Californian foie gras fans stuffed themselves at gastronomic last suppers this weekend, as a ban on the delicacy finally came into force after years of wrangling.
But even before the midnight Saturday (0700 GMT Sunday) deadline, devotees of the prized French foodstuff — fatty liver, made by force-feeding ducks or geese — had worked on ways to get round the ban, dubbed ‘foie-maggedon.”
While animal rights groups hailed the law which outlaws selling or making foie gras — pushed through by ex governor Arnold Scwarzenegger — pro-foie gras supporters said they hope it will eventually be repealed.
“I think many people are hopeful” the ban will be reversed, said a spokeswoman for the two Michelin-starred Melisse restaurant in Santa Monica, which has been serving a “Foie Gras for All” menu since January.
The $185-a-head menu includes Foie Gras Royale with Blackberry Gelee, Caramelized Buttermilk Mousse, Foie Gras and Dover Sole, followed for dessert by “something sweet with foie” — foie gras ice cream has been on the menu.
“The foie festivities have been keeping us very busy .. The ban has definitely increased the interest in foie gras, I even heard 1 guest comment that they would not have ordered the foie menu if it wasn’t for the ban.
“As for tonight , the eve of foie, almost every table ordered the foie for all menu,” added the spokeswoman for the eatery, which has nevertheless vowed to comply with the new law.
From Monday anyone found selling or making foie gras in California will face a $1,000 fine, under a law passed in 2004 but which gave the state’s only foie gras producer seven and a half years to comply.
In the run-up to the July 1 ban, some of the Golden State’s top chefs including Thomas Keller, the only US chef with two three Michelin-starred restaurants, redoubled efforts to persuade lawmakers to overturn the ban.
Calling themselves the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards (CHEFS), they have staged a series of foie gras-rich evenings to raise money for the cause.
But John Burton, the former California legislator who drafted the law, dismissed their calls, likening the tradition of foie gras to waterboarding and female genital mutilation.
“I’d like to sit all 100 of them down and have duck and goose fat — better yet, dry oatmeal — shoved down their throats over and over and over again,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle in April.
Paul Shapiro, vice president, Farm Animal Protection of the Humane Society of the United States, told AFP on Saturday that the law’s entry into force was long overdue.
“Seven and half years is a long time to allow a search for alternatives to the abusive force-feeding ducks for foie gras. It’s about time this basic anti-cruelty law take effect,” he said.
While restaurateurs have overwhelmingly vowed to abide by the new law, ways of circumventing the ban will no doubt be tested in the coming weeks and months.
One highlighted by NPR radio recently is the possibility that diners could bring foie gras with them to a restaurant, and pay a “Foie-kage” fee — the equivalent of corkage paid to bring wine to an eatery to drink with a meal.
Others talk of private supper clubs, organized without any formal sale of foie gras — using the fact the new law bans only the sale and production of the delicacy, not its consumption or sharing between friends.
Mirepoix USA, which sells foie gras among other high-end French foodstuffs online, was urging customers to place “stock up and save” orders before June 28, noting that foie gras can be safely frozen and stored for up to two years.
It has also launched a service where orders placed online can be picked up in neighboring Nevada, either in Reno or Las Vegas.
“Restaurants, specialty food stores, and individuals who enjoy foie gras hope that eventually the ban will be repealed,” it said.
“But in the meantime, Mirepoix USA has made arrangements to try to satisfy our customer’s desire for foie gras, while still respecting the legislation,” the company added.
France’s foie gras industry body, CIFOG, said last week that California’s law contravenes international trade law, adding that it had asked for a meeting with the French agriculture minister on Monday.
Back in the US, animal rights campaigner Shapiro said ordinary Californians will not lament the loss of foie gras on menus.
“Most Californians have never eaten it, and many probably couldn’t even pronounce it. While demand for foie gras is low, the cruelty involved in producing it is very high, and we’re glad to see the law take effect.”
But restaurateurs who have served the delicacy in the past lament the ban. “It will be a loss for the restaurant because we serve much foie gras,” said Tony Bruggemans, manager of the Le Vallauris restaurant in Palm Springs.
His eatery was hosting a four-course “Foie Gras Farewell” dinner Saturday night. “Then, it’s ‘fini’ (finished),” he said.
Guillermo Gonzalez, owner of Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras, the only producer of the delicacy in California, told AFP he spent his last day in business making 16 final deliveries in San Francisco.
He and his wife Junny ended the day by staying at their last stop, a restaurant, to enjoy dinner — where they feasted on foie gras, “naturally,” he said.