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August 27, 2005
REVIEW; The curious cook
Cruel delicacy's goose is cooked in the Big Apple
IN New York, I can order almost any cuisine at any time and often it can be
delivered to my apartment -- everything from wild mushroom risotto to
delicate crab soup dumplings and filet mignon with asparagus. I especially
like Mexican-style grilled corn on the cob, with chilli, melted cheese and
lime, delivered for lunch from our local Cuban restaurant.
But it seems not everything is available in the restaurant capital of the
world. In this city of the best $1.50 hot dogs imaginable, falafels worthy
of a long queue, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Mexican
and Jamaican, the classic French delicacy of pate de foie gras is becoming
something of an exception.
It's not that foie gras is hard to find; it's everywhere in New York and not
the luxury item it was 15 years ago. However, eating foie gras is suddenly
not quite PC: indeed, New York is embroiled in a bitter debate about the
delicacy made from the fatty livers of force-fed geese and ducks.
New York is really only following California's lead. Last year, California
passed legislation to ban the sale and production of foie gras, and similar
bills have been introduced in New York, Oregon, Illinois and Massachusetts.
Gourmets fear foie gras may eventually disappear from American kitchens
I decide to visit Le Perigord, a restaurant named after the region in France
that is known for this delicacy, to test the waters on the issue. The
restaurant's beef wellington -- filet mignon topped with foie gras, wrapped
in pastry and served with sauce perigourdine (more foie gras and
truffles) -- is a signature dish.
But recently there has been more interest in the restaurant's menu than
owner Georges Briguet would like. Along with other restaurants, Le Perigord
has caught the attention of activists who claim force-feeding ducks is
"They call me on the phone and ask if I serve foie gras, and then tell me
they will stand outside my restaurant in protest to stop this," says
Briguet. He hands me a glass of wine, takes an enormous gulp from his and
continues. "I will never stop serving it unless the Government says I must."
I sample some house-made foie gras with jelly -- a cold, unhappy dish -- and
wish I had chosen warm foie gras with black mission figs. The beef
wellington does not disappoint. There are no protesters this night, but
Briguet looks as if he may cry when asked about likely bans.
"No ingredient could replace it," he says."Ever."
Union Square Cafe also has been targeted by protesters, who hand out
leaflets with grisly photos of bloody ducks.
The man credited with bringing foie gras to the US, Israeli-born Michael
Ginor, is co-owner and president of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, one of two big
producers of foie gras in the US. A former bond trader, Ginor insists the
process is not cruel and invites me to visit his farm, two hours' drive from
This is what I see. A woman holds a duck and puts a long metal pipe into its
beak. She pours grain into a funnel at the top of the pipe: one cup, then
another and another. I had been shown the pipe before the feeding, but it is
disturbing to see it used. I wonder how many chefs have seen the
The older ducks are very fat, panting and mostly sitting. Many have markings
to show they can eat no more and will be slaughtered. Ducks start being fed
at 12 weeks and are fed two to three times a day for 28 days. They are
killed at 16 weeks. To many, killing any animal is cruel, but to me
force-feeding takes it a step further. While this process is said to be less
severe than that which occurs in mechanised factories in France, it still
seems like prolonged agony.
Legislation that is likely to close Ginor's operation may be introduced as
early as next year. In California, sales and production will be phased out
by 2012. Fresh foie gras could well disappear from New York menus. Some will
notice and start making treks to France, which produces 90per cent of the
world's foie gras. But, having seen what I've seen, I'll be ordering