie gras controversy

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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

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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.

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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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6 comments
kaylyndmb
kaylyndmb

I do feel this article is VERY one sided as has been all the media regarding the foie gras wars in Minneapolis. Do you know that we have been fighting foie and protesting outside of 112 since late 2010? I am also a local twin cities chef who chooses NOT to serve cruel foie gras.  I actually plan to have faux foie gras on an upcoming menu. I urge media to reach out to ARC and ask to speak with Dallas, SaraJane or Kaylyn(me)  regarding OUR side of this battle. Honestly, we are much more knowledgeable about foie gras than even the chefs that serve it. Pretty sad.

erin
erin

Good start, but where's the other half of the article? Why is it just an apology for local chefs who choose to serve this product? Such a shame that you relegated all of the chefs who have decided to forego foie gras on their menus despite its decadent reputation to a single sentence in the very last paragraph. 

k2yeb
k2yeb topcommenter

Kind of hard to see this as controversial in comparison to other corporate or mass scale slaughterhouses worldwide.  Like most things, it’s about the process more than the result. 

When the economy gets good and more people want to feel rich or elite, sales of something like this or truffles will go up. I have been eating foie gras since I was in Paris as a kid 30 years ago with my parents.....and never got the fascination. But I also think a lot of things like caviar are popular more so due to ego than palate. Gold flakes anyone?

swmnguy
swmnguy topcommenter

Good piece on a topic most don't know much about, and what they know is often wrong.  Chef Riebel is absolutely correct when he points out the ridiculousness of getting so heated about foie gras, considering industrial factory farming processes considered "normal", and the non-food products ingested by Americans to the great harm of our health.  

None of the cruelty of factory-farmed livestock, dairy or eggs is necessary; it just adds fractionally to the profit margin and is the price of incompetence.  And the garbage food issue is killing Americans and our health care system.  Just as we supposedly would never have baked goods after we banned trans-fats (and nobody noticed, except cardiologists); if we banned high-fructose corn syrup nobody would notice except health-care professionals and the profiteers who foist the stuff off on us.

I don't happen to like foie gras because eating liver grosses me out.  That's my deal.  What was done to the chickens who produced the eggs people eat without thinking about it was a whole lot worse.

Thanks for the article.

mingtran
mingtran topcommenter

Very informative. Good article

FoodStoned
FoodStoned

@erin I understand the argument that you're making and I would've happily included that in the article. I reached out to a lot of chef's for this including some that work in restaurants that allegedly don't serve it on purpose, unfortunately they opted to not comment otherwise there would've been more dedicated to that. Perhaps at some point they'll decide to weigh in on the conversation, but for now I gave what I could get.

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