Local chefs react to lifting of foie gras ban

Mulvaney’s B&L and other restaurants around California are scrambling to make last minute changes to tonight’s menu. For the first time in more than two years, foie gras can be sold legally in California.

A U.S. District Court judge has lifted the ban on foie gras, the fatty duck or goose liver that’s considered a delicacy in culinary circles, but among the most reviled ingredients by animal rights activists.

Foie gras is created by force feeding duck and geese via a funnel to engorge their livers, a process called gavage. A ban on producing and selling foie gras went into effect in California on July 1, 2012.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson ruled Wednesday morning that California ordinances that outlawed the force feeding of birds were superseded by provisions of the federal Poultry Products Inspections Act. In short, state ordinances were overreaching and foie gras is for now good to go in California.

“It’s a great day in liver land,” said a jubilant sounding Patrick Mulvaney, chef and proprietor of Mulvaney’s B&L. “I almost want to make it like a big birthday cake with a candle in it.”

Mulvaney said he planned to list foie gras on the menu starting with Wednesday night’s dinner service. But the food has always remained at his restaurant, despite the ban. Like other pro-foie-gras chefs in California, Mulvaney regularly served foie gras by taking advantage of a loophole in the law. Foie gras was forbidden to be sold, so some chefs simply offered it to guests for free, or it arrived as a complimentary accompaniment with toast points or another dish.

Mulvaney also received push back over the last two years from animal rights activists, including protests at his restaurant.

Currently, he’s in a celebratory mood, and expecting an order of 20 lobes of foie gras to be delivered in the next day or so.

“For us as chefs, we’re stoked,” said Mulvaney. “Foie gras is unique and has been used for 5,000 years. This feels like vindication for those of us who were interested in overturning the ban.”

Ken Frank, chef and owner of La Toque restaurant in Napa, said he jumped up and down for joy upon hearing the foie gras ban was lifted. Frank’s been among the most outspoken chefs in California for repealing the foie gras ban. In June, he hosted “The State of American Foie Gras” at La Toque, featuring complimentary foie gras focused menu.

The foie gras fight still isn’t over. Wednesday’s decision was related to the selling of foie gras in California, but not on issues related to its possible production in the state.

Meanwhile, Frank and his staff were mulling which foie gras preparation would be added to the menu for Wednesday’s dinner service.

“We’ll have a big tasting here in about an hour,” said Frank. “Only one dish on the menu tonight needs to change, and it’ll be on for the first time since July 1, 2012.”