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How to Duck the CA Foie Gras Ban: Tips From Chicago

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Photo: gusili / Flickr

On July 1, a ban in California will prohibit the sale of any product that is "the result of force feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird's liver beyond normal size," which is the only known way to commercially produce foie gras. About 100 California chefs, including Thomas Keller, Chris Cosentino, and Ludo Lefebvre, have signed a petition to repeal the ban, and there have been pre-ban protest dinners galore, but it's looking like there are dark days ahead for California chefs. So what's a chef to do in this foie gras-free future?

The New York Times takes a look at California's countdown to foielessness, pondering whether restaurants will simply continue serving the dish — risking fines up to $1,000 — or give away free foie alongside artificially pricey glasses of wine. But wait, hasn't all of this happened before?

The city of Chicago banned the sale of foie gras from August 2006 until May 2008, and yet that didn't stop chefs from serving it. To the contrary: restaurants that had never served foie gras started heaping the stuff on everything from pizza to hot dogs.

Rather famously, Doug Sohn of Hot Doug's hot dog shop was the first Chicago restaurateur to be fined for serving foie gras. He paid his $250 fine for selling a foie sausage consisting of foie gras and Sauternes topped with truffle aioli, foie gras mouse and fluer de sel. Talking to Chicago's Encyclopedia Show recently in light of California's impending doom, Sohn mentioned the city "didn’t have the sense of humor I thought they might about this issue" and yet he feels as though he "ignored the law and won."

California seems to take the law a touch more seriously than Chicago ever did; after all, when the ban was passed there even the mayor "wondered whether aldermen should really be devoting precious time to telling Chicagoans what to eat" and the New York Times concurred: "Chicago may have spent more time talking about foie gras than many of its residents ever did eating it." Accordingly, the fine in Chicago was lower than it is in California: restaurants would either be fined $250 or $500 for serving foie gras. Also, they would get a warning first.

The $1,000 fine in California is decidedly daunting, and overturning a state-wide law significantly harder than ending a city wide ban. That said, let Chicago be an example of how a little civil disobedience can go a long way. And now, some examples of how Chicago's rebels fought the law and won. Note: Eater is not trying to give legal advice, nor will all of these work in California.

1. Chef Didier Durand of Cyrano's Bistro & Wine Bar sold foie gras listed on the menu as a $16 "roasted potatoes" dish. Durand was also one of the leaders in the anti-ban movement.
2. Durand also told the AFP, "We had a club called Turtle Soup where people were handing (us) turtle business cards and that meant they wanted foie gras."
3. There were known "duckeasies" that would serve it on request.
4. Many restaurants, including some that had never served it before, served foie gras in protest on the first day of the ban. The city turned a blind eye, for a day.
5. CopperBlue restaurant toyed with semantics, calling it "duck liver pate." (Note: this wouldn't work in California where the legal language includes the process behind creating foie gras and not just foie gras itself.)
6. Restaurant one sixtyblue opted to offer foie gras as a verbal special so they couldn't get busted for having it in print on the menu.
7. 676 Restaurant & Bar, held an entire "Outlaw Dinner" in which every course contained foie gras.
8. Some unnamed restaurant supposedly offered foie gras under the name "special lobster."
9. Bin 36 added a complimentary foie gras terrine to a wild mushroom confit salad.
10. And Hot Doug's, of course, just sold the stuff and accepted the consequences. He also framed his first warning letter and displayed it in the restaurant.

· California Chefs Mount a Repeal of Foie Gras Ban Set for July 1 [NYT]
· All Foie Gras Coverage on Eater [-E-]

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