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Napa's La Toque Sued Over Foie Gras

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La Toque, Napa.
La Toque, Napa.
Photo: La Toque / Facebook

Selling and producing foie gras is still illegal in California, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund is suing Napa's La Toque restaurant over violating the ban. Except Ken Frank, chef and partner at La Toque, sees it another way: he tells the Napa Valley Register the suit "is further harassment by the Animal Legal Defense Fund to get me to stop advocating for foie gras." Frank admits that he does, in fact, give foie gras to diners with a glass of Sauternes "on a spontaneous basis," which he says is neither selling or producing foie gras. That is one way to get around the foie gras ban. Says Frank, "You can't call up and offer me a $100 bill to include foie gras with your dinner."

Why sue? PETA recently turned to lawsuits after the group "couldn't 'persuade' Hermosa Beach police to intervene" on behalf of a foie gras ban-violating restaurant, and it's likely ALDF has run into the same kinds of trouble. Below, a press release from the ALDF about the suit.

UPDATE: La Toque has provided a statement from chef Ken Frank, which has been embedded below.

Animal Legal Defense Fund Serves Up Lawsuit Against California Restaurant for Illegal Foie Gras
March 14th, 2013

Undercover Investigation Exposes Napa's La Toque Restaurant for Flagrant Violation of Foie Gras Ban

NAPA, Calif. — Today, the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a lawsuit in Napa County Superior Court against Napa-based La Toque restaurant for violating the state ban on selling and distributing force-fed foie gras products. ALDF's undercover investigations reveal that despite the state ban, La Toque routinely sells foie gras products derived from force-feeding birds to enlarge the birds' liver ("foie gras"), in violation of California Health and Safety Code §§ 25982 and unfair business practices under California Business and Professions Code §§ 17200. According to the lawsuit, these practices undermine the integrity of the market by allowing La Toque to attract diners with its outlawed products. Kenneth Frank, head chef at La Toque and a vocal opponent of the ban, is also named as a defendant. Today's lawsuit alleges that La Toque aims to circumvent the law by calling its actual sales of foie gras "gifts." As a result, ALDF has been required to expend valuable resources investigating the defendant's unlawful acts.

Foie gras is a duck or goose liver forcefully enlarged up to more than eight times its normal size. It results from a handler forcing a long tube down a young bird's throat and pumping an unnatural amount of nutritionally deficient food directly into the bird's stomach. California's ban on the production and sale of foie gras was enacted in 2004 and went into effect on July 1, 2012. The industry was given more than seven years to create a product not produced by force-feeding but failed to do so. ALDF's lawsuit asks the court to compel the restaurant to follow the law.

"Restaurants like La Toque, who arrogantly and knowingly violate the law, cause the suffering of hundreds of thousands of birds. These lawbreakers will be held accountable by the courts," said Stephen Wells, ALDF's executive director. "Our lawsuit protects California's interest in removing a cruelly-produced product from the marketplace."

The following statement is from Ken Frank, executive chef and owner of La Toque restaurant, in regards to the lawsuit filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund which accuses La Toque of being in violation of California Senate Bill 1520:

"La Toque is in full compliance with SB1520, as mandated by the California State Legislature, which is viewed by some as an attempt to ban the production and sale of foie gras. At the discretion of the chef, La Toque presents spontaneous gifts of Foie Gras to patrons we believe would enjoy the product, which we do with other dishes as well, though we do not charge for these gifts and they are not listed on our menu. La Toque purchases, as anyone can, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, from a farm in New York with excellent animal husbandry standards."

"This fight is not a new one, as the Animal Legal Defense Fund previously requested an investigation of La Toque and myself last year over these same allegations. The Napa Police Department found no cause for action. This time around will be no different. I was sued by the Animal Protection and Rescue League and the court ordered APRL to pay over $12,000 of my attorneys fees."

"La Toque has been, and will continue to be, a supporter of reinstating humane foie gras production to California. To that end, I'm a proud member of CHEFS, the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards, and look forward to letting the legal process take its course on this issue."

· Lawsuit Against California Restaurant for Illegal Foie Gras [ALDF via HuffPo]
· Restaurant Sued Over Alleged Foie Gras Ban Violations [Napa Valley Register]
· All Foie Gras Coverage on Eater [-E-]

La Toque

1314 McKinstry Street Napa, CA 94559