Wine Cask Restaurant executive chef Brandon Hughes will be preparing some of his last foie gras dishes this weekend.
Fattened goose or duck liver is banned from California restaurants and gourmet markets starting Sunday. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 1520 in 2004, banning the force feeding of birds and sale of those products.
The bill stemmed from concerns of animal cruelty; El Paseo Mexican Restaurant head chef Alex Castillo told Noozhawk that the birds are held in small enclosures with wooden stakes binding their legs. California is the first state to ban sales and production of the product since Chicago repealed it four years ago. Hughes thought the California ban would be repealed.
“I do feel strongly about the ethical treatment of animals, and it’s important to know that the food you’re eating is raised in an ethical manner,” he said. “But if you do the research, you realize these ducks are worth a lot of money and their livers will not fatten if they are stressed. It’s not under any circumstances profitable to treat the animals poorly because the quality drops.”
Sliding a smooth rubber tube down a duck’s throat to feed them corn doesn’t harm the ducks, Hughes said. The treatment of calves and chicken is much worse, which is why Hughes supports the rest of SB 1520, he added.
“We sell a lot of foie gras, and it will affect us, being an expensive product,” he said. “There will be money lost.”
It will also have an impact on California’s sole foie gras farm, Sonoma Foie Gras, which produces a significant portion of the country’s expensive delicacy.
Around 15 percent of the local restaurants serve foie gras, including Julienne, C’est Cheese, Wine Cask, Bacara Resort & Spa and Bouchon, all of which said they will stop serving foie gras on Sunday and try to offload their inventory in the meantime.
If retailers are caught serving products from force-fed animals, they could face a $1,000 fine. But several restaurants said that doesn’t mean they won’t save some.
Kathleen Cochran of the Bacara and Hughes agreed that the ban won’t have a huge impact locally. But C’est Cheese said its customers have been stocking up on the specialty food while they can.
“We just have to move on and find something else,” Cochran said. “People are so much more aware now, not only about what foods go in us but how they are raised. I don’t think people can argue with being humane.”