Restaurants, suppliers ready for foie gras ban

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Some owners will still be looking for loopholes in the ban

A California state law banning the sale of foie gras goes into effect on Sunday but it remains unclear whether restaurant goers will be able to find the fattened liver of duck or geese on menus next week.

Sales of foie gras have been booming for weeks leading up to the ban, with restaurants across the state serving pricey multicourse foie gras dinners.

Earlier in the week, reports indicated that enforcement of the ban might be somewhat lax. Some chefs said they were planning to look for loopholes to continue to serve the product, such as offering foie gras for free — along with high-priced accoutrements.

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Signed in 2004, the law — which has won the support of chefs like Wolfgang Puck — will make it illegal to sell or produce products in California made from force-fed ducks or geese, but it will not be illegal to consume, possess or transport foie gras.

At issue is whether foie gras can be produced humanely, a debate that continues to rage throughout the food world.

On Friday, however, suppliers elsewhere across the country were giving mixed predictions about what might happen after July 1, saying it may take someone getting cited with the $1,000-per-day fine to know exactly how the law will be enforced.

“The law is very confusing. We’ve spoken to a number of attorneys and we get a different answer every time,” said Marcus Henley, operations manager for Hudson Valley Foie Gras, a Ferndale, N.Y.-based producer.

Henley said the company plans to hold off on any sales to California residents or restaurants on Sunday and Monday. "After that, we’ll see what happens,” he said.

Henley said it is not clear whether a California buyer can legally order the product online from the New York producer.

“We’re being very cautious at first because I think that’s a question that could be answered either way, and we want to see how it’s enforced,” said Henley. “I expect it to be quite a chaotic week.”

Ariane Daguin, founder of foie gras purveyor D’Artagnan, based in Newark, N.J., said her lawyers believe it will be legal for customers to order foie gras from her company online. “It’s business as usual for us,” she said.

Whether or not loopholes exist for California restaurants to serve the product remains to be seen.

“We’re going to see right away,” said Daguin. “It really depends which lawyer you talk to.”

Foie gras was briefly banned in Chicago in 2006, and later the ban was lifted. During that period, however, restaurants “found creative ways to serve foie gras without selling it,” Daguin said.

Restaurateur Mark Pastore of Incanto in San Francisco, however, said he plans to remove foie gras from the menu after June 30. “It will be off the menu for now,” he said. “We’ll wait and see how it’s enforced.”

Pastore had been quoted in some reports as being open to allowing guests to bring their own foie gras, and charging a “foie-kage,” akin to a wine corkage. On Friday, however, Pastore said, “I have no plans to do that.”

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