Duck, Duck, Goose – Foie Gras Wars Continues

Anyone who eats and reads—and I dearly hope that’s everyone here, now—has gotten wind of the foie gras wars. I am not going to write the entire history of what’s happened in the past twelve months, but here’s the bulleted version:

• Chicago’s City Council bans foie gras in local restaurants. Angry chefs sue. Oregon, as well as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and California consider similar laws.
• Portland animal rights activists stand in front of various restaurants crying foul on the fowl; local restaurateur Pascal Sauton vows to “NEVER remove foie gras from [Carafe Bistro’s] menu.”
• Whole Foods—which stopped carrying foie gras in 1997—tells one of its specialty fowl purveyors, Grimaud Farms, that it will no longer do business with the company if Grimaud continues to carry foie gras. Griamaud caves, and severs its long alliance with its foie gras supplier, Sonoma Foie Gras. Sonoma takes Whole Foods to court, charging “intentional interference with contract.”

“I mean, this is almost illegal, right? Didn’t Microsoft have a few issues with this?” says Geoff Latham, owner and president of Nicky USA, the wild game purveyor based here in Portland. “Now, I like the idea of Whole Foods, but it’s gotten way too corporate; it’s crushing the little guy.”

With controversy comes change: while some Portland restaurants, such as Higgins, have agreed to remove foie gras from their menus, others, such as Le Pigeon and Alberta Street Oyster Bar and Grill, are offering the prized duck liver on French toast and scattering it with candied watermelon rind. And if they’re fast with a few hundred dollars, they can now have an even more prized delicacy on with which to work with: fresh goose liver, which until this week has never been available commercially in the United States.

In a phone interview yesterday, Latham explained how it came about.

I hear you have some goose liver.
I do. The first ones arrived today.

And this is the first time we’ll be getting fresh goose foie gras in quantity in the United States, yes?

Right. I always find it funny when food journalists here write about the goose foie gras at some restaurant, when what they’ve been eating is duck. Goose is the real thing, what they eat in France. Now we’ve got it here.

How did this come about, and why now?
You want the story? Okay. In May, Whole Foods decided not to carry Grimaud; until then, they were using its duck legs and breasts. They say, dump foie gras, which they get from Sonoma Foie Gras, or we dump you. This is after Grimaud has been working with Guillermo [Gonzalez, owner of Sonoma Foie Gras] for twelve years.

That’s pretty rough.
Yeah, it is. Grimaud has principles. But is also has employees, and it you’re going to lose thirty percent of your business, well, your hand is forced.

So, they dropped Sonoma. And Somona files suit.
Yeah. But here’s where it even gets more wicked twisted: Whole Foods drops Grimaud, anyway, as well as any other business that does business with anyone who touches foie gras.

Yikes.
Well, yes and no. Because Grimaud says, screw you, Whole Foods; we’re going with geese. And they’re back in business with Sonoma. This is not official yet, but I know it because I do business with both these guys.

Okay, so, how do the geese get in the picture?
Before all this went down, Grimaud had contracted with a farm to create a more humane feeding tube. There are four hundred of these geese being produced; the first two hundred were slaughtered last Friday [November 11]. They were packed on Monday. I took delivery yesterday [Wednesday].

Explain to me how goose liver differs from duck?

There are two ways to harvest the liver: warm evisceration, and cold evisceration. The traditional is warm; the bird is killed and the liver is removed. Artisan evisceration is cold: the bird is killed, chilled overnight, and the liver is harvested in the morning. Cold evisceration means, it has a higher melting point, so the chef is losing less of it in the pan. These livers are cold evisceration.

What’s the difference in taste?
I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m told, it’s very smooth, with minimal veining.

Yeah, I bit into a foie gras vein the other night, and… it wasn’t pretty. So, who in Portland is going to have the new foie gras?
Out of the two hundred that were just slaughtered, Thomas Keller ordered one hundred for the French Laundry and Per Se. Here in town, Philippe Boulot bought one for Christmas, for his family and friends. The only other order I have right now is, surprisingly, from a brand new restaurant, Ten-01.

How much is it going for?
It’s ninety dollars a pound. I thought they’d each weight more than two pounds each, but so far, they’re between one-and-a-half and two pounds.

It seems as though, as opposed to limiting foie gras, the controversy is actually helping the market to expand.

The controversy has only helped the sale of foie gras. We’ve had more writing this year about foie gras than in the past fifteen years. Which is great. I have always been one of the guys out there in defense of foie gras. Here in Portland, we’re lucky the House of Representatives didn’t take the [foie gras bill] to a vote. It’s just crazy; all this, after the American Veterinarian Medical Association said they could not find any proof—nothing, and this was unanimous—that foie gras production was harmful to the duck.

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. pollo elastico says

    It’s just crazy; all this, after the American Veterinarian Medical Association said they could not find any proof—nothing, and this was unanimous—that foie gras production was harmful to the duck.

    Except for the practice of feeding ducks FAT FROM OTHER DUCKS seems too entirely creepy a possibility for me to get past.

  2. pollo elastico says

    Yes, I did read that. But she was providing an anecdote to counter the perception that the animals are humanely treated. Should I simply nod in approval of the anecdotal evidence of ducks being treated humanly, and ignore the evidence that they are fed their own kind, in France, the place where this all begins?

    If Kobe cows were fed the cranial sacks of their lesser brethren, should I not wonder about the possibility that domestic Waygu ribeye I’m about to eat is tainted with BSE?

  3. Chambolle says

    Politics aside, there are two dishes I’ve had recently that I would recommend to those who can get beyond the weirdness that is being created:
    Carafe’s Foie Gras and Duck Confit Terrine (oh, baby) and OLEA’s Duck, Duck, Goose. Brilliant stuff.

  4. brett says

    I bet some of those same anti-foie gras people have bumper stickers on their cars that read, “Don’t like abortions? Don’t have one!” Yet when it comes to food issues, they don’t hesitate to adopt the nanny-state position. Grr. Don’t like bird liver? DON’T EAT IT. Meanwhile, get the hell out of my face. I really hope I encounter some of these protesters in person some day.

    PS Higgins blows. Most overrated (and one of the most overpriced) restaurant in town.

  5. says

    I swear I did not know about Olea’s dish when I titled the article!
    Also, my mistake: the restaurant’s name is Ten-01.
    Also, Geoff Latham just now told me that two other Portland restaurants have placed orders: Fenouil and The Painted Lady.

  6. diner says

    It’s incredible to me that this is a social issue. Is this a kindness to animals thing? Like do the milk machines irritate the cows? If you thing so and it bother your ethics, don’t drink milk. Are the vegetable plants traumatized when we rip thir fruits off the vine and them consume them? If you’re worried about that don’t eat vegetables. If you are opposed to foie gras don’t order it. Seriously now, are we all so personally helpless that we need the government to regulate what we eat?

  7. Vanessa says

    I’m not sure what it’s made from (I thought it was goose liver, but I guess I’m wrong), but the pate’ at Jo Bar is one of the great delicacies available in Portland.

    BTW, are the animal rights people upset about the chicken feet on the menus in Chinatown? They upset ME! Eek!

  8. Papa Haydn and Jo Bar says

    Vanessa,
    Thank you for the kind compliment on the Pate at Jo Bar. It is made with organic chicken livers and Clear Creek Pear Brandy, and we are certainly glad you enjoy it. Although we have had limited success offering duck foie gras on our regular menu, you can be sure to see it in one form or another on our New Year’s Eve Dinner Menu, to be announced December 1. Although we will always champion a diner’s right to choose their fare, the foie gras debate has proved to be interesting and instructive. We look forward to further discussion.
    Regards, Molly Fox, General Manager, Jo Bar & Rotisserie/Papa Haydn

  9. mczlaw says

    Nancy: Is there a single restaurant besides Higgins that took foie gras off its menu to placate the militant vegans? I am unaware of another. Your article suggests otherwise.

    Please beware that the vegan extremists are not going to go away. Like extremists of every stripe, they want to impose their values on others. Many have nothing but time to kill (so to speak) and plenty of $$$ from a few high profile backers.

    It is almost certain that a bill will be introduced in the 2007 legislature as there was in 2005. Food enthusiasts owe it to themselves and their fellows to let their elected representatives in the Oregon legislature know that they oppose the criminalization of foie gras sale and consumption–and that they vote. Witless lefties in Salem have figured it’s a below the radar issue on which they take little political risk. These folks need to understand otherwise. Say what you will about conservative politics (and I could say plenty), but was the R’s on the House side in Salem who derailed the criminalization effort in ’05. That will not be as easily accomplished this session.

    Be vigilant; be loud.

    –mcz

  10. says

    There are some really ignorant comments here by people who are incapable of making arguments without resorting to logical fallacies. You know who you are (or, more likely, don’t). It happens that I am anti-fois-gras, but I am neither a vegan nor a vegetarian. I wear leather shoes and belts. I eat seafood at least once per week, though I do pay attention to the overfishing problem (and avoid those fish as necessary). I do not eat farmed salmon. What I’m saying is that I care about HOW my food comes to my plate. At some point, a sick individual decided to force-feed a living animal. Repeatedly. Look, kill an animal and eat it or wear it if you want to, but don’t torture an animal over time and eat its nasty liver. I will only respect your decision if you are the one doing the force-feeding and can continue to live with yourself after. Until then, you’re a culinary coward.

  11. Ellie says

    Alan, have you ever seen an egg production facility? If so, my guess is that you would never consume an egg again. Been near a working dairy (event the organic variety) or feedlot? Same scenario. Fish don’t die instantly – they suffocate in the hull of a boat , or after being brought up from lower levels of atmospheric pressure, causing a condition similar to a diver having the “bends.” (The stomachs rockfish pop right out of their bodies on the way up – comfortable, I’m sure.)

    For reasons that are beyond explaining ini the space allowed on this site, the public is largely out of touch with the source of foods more common than foie gras. If the thought of gavage bothers you that much, don’t consume the product. But please, don’t make the decision for the rest of us (many of whom may know far, far more about the origins of their food than the majority of PETA members.)

  12. says

    I was the roommate of a guy who grew up on a dairy darm in Virginia and a groomsman in his wedding. When we were in college, he often invited me and our friends to his farm , where his mom cooked amazing meals for us and yes, we watched milk production. I drink soy milk, though I am not opposed to dairy products; I just make informed choices.

    I’ve been in the middle of a crowd of pigs that extended in each direction so far I could barely see the edge.

    To answer your question about egg production, no I have not been to a facility, but I do spend extra and buy organic “cage free” eggs. I know there are problems with the cage free concept too, which is why I rarely eat eggs (along with the fact I have high cholesterol).

    As for seafood, I understand that fish do not die instantly. I also believe they are a poor comparison to fois gras production. Ducks and geese are higher animals, subject to torture over weeks; fish die within hours. I liken the birds to Gitmo. Are you pro-torture of human prisoners? I ask since everyone seems to be indulging in bad comparisons.

  13. Apollo says

    Torture away, as long as the foie keeps flowing… I am really excited to try goose foie gras. I have long been correcting friends when they try to tell me or others that foie is from geese, as only duck was available in these parts. Now I don’t have to be rude and correct people ;) I can just be rude to the schmucks trying to impose their beliefs on me and limit my right to choose what I eat. Who cares about ducks and geese? I will eat the bird as well as the liver. It’s not like these are people’s pets. They are animals bred for slaughter that happed to get fed a lot of food. I have yet to see any conclusive proof that the foie gras producers IN THIS COUNTRY treat the animals cruely. Nor have I seen anything that proves that force feeding is cruel. Maybe the ducks like to be force fed. But most importantly, imposing your own view on other people is wrong. Just because you may think something is cruel and evil doesn’t mean you can take away another person’s right to that product/procedure. Everybody should have the freedom to choose. Abortion may not my choice, or something I really believe in, but I would never dream of taking away another person’s right to make that choice for themselves.

  14. grapedog says

    Reading these comments reminds me of recent episodes of shows on Food Network where the celebrity chefs actually had to kill an animal which proved to be quite upsetting to them. Tony Bourdain admits that he’s used to getting his animal products delivered in nice, cryovac packages, but when he actually witnessed a pig being killed by hand, it upset him. In the US, our capitalistic in-search-of-greater-profits marketing/production machine has invaded the food supply, keeping us blissfully unaware of how any animal-based food products came to be. This steak was actually a living animal at one point? Who knew?

    So, we as Americans do what come naturally to us when we come to a choice between morality and convenience: we shrug it off and say “It’s my decision to do as I please.” We play the “choice” card over the “morality/do the right thing” card. The lack of a definitive, logical scientific study makes us feel a bit better about our decision. As long as the meat/eggs/foie/etc is nicely packaged and we don’t have to see the animal source of the product, we feel good about ourselves and smile.

    I grew up on a farm in Oregon. We raised beef and chickens. When I was 8 years old, my stepfather taught me how to kill a chicken with a hatchet. I was required to help when it came time to kill a cow. The experience was not the most pleasant, but it taught me to respect the cow and the chicken which were living in relative comfort on a farm before becoming our food. I imagine that the small farms in France that have been fattening duck livers for 100 years wonder what all the fuss is about. They have been raising a few ducks each year and using the duck’s body for food. How is this suddenly bad behavior?

    Poeple who eat an animal product should take the time to observe how the product came to be. Not as a punishment or to change their minds, but simply for critical enlightenment. If fans of foie gras toured Sonoma Foie Gras to see the ducks and how they lived, the decision to eat the animal (or not) would be a more informed decision.

  15. Erin says

    Didn’t Food Dude have a poll when this issue first came up about how many of us readers have killed an animal that we were going to eat (and I think fish were excluded)? I’ve done it, it’s not fun, but many worthwhile things aren’t. I think grapedog’s posting is well-written and thoughtful without resorting to jingoism. Something that would be good to see more of…

  16. sidemeat says

    Maybe the ducks like to be force fed?!? Perhaps the negro prefers the back of the bus. O.K., let’s not compare the lives of humans with those of animals, let us furthur differentiate between pets and those animals that we raise for food. Cruel behavior demeans our ‘civilized’ society. I eat animals, I feel no need to slap them around before. It wasn’t that long ago that vivesection was unquestioned. The evolution of human morality is uneven, it happens in fits and starts, it does not allways move forward. Apollo, if you came across a man beating the crap out of a dog I think that you would stop him.
    If he explained that the dog was not a pet, rather that he was dinner, and that it would taste better after a good thrashing, would you let him continue?

  17. Apollo says

    Sure, dog is a tasty snack in some countries. I can’t say I’ve tried it however. I have had whale and horse when I was in Japan. But hey, I’ll try anything once. So to answer your question, no I wouldn’t stop him as long as he shared some with me… Nothing like thrashed dog cooked over charcoal. Well, foie gras is better, but dog must be up there…

  18. sidemeat says

    Apollo’s remarks remind me of the old bumper sticker ” the more I know people, the more I like my dog” I suppose it means different things to different people.

  19. Aaron says

    “I mean, this is almost illegal, right? Didn’t Microsoft have a few issues with this?” says Geoff Latham, owner and president of Nicky USA, the wild game purveyor based here in Portland. “Now, I like the idea of Whole Foods, but it’s gotten way too corporate; it’s crushing the little guy.”

    Does this seem ironic to anyone else?

  20. Food Dude says

    I had an exceptional soup the other night at Park Kitchen – Black eyed pea soup with foie gras ($9). A hearty soup, with lots of nice textures going on, slight vinegar and salty overtones. When paired with the chunks of perfect foie, the livery goodness brought all the flavors together rounding out the dish. Fantastic. I’ll take a tureen please.

    On a similar note, sad to hear one of my favorite servers in town, Rick, will be leaving Park Kitchen. He’s been there since about the time they opened, and is one of the many reasons I keep going back. He’ll be missed.

  21. Apollo says

    That is horribly sad. Rick is by far my favorite waiter. I wish him well wherever he is off to next. The first time he waited on me I was scared to death. I thought he would kill me. But he turned out to be the best waiter I have ever had. And a hell of a nice guy to boot.

  22. Mostly Running. says

    Pastaworks’ meat counter on Hawthorne also sells duck confit. [disclaimer: I used to work there.] I only recently started making my own confit, but theirs is good in a pinch, imho.

  23. Cuisine Bonne Femme says

    I confit, you confit, we can all confit.

    I started making confit last year. It is so bloody easy, we started to confit all kinds of non-duck things too. (results were good).

    Regardless, it is expensive to buy pre-made, and be sure to buy it from a place that knows what they are doing because I’ve bought some (not in Portland) that really wasn’t that great.

    However, it’s economical if you do a lot of it at home (hint: it makes great Christmas Gifts).

    mmmmm, rendered duck fat….

  24. apollo says

    I get my duck fat and duck legs at Viande in City Market NW on 21st. In fact I get all my meats and charcuterie supplies there. Good people, great butchers.

  25. Tom Brock says

    I am the guy who tube feeds the geese. My tube is the size of your index finger, and is soft rubber. I haven’t hurt or killed a single goose with my new system. It is incredible. No more metal tubes and air blasters. People who hate gavage have been terrably misinformed about the process. While anti foie gras animal rights people complain, we’ve actually done something to remove the misery from foie gras production.
    I am proud to provide this cultural delicacy to my family and friends, and now to you. I spent years working on the development of equipment that would eliminate injury to my birds, and now I have it. Enjoy my foie gras, and best wishes to you all. Tom – AKA Mother Goose
    P.S Many thanks to my friends at Grimaud

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