LIVER LOVER La Toque's Ken Frank gave away foie gras to protest the ban on sales. Now that the ban is over, he's charging for it and says it's the most popular item on the menu.
Citing the supremacy of federal law, last week U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson overturned a law that made it illegal to sell foie gras in California.
Ken Frank, executive chef at Napa's La Toque restaurant, has been one of the most vocal critics of the ban since it went into effect in 2012. I interviewed him the day after the sale of foie gras became legal again. Foie gras is once more on the menu at his restaurant.
What was your reaction to the judge's ruling?
I was surprised. Very pleasantly surprised and overjoyed. We knew that a ruling was going to be coming soon, since it has already been 40 days since the hearing. [The judge] was being very careful to make sure this ruling is really solid. It was either going to be really good for us or really bad for us.
Is this it? Is it over?
I see this as game over. It's going to be hard to appeal the fact that federal law trumps state law. It addresses the sale of foie gras in California. It does not solve the problem of production in California. I would be really surprised if [California foie gras producers] were to come back.
What efforts are there to bring back production in California?
The law is flawed in so many ways. I long ago predicted that it would crumble under its own weaknesses. I honestly thought it would be found invalid before it was even enacted, but that didn't happen because of the eight-year period before it was enacted when everyone just kind of went to sleep and didn't realized how nasty it was going to be when it got here.
Where do you get your foie gras?
We get foie gras from New York, and over the last couple of years after [Sonoma Artisan Foie Gras] was forced to close, we've used foie gras from Hudson Valley [Foie Gras] and La Belle Farms. Both are excellent products.
I personally know people at both places who are outstanding individuals who take excellent care of their animals. Activists just can't understand that ducks don't have to be tortured to produce foie gras. They can't win an honest argument, and they don't make one.
What do you say to those who think foie gras is inhumane?
I don't think you can any longer make a credible argument that foie gras is torture. As raised on the few American farms that produce foie gras, they have gone to great lengths to address all sorts of animal husbandry issues. The ducks are very well treated. They have nothing to hide.
Ducks, in fact, do have a remarkable ability to store food in their necks. It is a natural phenomenon that allows their livers to retain fat. It's a unique biological process to certain migratory fowl, especially ducks that are bred today. [At these farms], you can see ducks that are clearly not being abused and clearly not suffering. It is far from torture.
I am very confident that the foie gras we use comes from farms that practice very high levels of animal husbandry that everyone should be proud of.
Why are you so passionate about this issue?
I do not appreciate a small, well-organized vocal minority telling everybody else what to do. I think this falls squarely within the realm of choice. I'm happy to engage activists in a discussion about animal rights and eating meat as long as they're prepared to have an honest discussion.