Media Coverage: Food & Wine

How Chefs Really Feel About New York’s Foie Gras Ban

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California chefs who faced a similar ban say you just get used to it.

Foie gras, the fattened liver from a duck or goose, has long been controversial due to animal cruelty concerns. And, as of last week, it looks like it’s going to be banned in New York City.

House Cured Terrine of Hudson Valley Foie Gras

City Council voted 42-6 to pass bill 1378first introduced by Councilwoman Carlina Rivera in January—which prohibits storing, maintaining, selling, or offering to sell force-fed products or food containing a force-fed product. There are hefty fines in place for violators, too, ranging from $500 to $2,000 per offense. Although it has yet to be signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, he’s expected to approve it, meaning that restaurants have until 2022 before they have to remove foie gras from their kitchens.

“We also acknowledge that farms need time to adapt their business practices and strategies before this ban goes into effect,” Rivera previously told Food & Wine. “That’s why there is now a three year phase-in for the legislation that will allow these farms, which produce a wide variety of other duck products, to increase production and develop business opportunities in other regions and states. I also encourage all foie gras-producing farms, many of which purport to use sustainable practices, to pursue other methods of foie gras production, such as those done by farmers in Spain that employ different methods using highly dense foods.”

According to The New York Times, there are around 1,000 restaurants in New York that serve foie gras, and the city is one of the country’s largest markets. It makes up 30 percent of business alone for Hudson Valley Foie Gras and La Belle Farm, which are part of the Catskill Foie Gras Collective—the collective’s website claims that farms in the Catskills employ “approximately 400 people.”

Marco Moreira, executive chef of Tocqueville near Union Square, told Food & Wine he feels the bill is targeting these local farms and “potentially forcing these small businesses to close,” causing working immigrants to lose their jobs. He was shocked that it went through, and he felt that a “more productive and impactful approach” would be for the Council to go after industrial farming.

“For NYC, I think it will leave a big hole,” he said. “Not having foie gras diminishes a guest’s experience and expectation in those restaurants where they have always indulged in it. It’s as if the letters were taken out of the alphabet. How can one enjoy writing or reading with missing letters?”

Angie Mar, owner and executive chef at the Beatrice Inn in the West Village, is also frustrated by the bill. Foie gras is very popular among her customers—the restaurant’s autumn menu features diver sea scallop served with pistachio, foie gras, and browned butter, as well as a foie gras truffle torchon and alliums and foie gras served with country bread, Comte, and smoked bouillon.

“Foie gras is a prominent ingredient across my menu, and one that I love ardently,” she said. “I always say that I am a very old French man at heart, and foie gras is something that I dream about, that I crave, that I think people should experience, and experience frequently.”

Mar hopes that the ban will serve as a wake-up call for industry professionals to become more educated on the ingredients they use and speak up about best practices.

There’s always the chance that New York could follow suit with Chicago, where a foie gras ban was passed in 2006 and repealed two years later. But if it doesn’t, Mar plans on serving it anyway, “even if that means giving it away, as so many chefs in other cities have done.”

Foie gras is also banned in California under a law first signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on September 29, 2004, which prohibits “force feed[ing] a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size,” as well as selling products that result from that process.

Similarly to the terms proposed in the New York bill, the ban went into effect well after it was passed—in this case, nearly eight years later on July 1, 2012. It was in flux for a while as judges debated the legality of the regulations. But when the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal opposing the bill this past January, it appears the ban has finally stuck for good. And by now, local chefs are used to it.

Michael Cimarusti, the co-owner and chef at Providence in Los Angeles, says he doesn’t really miss foie gras that much—it’s an ingredient you don’t need to have around, and to him, it’s not worth the hassle of serving it and risking fines. (California’s fines for violating the ban are up to $1,000 per day.)

Right before the ban want into effect, Cimarusti noticed a huge influx of foie gras orders at his restaurant, so he expects that New York chefs might experience something similar. But as time went on, the foie gras hype died down.

“I think people missed it for a while, but I also think most guests and restaurateurs quickly sort of forgot about it,” he said. “That’s kind of the way I feel. I’m sure there are other people who lament the loss more than I do, but it’s not there any more, it’s not something that we can legally serve. It’s fine.”

Josiah Citrin, the chef behind several California restaurants including Mélisse and Charcoal Venice, also says that the ban is something you get used to, although he misses working with foie gras.

“I miss that creativity coming out, like, ‘it’s coming up on apple season, what can we do different? It’s quince season. It’s pumpkin season.’ Different kinds of sweet things that would go with foie gras,” Citrin explained. “I miss that creative passion for it, the excitement of finding new products to [pair] with the foie gras. Are people not going to go out to eat because of that? I don’t think so. But I think we’ve banned something for a very small majority of people that want it banned.”

Both Citrin and Cimarusti said that foie gras was a low-hanging fruit for the state to try to ban—it has limited production compared to other meat consumed, and a smaller lobby board. Not to mention, Citrin continued, a small amount of people eat it and it sounds gross, so it makes the process easy. He wonders what activists will tackle next.

“What’s the next thing they’re going to go after?” He said. “Chicken, beef? When you win one, you go to the next battle.”

As we wait for de Blasio to sign the bill, it remains to be seen how New York’s foie gras ban will fare—especially once 2022 rolls around and the fines take effect. Will it be a long contested battle, like California’s? Quickly repealed, like Chicago’s? Or another experience entirely? Either way, chefs may have to prepare for taking it off their menus, whether they like it or not.

“Nobody relies on foie gras for sustenance,” Cimarusti said. “Unless you are a duck farmer, this isn’t going to shut down your business or anything. It’s just one ingredient in a world of many that you just aren’t allowed to cook with anymore.”