Chef Sean Chaney, the chef and owner of Hermosa Beach, Calif.'s Hot’s Kitchen, isn’t a household name, at least not yet, anyway. But he’s been in the news lately in a big way: he’s openly defying California’s ban on foie gras, serving up a burger with a "complimentary" side of the fattened duck or goose liver. The law was passed in 2004 and went into effect July 2012, and states that any restaurant that sells the product will face a fine of $1,000 per sale, per day. He’s skirting the law, however, by giving it away for free.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court back in November, claiming that Chaney was breaking the law. Chaney, who’s vehemently against the law, sued the State of California the following day, calling the law unconstitutionally vague, and they’ve been embroiled in battle ever since.
"I thought it was interesting that a group such as PETA would pick on a little mom-and-pop business operation," he told The Daily Meal. "The restaurant business is one they feel they can come and tell you how to run your business."
We chatted with Chaney about his feelings on the ban, and also asked him about his background and what he loves about the restaurant industry.
The Daily Meal: Why are you against the foie gras ban?
Chef Sean Chaney: I don't believe that we should be telling people what they can and can't eat. If you want to eat it, you should be able to eat it. And the ban doesn't say you can't eat it, it says you can't sell it. What's next? Chicken? Pork? "
TDM: What was your first restaurant industry job?
SC: You know, the funny thing is, when I started cooking, I started off just cooking privately for professional athletes, and then my first restaurant industry job? I owned the restaurant!
TDM: When you first walk into a restaurant, what do you look for as signs that it’s well-run, will be a good experience, etc.?
SC: The atmosphere, the attitude of the place, the vibe. If people are having a good time, that's a good sign.
TDM: Is there anything you absolutely hate cooking?
SC: I hate prepping all the time! Does that count? I do hate cooking some of the staples that you see on the menu all the time, some of the standards that we've had on our menu for a while... because I hate when people don't venture out and try something new, when they stick to the same old thing. People should try new things.
TDM: If one chef from history could prepare one dish for you, what would it be? And who?
SC: My grandmother’s potato latke.
TDM: What do you consider to be your biggest success as a chef?
SC: Opening our first restaurant, and staying open, and now opening our second and third. The favorite part of my job is being able to employ people, it’s definitely fulfilling.
TDM: What do you consider to be your biggest failure as a chef?
SC: I haven't had it yet!
TDM: What is the most transcendental dining experience you’ve ever had?
SC: I'm still looking for it!
TDM: Are there any foods you will never eat?
SC: I'll eat anything and everything. Well, cannibalism; I won't eat people.
TDM: Is there a story that, in your opinion, sums up how interesting the restaurant industry can be?
SC: It's different every day. It's not like going to work at an office every day where you see the same people.